REVIEW: Songs from Beedle the Bard

Happy Memorial Day everyone!  Hope you enjoy your day off, unless you work at 75% of all employment establishments, in which case, enjoy your day of increased customer traffic!  Today I’ll be reviewing Songs from Beedle the Bard, by The Butterbeer Experience.  This is the first in what will be many reviews that have been requested by various wrock bands (and one Shetland pony).  Also, this is the first album with art not made by the perennially WRPCA-winning artist Frank “Frak” Franco III.  It’s instead made by… hold on, let me ask Lena on twitter.  Now we play the waiting game… Okay, it was done by fellow named Eli Pope.  Now, we dive into things that are actually relevant to the music!

Songs from Beedle the Bard is an album with five songs, one each for each of the tales.  Each song retells a tale with varying degrees of success.  The album is also a terrible, horrendous, vomit-inducing stab to the eardrums and good taste that should never, ever have to be experienced by anyone.

Nah, just fucking wit’ ya, it’s pretty aight.  So, let’s get the ball rolling, shall we?  Things start off with “The Peverell Story” (one thing to notice about all the songs is that they for the most part don’t just steal the titles of the tales), which is of course, a retelling of the tale of the Deathly Hallows.  Lena made a wise decision by choosing to sing from the POV of Death, and ends up making the song much more powerful than if it’d had been from a 3rd person omniscient, like the original tale was.  It also by far the best track on the entire album (yes, including that last one).  The music is appropriately moody yet flowing, and evocative of a certain bygone era.  There’s also a really neat bit in the second of line of every verse (the line that describes what each brother wants from Death) where Lena dubs herself a time or two, and its only used during those specific times in the song (and in the climactic finale), to really accent the point of the lyrics.  Too many artists use that sort of thing throughout the entire song, or just whenever they feel like it, so I commend Lena for having a recognizable method, and one that has a meaning.  The chori (yes, I’ve decided, I’m calling them chori now) are sweeping and really show off Lena’s impressive vocal range, and the chori change with each brother, and for the first two, have a chilling lyrical end.  I don’t use this word often, but this song truly is beautiful, and you should definitely go out and buy it if you haven’t already.  Something that is lyrically very cool about this song is how Lena portrays how off-handedly Death created the Hallows – at least, the two “foolish” ones – he just grabbed a branch and a stone, and BAM, instant MacGuffins.  Yet Ignotus’ choice, the wise one, has Death giving of one of his own items – his actual cloak, not just a piece of fabric he found lying around.  This sort of added lyrical twist really helps drive home the point of the story.  However, I do have one quibble with the song – Lena rhymes “slain” with “again”, but she doesn’t pronounce the latter as “a-gain”.  This is one of my biggest pet peeves in songwriting, and while it’s not enough to lessen the song at all, it does throw me out of the song every time.  I mean, why rhyme two words if you’re not going to actually rhyme them?  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  Regardless of my nitpicks, “The Peverell Story” is a fantastic song, and you should check it out.

“The Hopping Pot” is one of the few songs that almost completely rips the title from the canon, but, while the story has a nice moral and everything, it just doesn’t have the emotional resonance that the other stories do, so it’s understandable.  This is the second best song on the album, but it could have been a lot better.  My biggest squabbles are that the volume on this song is definitely lower than on other songs (and the volume for the entire album could have been a little higher), and I really don’t like what she did with the channels.  Lena’s voice is almost exclusively in the left channel, and while the music is in both channels, it trends towards the right one.  Now, I’m fine with things like that if there is a purpose to them, or they are call-and-response style songs, like “Hello, Goodbye”, but when practically the entire song has the vocals weighted towards one side, it gets really annoying for people listening with headphones.  I know this was a conscious decision made by Lena, but I don’t think it was a good one.  I do like how in the second verse, when the bass really starts to kick in, it reverberates through everything, and helps accent the singing, but it’s not enough to stop the balance from being annoying.

