REVIEW: “and the Half-Blood Pizza”

WE’RE BACK! And no, I’m not talking about that incredibly odd movie with Walter Cronkite.  And by “we” I mean me.  OR DO WE? Dun dun dun.  Anywho, sorry about the massive ball dropping last week, and the lateness of today’s article, but I’m back and ready to roll.  Today, I will be reviewing the album by Justin Finch-Fletchley (whom I shall henceforth be referring to as “JFF” [also, OH MAN IT’S NOT A MYSPACE LINK]), “and the Half-Blood Pizza”.  LET’S DO THIS!

We start the album off with a power chord – not the most original of openings, but one that is practically guaranteed to not fail.  We then roll right into a rollicking little guitar riff, backed by some disappointing drums.  I mean, they’re played fine and everything, but I wish they were a tad faster.  They just seem not quite fast enough, and the whole song (which is, by the way, titled “Back in the Day”), seems a bit laid back.  The first verse is a plot recap that serves its purpose but isn’t really memorable.  However, I have big problems with the second verse.  Basically, the amount of words used just do not fit the meter.  If you can’t fit the words in, then just don’t try, JFF.  Please.  The lyrics come out rushed and hard to understand, and it’s just not fun to listen to.  Overall, the song isn’t bad, but it really isn’t memorable, which is the overall feeling of the album.  There’s some nice stuff in there (the electric guitar work in particular is quite nice, and Steph Anderson offers great vocals as usual, although they are definitely backing vocals, but hey, this is JFF’s album), but it doesn’t come together in a way that excites me or gets me to want to listen to it over and over, or even more than once on purpose, though if it comes by on shuffle, I won’t skip ahead.  My biggest gripe with the song is that it sets expectations about the album that are not met.  Specifically, the lyrics made me expect that the album would be Justin’s 6th year in musical form.  And it is, but only in the same way that The Remus Lupins‘ album “I Was A Teenage Werewolf” is about Remus – only sometimes explicitly, often merely tangentially, and sometimes not at all.  Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the song set expectations that were not met.

The next song “Potions, Dancing, Hexing and Romancing”, which probably should have been called “Potions, Dancin’, Hexin’ and Romancin'”, but whatever, is faster and more fun than the previous song, has a clever titular rhyme, and some fun lines like “She’s the pizza of my eye!”  The electric guitar work by Brian Ross (OMG ANOTHER NON-MYSPACE LINK!!!!1!) remains fantastic, as this album contains some of his best work in that regard, and Jarrod Perkins really kicks things up a notch with some incredible drum work, especially after the pretty boring by-the-book rhythms of the previous song.  Seriously, the instrumental break in this song is amazing, and it’s worth listening to entire song just for it.  Lyrically, though it’s not about the sixth book in any concrete or substantial way, it’s a nice coda to the previous song, which hinted at the idea of Hufflepuffs Rocking The Fuck Out, and this song really capitalizes on it.  Also, it is one of my favorite songs that’s all “wizard rock is awesome and cool! Wizard rock wizard rock wizard rock wizard rock!”, much better than the most famous song in this genre, The Remus Lupins’ “Wizard Rock”, a song I never liked that much anyway.

We then get “Miss Bulstrode”, a new version of a song that first appeared on the great charity comp Siriusly Smiling.  Siriusly, go out and get it.  Well, really, stay right by your computer or iPad or whatever and get it.  Whatever.  Anywho, I really like the idea of JFF being in love with MILLICENT FUCKING BULSTRODE, because, let’s face it, it’s just plain funny.  If you find nothing humorous about a muggle-born Hufflepuff that freaks out at snakes waxing rhapsodic over a shit-faced bulky tomboy Slytherin, then you have no sense of humour, and everyone probably hates you.  Go away.  You ruin this blog just by thinking about it, nonetheless reading it.  BE GONE WITH YE!  Anyway, this is the first song on the album that will get you to laugh out loud, or even smile wryly, but I have to say that I prefer the Siriusly Smiling version, with its big brassy… er… electric guitar intro.  Yeah.  That’s exactly what I was going to say.

We then have another remake of an old song with “Hairy Heart”, a retelling of the Beedle the Bard tale.  Now, as I’m sure you recall, the last Monday review was about an album entirely dedicated to that book, so the comparisons are inevitable.  So, how does this song stack up against Lena‘s?  Well… they’re very, VERY different, but they’re both very good, and a lot of that comes from how they tell opposing sides of the story.  There’s something incredibly creepy, yet also endearing, about how earnestly and heartfelt JFF sings this song, making innocuous lines like “Just between you and me, I’ve got a little story” shiver-inducing.  Lyrically, this is one of the high points of the album (which is a bit of a problem, since this isn’t a new song), because the lyrics really made me think about this story in a way I never had before, and isn’t that the utmost pinnacle of wizard rock?  To make you think about this book series that we love so much in a way we never had before?  Specifically, JFF highlights how the warlock married the unnamed witch for money’s sake, something left out of Lena’s version, but then, that would require an amount of awareness and clarity of thought that the character just doesn’t possess.  I do think I have to say I like Lena’s song better, but only slightly.  Really, these two songs make a great pair – you can get the sad song that runs the gamut from Disney to jazzy, or the rockin’ song that ends up being FUCKING CREEPY.