In broader terms, “The Hopping Pot” is a mostly light-hearted, mostly acoustic song, with some really great mid-range vocals.  The great thing about these vocals is that even though they don’t really climb or dive anywhere, they have a fuckton of character.  You can really tell that the narrator, while trying to be impartial, is having a good old laugh at the predicament the ungrateful son got himself into.  The music slowly builds, some increased bass here, an inoffensive drum beat there, a fun little honky-tonk piano line here, that sort of thing.  I’m not a huge fan of Lena’s belted “STAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaay!” in the second chorus, but I mostly think that could have been resolved with a bit of mixing.  Lena doesn’t quite have enough timbre in her voice to pull that kind of thing off, but it isn’t bad, it just could have been handled better.  Speaking of the chori, on of the really cool things about this song is how the length of the chori extends to a comical point as the hopping pot gains more and more symptoms.  By the time we hit the 3:14 mark, the song has developed from an acoustic guitar and and a single voice to a song with everything from backing vocals to some sort of synthesized triangle.  And the 3:15 mark comes, and ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE.  I am not exaggerating at all when I say that that part, and if you’ve heard this song, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about, it one of the scariest things I have ever heard in my entire life.  You’re rolling along to this fun, though not exactly substantive song, when all of a sudden the party is crashed by a dynamic duo of the Daleks and the USC Marching Band.  Yes, it’s exactly as terrifying as it sounds.  Basically, there’s a 30-second interlude in which all of the noises described earlier in the song come out in full force.  And while the idea of using disparate sound elements to simulate something traumatic, like war, or an annoying piece of dishware, is nothing new, this is the first time I’ve heard it work.  A prime example of this style of thing not working is The Mudbloods’ song “The War”, which contains an interlude with screaming, and clashing guitars, and I guess it simulates war as a musical experience pretty well, but thing is – war isn’t a fun thing. It’s not something to subject your ear drums to, and artistic merits aside, a perfectly good song is ruined by an utterly unlistenable section.

What Lena does in “The Hopping Pot” is highly listenable, mostly because she doesn’t try to create artificial conflict, she puts together elements that naturally conflict, but conflict without being hard to listen to, just really fucking terrifying, and is underlayed with the bizarre, and thus even more terrifying trumpets of a college pep band.  It is bizarre and surrealistic and absolutely fantastic. Then we get some dude yelling “STOP!”, and then we’re back to Lena, and she wraps everything up.  The pants-shitting part goes on long enough for you to need new trousers, but short enough that it doesn’t annoy you, and you’re totally up for going through the song again just for that section.  While not containing the lyrical emotional depth of the previous song, “The Hopping Pot” more than succeeds, and without a doubt deserves a place in your music collection.

“Soliloquy” is the best song in terms of a title, but beyond that, it’s the third best song on the album.  Musically, it sounds a lot like a mellow Disney song, at least in the beginning.  But as soon as the vocals come in, we encounter the first problem – Lena for some reason decided to include an Imperial butt-ton of ambient noise in the vocal track, and I really cannot fathom why.  After 45 seconds, the style of the song suddenly, and jarringly switches to jazzy fem-powered ballad style of song.  While both styles work well for this story, Lena should have probably chosen one, or worked in some sort of transition.  The song really does just change gears on a dime, and there are very few things that are desirable in both a song and a racing car.  However, the transition from this back into the first style works really beautifully, which just makes me wonder why this couldn’t have happened before.

Lyrically, this is the best song on the album, and contains the most sheer pathos, really outstripping “The Peverell Story”, and really exploring BOTH of these characters, especially the object of the warlock’s affection, who to me is the far more interesting character in this story.  I mean, the warlock might as well have been called Tom Riddle, we’ve seen his character in so much depth already.  So, Lena goes the wise route of exploring just what sort of person would actually be attracted to this sort of person, and who isn’t Bellatrix.  However, the song doesn’t really get cooking until the third style kicks in, an echoing series of frantic questions shot at the warlock, as tension and desperation mounts in both the lyrics and the music.  After this bit, we go to a slow version of the fem-ballad heard earlier, that sounds like what twisting the knife in a wound feels like – but in a good way.  This section also includes a really cool lyrical flip – from

There is but a cavern where his heart should be

Because he locked it up and threw a-way the key!

to

There is but a cavern where my heart should be

‘Cause you took your dagger and you murdered me!

All-in-all, it’s a pretty fantastic song, but a number of things keep it from topping the previous songs – jarring musical shifts, too much ambient noise, sometimes the lyrics come out a little rushed, or a bit devoid of emotion, and the song is exactly 34 seconds too long. The last line should have been

And all I ever wanted was for you to adore

Me – !

I understand the rest was necessary to convey the story, but as a story unto itself, and as a piece of music, divorced from its source material, it would have been vastly stronger to end on that desperate, heart-wrenching, almost resigned “Me!”  Despite the many nits I can pick out of this song, “Soliloquy” is also definitely worth your money and hard drive space.

“Just A Washerwoman” is the fourth best song on the album, and easily the weakest (those of you who wish for me to recheck my counting should wait until the next song), but its also based on the weakest story, and it still manages to be pretty good.  It’s catchy at times, humorous once or twice, okay, once, and retells the story very well.  But it lacks the musical ingenuity and ambition and any lyrical depth that characterized the previous songs.  It’s still a fine song, but it’s like comparing a high-school linebacker to a professional wrestler.  And the end of the day, he can still shove your ass in a locker, but the wrestlers can do it with so much more elegance and style.  Also, especially when compared the next song, the small amount of voice acting is really subpar.  Now, the acting in this song was done by Lena’s dad and brother, playing the king and the charlatan, respectively.  And yeah, I do feel like a bit of a dick for commenting poorly on somebody’s kid brother who didn’t ask for their voice acting talents to be reviewed by a stranger on the internet, but ultimately, it was Lena’s decision to include those actors, and those takes, and I don’t think it was a wise decision.  There really isn’t too much to say about this song – it’s not bland (which is apparently my favorite word on this blog, except for maybe fuck), but it’s the grilled KFC to the other songs’ fried double down.  I’m really running out of ideas for metaphors, aren’t I?  Also, “Just a Washerwoman” suffers from having to be such a light and cheerful song, following such a dark and emotional song.  Lena probably couldn’t have arranged the songs much better, but she lacked on very important thing that the book had – the pallet-cleansing analysis by Dumbledore, without which, the shifts between the songs themselves can be quite jarring. Lena really didn’t have much of a way around this, except for some AU-meta-fanfiction about Beedle being an actual bard, and he didn’t make tales, he made songs, and here are his songs, that sort of thing.  “Just a Washerwoman” is a fine song, and if you like The Butterbeer Experience, it’s more of the same, though for you the song may end up being more like those Pokémon that you catch that you never intend to battle with or train to much extent, but just so you can “catch ’em all”.

Lastly, we have “Fair Fortune: A Wrock Opera”, a nineteen minute long exxxxtrrrrrrrrrrrrrrravaganza, retelling the story of the Fountain of Fair Fortune in a way that is less of an opera, and more of a condensed musical, though it definitely does contain operatic elements and musical tropes and motifs.  Now, if you’ve been playing along at home, you’re probably expecting me to say that this is the fifth best song on the album, or, in other words, the worst song on the album.  But that’s not really true at all.  In fact, I really don’t know where to place this song, mostly because it’s like comparing… something, to um, something else.  Yeah, I’ve run out of metaphors.  Deal with it.  Now, this song is as long as the rest of the songs in the album combined, so let’s stop faffing about, shall we?