We next have a song about the Yule Ball, and any pretense about this album being about JFF’s sixth year at Hogwarts seems to have completely vanished, along with my pants.  Seriously, where are they?  Anyway, “Dance With You” has a catchy enough chorus, and a few mildly amusing wand/broom/PEEEEENIIIIISSS puns, but I have problems with the end.  You see, the entire song, JFF is trying to woo this girl, but she rejects him because he’s a Hufflepuff, which seems perfectly logical to me.  In fact, I’d much rather like to hear about this girl than some giant bee.  But then at the end, she does dance with JFF, but it just happens clear out of the blue, there is no explanation, and there’s even line in which Justin refuses to tell us how, and it all just smacks of a cop out.  Musically, the song can be catchy at times, but lyrically, it just smacks of bad fanfic.

“Pizza In The Hall” is about how Winky made Justin some pizza.  In the great hall.  And that’s about it.  Now, I have nothing against minimalism, and there have been plenty of great wizard rock songs that are basically the same song lyrics over and over, but they’re mostly joke bonus tracks (for example, the AMAZING “Fang, Stop Peeing On My Trunk”).  I think this would have made a good bonus track, and I think this song would be fun to shout along to with a crowd when played live, but sitting at your home alone, it ends up being more annoying than anything.

With “Not Yet Quite Truly In Love”, we FINALLY get a song about Justin’s sixth year.  I mean, seriously, this is the SEVENTH song, and you just now get to the advertised theme of the album?  Who are you, Voltaire?  It’s pretty much a by-the-numbers Ron/Hermione/Lavender love triangle song, not bad, but nothing we haven’t seen before either.  Steph’s vocals really help make this song, but one doesn’t help but wish that she was the lead vocalist.

Can we pause for a moment to talk about JFF’s voice?  No?  Well, too bad!  So, I actually like JFF’s voice.  I mean, it isn’t anything amazing, but it does its job, and pretty much every word is dripping with enthusiasm and sincerity, and you really get the sense that he is having a grand old time making this music, so much that you can’t help but enjoy it yourself, even if there might be problems in other areas.  But when you pair yourself with one of the best female vocalists in wizard rock, I’m sorry, but it’s like offering a carrot and a donut.  I quite like carrots, and will often snack on them, but if donuts are around, I will go for the donuts.  Maybe this metaphor would be better if it was bagels and donuts.  Whatever.  Round things are tasty, but some are tastier than others.

“Like I Lost You” is a song from Snape’s POV, about Lily (of course).  The previous song could have possibly been interpreted as being from Justin’s POV, though how Justin knows so much about Gryffindor love lives if a bit beyond me, but now we’re definitely not in Justin’s POV, and it’s not even necessarily set during 1996-7!  Like the previous song however, it’s not bad in any way, but this territory has been covered many times before, in funnier ways (The Blibbering Humdingers‘ “Lilly’s Worst Memory”), and in better ways (like, 90% of Split Seven Ways’ catalogue – seriously, Zoë has an unhealthy obsession with those two – she may need some AA-style counseling and rehabilitation).  Overall, this is one of the weakes songs on the album. It still can’t be called “bad”, but the lyrics are a bit mumbly, and tend to ramble on a bit long before rhyming, and I’m sorry, but with so many good Snape/Lily songs out there, I just don’t see the need to listen to this one.

We then go from the nadir of the album to the glorious climax.  No, not like that.  Ewww.  I mean, the high point of the album.  While the previous song was one of the blandest songs about its subject, “Decisions to Make” is one of the best songs ever made about Snape killing Dumbledore.  I mean, it is RIGHT up there with Ministry of Magic’s “Lightning-Struck Tower”.  It is catchy as all hell, and it made me think about its subject in a way I never had before.  Now, that isn’t too hard for one of the less-popular stories in a side-book, but to inject new thoughts into a subject I obsessed about daily for two years?  Now that takes skill.  Specifically, I had never really thought about how Dumbledore is Snape’s only friend, and if you think about it, he really is.  And they aren’t even that good friends!  And that fact makes the previous fact all the more tragic.  This is a catchy, fun as hell song, and yet the lyrics make me want to cry at times.  If JFF ever puts this album on iTunes or the like, then you should definitely get this song.  There are a Metric fuckton of songs about Snape out there, and this is easily one of the best ever made – this is right up there with “Lightning-Struck Tower”, “The Blood of a Prince”, “Lily’s Worst Memory”, “Amortentia”, “Childhood’s End”, “Potions Abuse Part II”, “Snape”, “Snape And Lily Pt 1”, “Eyes To Die For”, “Bad Guy”, and “Snape-Shaped Hole”.