The wropera (rhymes with “Grawp bra”), starts off with one of the best things about the entire song – the narrator, voiced by Christie Mowrey, of Hawthorn and Holly.  I can’t it explain it, but she just has the perfect narrator voice.  Now, for the sake of ease and brevity, I’m going to refer to each main part of the opera as a song.  The first song kicks off with Altheda, voiced by Erin Pyne of the House of Black, singing “Good morning, witches!”, which sounds a lot dirtier and funnier in text than it actually does in the song, but it still gets a wry smile out of me.  Unintentional semi-hilarity aside, this first song really doesn’t quite qualify as a song in the sense that songs in operas usually do, as it is pretty damn short, and broken up with more conversational bits, and the narrator every now and then.  There is a cool bit when the three witches decide to team up, and their voices team up for the first time, and we get the first taste of the recurring motif of the phrase “We’ll fight to the fountain, and bathe in its waters, till our sadnesses are undone.”  We then get our first bit of acting as our trio, plus a certain unlucky knight get dragged into the garden, narrating all the way.  There are some fairly good foley effects with rustling leaves and things like that, though the acting is definitely subpar.  The acting certainly isn’t the focus of the wropera, but it is a component, just like lyrics or music, and it definitely could have been done better.  However, the line “What’s he doing here?” does get a chuckle out of me every time.

Sir Luckless explains how he’s worthless using the same tune the witches used to describe their woes, but instead of the hopeful ending of “So I can move on” used by Amata (played by Lena), Sir Luckless (played by Jason Munday, of The Ministry of Magic) sings “So I will withdraw”, accompanied humorously by a “wah-woh” synth trumpet.  After Amata convinces Sir Luckless to join them (while introducing the phrase “faint heart”, which comes into play at the end), the story, and the wropera, really start to take off.  We then get a song describing each of the obstacles our heroes face, as well as a song from one of the witches, inadvertently solving their own problems.  For the most part, musically everything stays pretty safe and homogeneous – which is a good thing for anything operatic, though there is a nice bit of electric guitar during the “fight scene” with the worm, and a couple other instances of stuff like that.

Asha’s song is the most moving, Altheda’s is a real fun, jazzy little number, and Amata’s sounds like a mash-up of five different Disney songs, with some nice interjections from Sir Luckless.  When Asha gets hurt and falls close to death, there’s a really moving callback to her previous song, which ended on such a hopeful note, and I haven’t yet mentioned that Asha is played by Kristina Horner of The Parselmouths, so now is as good a time as any.  The songs explaining the obstacles aren’t as interesting as the character-focused ones, but really couldn’t be.  Right before Sir Luckless’ song, Amata has the line “Go ahead, brave knight, you’ve earned it” which really should have been delivered with more sauciness, but the song it goes into definitely makes up for that.  One of the really great things about this wropera is that it really enforced how much of a giant dweeb Sir Luckless is.  Some of that is probably an unintentional side effect from the acting, but the spoken lines he has (he asks “Are you alright?” after Amata makes herself completely emotionally vulnerable, and is all “let’s float across the river whilst wearing a metric fuckton of metal!”) really reinforce it, and the lyrics of the song really show how sad and lonely an existence he has.  It puts a second and even more depressing dimension to his character, which makes his happy ending all the sweeter.

We cap the wropera off with a the narrator really belting out the twist reveal, and then a bit of a misstep with the final line – “The magic was in our hands”.  I really don’t think that was the right last word.  “Selves”? Sure.  “Hearts”? Maybe.  “Minds”? Fine.  But hands?  That just strikes me as a bit odd.  Really, all the witches passed their tests in their minds – coming to terms with their loss, or realizing that hard work can be just as good a replacement, if not better, for specialized skills.

Overall, “Fair Fortune: A Wrock Opera” is a success, and it definitely deserves a listen.  However, the question is, does it deserve more than that, and is it worth six dollars?  It really depends on your musical preferences.  If you like musicals and especially operas, or are big fans of any of the vocalists in this wropera, “Fair Fortune” is definitely worth your money.  It was definitely created by someone with a lot of knowledge and experience with operas and musicals, and all the vocalists do some fantastic work.  However, if you’re not a big fan of operas, or this tale, it isn’t going to convince you otherwise.  If you’re on the fence, my advice would be to watch the thing on YouTube, and decide if you want a high-quality mp3 of it (please note that in the previous linked video, Mark Jennings of The Ministry of Magic narrates, to hear Christie narrate, and also see some hilarious height disparity between Kristina and Lena, watch this video).

So, let’s final thoughts it up in this bitchSongs from Beedle the Bard is definitely a good album, but I’m not sure its worth your money.  The first three songs are definitely deserving of your money, without question.  If you just want more wrock, “Just A Washerwoman” will do the trick, but there are better songs to spend your dollar on, and you really should think a bit before buying the full album to get the wropera as well.  On the one hand, it’s the best thing done in this style in the wrock community, on the other hand, it’s the first thing done in this style, et cetera, et cetera, and contains the missteps and quality issues that come with that territory.  If you do like that sort of thing, though, Songs from Beedle the Bard is well worth your crossbill.

Maybe even a B+...

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17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. PK9
    May 31, 2010 @ 22:36:47

    Wow, great review. I actually agree with most of the points.

    A couple things that irked me:

    1. The “just kidding” second paragraph is ridiculous. When you look at the blurb of this review from the main page, that’s where it cuts off, so anyone not bothering to click in and read the full review would get the impression that you actually hated this album.

    2. re: ““The Hopping Pot” is one of the few songs that almost completely rips the title from the canon,”. You are talking about a 5-track album, which in your own words only has four songs. So “one of the few songs” doesn’t make any sense in this context. “Few” generally refers to 3-5 in number, so are you saying “three, four or five tracks almost completely rips the title”? If it were 3, we’re already talking about 60% of the tracks, 5 would be 100% so “few” would have the wrong connotation. When the entire set is so small, you might as well be specific. You either think that the “Hopping Pot” is “the only song that almost completely rips the title”, or that it is “one of the two tracks that almost completely rips the title” (with “Fair Fortune: A Wrock Opera”), so why not state it clearly?

    3. In the 2nd to last paragraph, you have a parenthetical note “(please note that in the previous linked video, Mark Jennings of The Ministry of Magic,” that is a sentence fragment missing the verb phrase, I assume due to an editing error. I’m guessing you meant to say something like “Mark Jennings of MoM fills the role of narrator” because I’ve seen the videos, but someone with no knowledge would be confused.

    I may have more to say later, but I’ll wait for other people to chime in tomorrow.

    Reply

  2. thefinalbattle2010
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 05:06:12

    This is a lovely review! Thank you so much!

    Totally agreed about “slain” and “again.” it’s one of the things I would go back and change if I could re-do the album. Peverell story is also my favorite on the CD. Good choice.

    Around the time I was recording “Hopping Pot,” I had some major technical difficulties with my microphone, and it was only recording into one channel. This actually isn’t very noticeable if you listen to the CD on computer speakers, but it’s really apparent in headphones. So when I was mixing the CD, I didn’t realize that it was faded all the way to the left, and the vocals were already produced by the time I did. With my severe vocal problems (and in the midst of recording Fair Fortune) I decided to leave it be instead of hurt my voice more.

    Soliloquy was recorded before I got my condenser mic (Christmas ’08) so it was recorded with my built-in mic in my macbook pro. That probably explains the ambient noise. Props to you for noticing it, most people don’t 🙂

    Fair Fortune was written in 6 hours, and recorded in under a week. It was (obviously) a TON of work, and not my best musical composition (although I do think its simplicity reflects the simplicity of the story.) The point is, I wrote and recorded “Just a Washerwoman” in the midst of Fair Fortune. I remember sitting up at 2 or 3 in the morning on a Thursday and writing the song, and taking about an hour to record it the next day. Almost no time to put in harmonies or musical stuff.

    Ok, that’s all!!! Your review is excellent, and I’m going to go read it again now. Thanks!

    ❤ Lena

    Reply

  3. KateKintail
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 05:35:19

    Nice review! Still a little nit-picky for me (like about the song titles; there are only 5 of them and the point of the EP was to mirror Beedle; I wouldn’t have had any problem if the titles were the exact same ones as the tales in the book) but you definitely won back my readership.

    I love this album and recommend it to everyone after they read Beedle. “The Peverell Story” never fails to give me chills and when I hear the the tale told in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I get confused as to why it doesn’t rhyme or sound more lyrical (i.e. the telling in the song has become canon for me). What I like MOST about this album is that it’s in the tradition of bards and oral historians who set the legends/fairy tales to music and re-told them in their own words. Brilliant.