We cap off the album with “Down With The Ministry”, which is about Justin’s seventh year.  OH WHAT THE FUCK.  Some may think that me ragging on the time period and POV of these songs is nitpicking, and maybe it is, but they seriously reduced my enjoyment of the album.  Why?  Because expectations were explicitly set in the first song, and then they were not met.  If the first song was not on the album, I would have categorized this album as a bit sporadic and lacking a thematic flow, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  But we were told that something would happen, and then it didn’t, and that bugs me.  It doesn’t make any of the individual songs weaker, but it does affect the overall quality of the product.

Anyway, back to the last song.  It’s got some nifty lines, like “The Daily Prophet is a daily puppet”, and is surprisingly fresh for a song called “Down With The Ministry”.  I mean, there are almost as many anti-Ministry songs as there are Snape songs out there (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but still), but they come in pretty much two flavors: Fudge (c wat i did there?) and Scrimgeour.  There really aren’t that many songs that are anti-Ministry during Voldemort’s shadowy reign.  There are plenty anti-Voldemort songs during that time, but this song makes you realize that to people who aren’t Harry, Ron, and Hermione, to people at Hogwarts School, while Voldemort’s presence is obvious, the Ministry is still the public figure that’s easier to hate and despise, when Voldemort himself isn’t actively trying to find out where you’re camping.  While not as good as the previous song, the previous song is FUCKING AMAZING, and this one is catchy and fun too, and ends the album on a really nice note.  [Don’t say “Literally!”, don’t say “Literally!”, don’t say Literally!”]  However, I think it might make one think the album was better than it really was.

Time for final thoughts, children!  First, a couple general things about the album as a whole.  Firstly, there are some bizarrely long pauses at the end of the songs, and while that’s not as annoying as pauses at the beginning of a song *koff*DemonsAtTheHelm*koff*, it still makes listening to the album as a whole a disjointed experience.  But that might just be my files, and that’s not a really big deal.  Also, you may have noticed that the artist of this album is “Justin Finch-Fletchley”, not “Justin Finch-Fletchley and the Sugar Quills”.  This is more than a cosmetic change – the colorful cast of voices (mostly rendered by some voice work, pitch editing, and GarageBand filters) that accompanied Justin on his previous musical outings are now gone, and I miss them.  While I’m not sure they would have worked on this album, and Steph makes for able vocal accompaniment, I miss the silly and zany feel they added to things.  Also, when they’re there, the backing vocals are great, the drums can be really fun, and the electric guitar work is FANTASTIC.  In fact, all of the background stuff is so good that they almost warrant a purchase of the album by themselves.  But despite this, I’m going to have to give “and the Half-Blood Pizza” a

The sum of the parts is NOT equal to or greater than the whole.  While there are some truly great songs on this album, as well as some purely fun ones, there are enough rehashes, annoying ones, and purely bland ones to make this album not quite worth the dough.  It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but if you liked the superior Hufflepizza, and want more of the same, then don’t look hear.  But if you want to hear some amazing electric guitar work, and don’t mind sacrificing a few dollars and getting a few songs you already have or are never going to listen to in return for a couple great songs, then “and the Half-Blood Pizza” could be worth your time and money.

EDIT: Turns out, it actually is on iTunes.  Since this is the case, then you should definitely go buy “Decisions To Make” and “Hairy Heart”, but I find it even harder to justify buying the whole album.  Still, you should definitely, DEFINITELY buy the two songs previously mentioned.  Peace out!

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Zoë (Split Seven Ways etc)
    Jun 15, 2010 @ 01:08:03

    “seriously, Zoë has an unhealthy obsession with those two – she may need some AA-style counseling and rehabilitation” yeahhh I will concede the point seeing as I actually started talking about them in a therapy session once.

    I like this review and seeing as myself and DJ Knockturn managed to get vaguely obsessed with “Krum” I may have to pick up some tracks from this album on iTunes when I have pennies. I do not give JFF enough love 😦

    Dumbledore is Snape’s only confidant… THEY ARE FRENEMIES :O

    Reply

    • wrocksnob
      Jun 15, 2010 @ 01:43:37

      Unfortunately, this album isn’t on iTunes, so you can’t get individual tracks. 😦

      Reply

      • JFF
        Jun 15, 2010 @ 05:34:25

        Oh crap! I have to leave a comment, which is not something I wanted to do. Okay, I’m over it.