    But I’ve got to agree 100% about the last line, “The magic was in our hands.” Every time I listen to it it sounds wrong and I expect something like “The magic was in us all the time.” After hearing that it was written in 6 hours, it’s amazing and understandable to have a few rocky lyrics, but it throws me off every time and that’s sad because it’s the last bit of the album.

    I wish there were more concept albums & EPs out there (or maybe there are and I don’t know about them?). Maybe that would make a good list *hint hint hint*

    Reply

  4. MaryBeth Schroeder
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 16:48:26

    I think Christie Mowrey is AMAZING. I agree.

    When you say “it’s like comparing a high-school linebacker to a professional wrestler And the end of the day, he can still shove your ass in a locker, but the wrestlers can do it with so much more elegance and style.” you do realize that pro wrestling, is a form of sporting theatre which contains strong elements of mock combat and catch wrestling. It isn’t elegant. Really isn’t. Also if you meant Olympic style wrestling, that is like a martial art that uses grappling type techniques such as clinch fighting, throws and takedowns, joint locks, pins and other grappling holds. Neither of these things are elegant. Olympic wrestling looks like two guys in leotards, hugging.

    I think it would be cooler to say, “it’s like comparing a high school bully to (insert master martial artist, swordsman, gentleman dueler like in Dangerous Liaisons here).

    I understood what you meant, but some of us readers…are the children of athletic educators, sir!

    I love your blog, I loved this album. I’m glad it got a B.

    Reply

    • wrocksnob
      Jun 01, 2010 @ 22:18:28

      Hmmm, good point, but I still think a professional wrestler would have more elegance and style – stemming from the theatric side of things – than your average high school bully. And I think your metaphor would be overstating the point a bit – I don’t want to make the gap THAT far. But I do thank you for allowing me the chance to debate metaphors.

      Reply

    • Whompy
      Jun 02, 2010 @ 05:20:07

      This is a rare case where I disagree with MaryBeth. At least to the extent that I loved his high school linebacker/pro wrestler line so much that I refuse to find any fault with it. 🙂

      Reply

  5. Russ
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 19:31:46

    Great writeup and review. Concise in it’s own way, yet full of good descriptors and less snark for the sake of snarkiness. I dig it.

    Also, Lena’s pretty damn swell and stuff. This is a good album, and a thoughtful review. Well worth the read. Of course, I’m biased to like both concept albums and pretty much anything derivative of modern full-libretto musicals, so… yeah.

    I award you 3.74 interwebs for this review.

    Reply

  6. DJ Rae
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 22:50:15

    I agree with the first person’s point of view. It’s ridiculous and uncalled for when you state one thing and then essentially say, “hahaha, just kidding”. It’s immature and rather unprofessional. That is my only complaint about this review, not that it matters…but yeah.

    Otherwise, the rest of it is great, per usual.

    Reply

  7. PK9
    Jun 02, 2010 @ 00:38:19

    I think one of the issues with the acting on Fair Fortune is (in addition to the limited timeframe), I’m pretty sure that the collaborators each recorded their parts independently, and Lena mixed them together. Because of this, it’s very difficult to have cohesive acting since the actors are unable to feed off of each other’s performances. I think when you watch the live shows, the acting seems much more fluid despite shuffling around roles and/or flubs in lines, that is because they are able to interact directly with each other for the timing and tones of their lines.

    Reply

  8. Betsy
    Jun 02, 2010 @ 03:36:04

    I don’t have time to read the whole review because I have to go to school, but I think I caught typo. You wrote Ignatus Peverell and I think it’s actually Ignotus.

    I’ll make sure to tell you my thoughts on the album after school.

    Reply

  9. dj Luna Lovegood
    Jun 02, 2010 @ 23:19:06

    Oh, something you like, I get it! Lena has worked so hard for this, I love that your review hits home. She an amazing inspiration to all of my family 🙂

    Reply

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