        “and the Half-Blood Pizza” IS indeed on iTunes. It would be nice if you could maybe *edit* that part of this review.

        I also think I figured out why you think it is not on iTunes. If you search “Justin Finch-Fletchley” you’ll be directed to everything on iTunes by me – albums, comps, whatevas (including “and the Half-Blood Pizza”). If you search “Justin Finch-Fletchley and the Sugar Quills” you will not be directed to “and the Half-Blood Pizza” That disappoints me that iTunes is that effing picky but also explains a lot to me about why you couldn’t find it.

        Um, I guess since I’m here I’ll say thanks for the review. It made me chuckle. I freakin’ love carrots and am very honored that you would compare me to a carrot.

        I could say more but then what would be the point of it being “your” review if I offered my own?

        Thank you,

        Justin Finch-Fletchley

        Reply

  2. Whompy
    Jun 15, 2010 @ 04:24:17

    Hey dude. As usual, great review overall!

    Just a note about pauses before and after songs: sometimes they’re deliberate, and sometimes they’re a result of wizard rockers not being professional master-ers. With Demons, all the pauses are deliberately calculated to contribute to the mood of the album. Obviously the effect didn’t work with you, but it may have worked with others, who knows. 🙂

    Also, I really like your mini-review of Justin’s voice. I find it unfortunate when “classically trained” vocalists rip into people like Justin for being — not classically trained. It just shows they know very little about rock n’ roll, which is the greatest genre of music ever. Justin’s voice is absolutely one-of-a-kind, and I’m glad you’ve noted his sincerity because he has bucketloads of it.

    Great job!

    Matt

    Reply

  3. Russ
    Jun 15, 2010 @ 04:29:33

    Well, I think it’s safe to say that this review really solidifies the fact that the intent here is to be a snarky “reviewer” for each and every album, and nitpick it apart in a way to find anything that could be negative.

    Giving this album a D is nothing but a blatant attempt to make it look like you’re too cool for good music.

    Poor form. Poor, poor form indeed.

    As promising as this blog started, I’m not sure I really want to keep reading “reviews” where the intent is to bash for bashing’s sake. I’m bored with that already.

    I agree about the missing “zany voices” because I also dug those, but this is yet another review that trashes a band for trying out something new and moving forward (see: Demons review). If that’s the attitude in the community about the bands (“Give us your first album again for the 4th time!”, then it’s no wonder people are starting to not give a shit.

    Reply

    • wrocksnob
      Jun 15, 2010 @ 04:53:51

      I’m really not setting out to bash for bashing’s sake. With the first review that I did, I definitely chose to sacrifice a sacred cow, because I felt that the opinion I had wasn’t unique to myself, but still wasn’t supported by the wizard rock community. In this case, JFF asked me to review his album. I gave my honest opinion. I wasn’t doing it to be mean or to tear anyone down – I’ve only seen JFF live once, but I was really impressed by his live work – it made me appreciate and like songs that I hadn’t before. I think he’s added intriguing characterization to a character that’s mostly a blank slate. And maybe it’s wrong of me, but a lot of my ire, if you can call it that, at this album is that it set up expectations explicitly in the lyrics of the very first song, and then did not meet them at all. And more than that, a lot of the songs didn’t feel like the were “something new and moving forward” – it was doing plot rehashes of a book released four years ago. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, and sometimes it worked out phenomenally, and sometimes it didn’t.

      And again let me state, because I really think this has been lost, that I really liked Demons. It was a really good piece of music. I didn’t think that it was wizard rock, or even meta-wrock, but that’s me, and that’s a different discussion (the continuing discussion of meta-wrock, and what it means for the community, is one that I’ll be picking back up either tomorrow, or next Wednesday). I mean, so far, my average grade has been a C+ or something. (F+B+B+D)/4 = ?

      And I have nothing against trying new things. I mean, if it wasn’t for trying things that had never been done before, this awesome community and genre wouldn’t exist. But 1) Experiments sometimes, maybe even often fail – that is their nature, and 2) I really don’t see this as being something new. Yes, it is a slightly different sound for JFF, but it isn’t an entirely unseen sound in wrock. I’m not saying its derivative or anything, but I think his old sound was more unique than this one, and even with the songs I didn’t like, they were definitely… different sounding.

      But hey, thanks for reading up to this point, and I do appreciate the feedback!

      Reply

    • Whompy
      Jun 15, 2010 @ 05:58:10

      I disagree, Russ. While I do feel that Half-Blood Pizza is Justin’s best work to date, and while I also feel that Decisions To Make is actually the weakest (or maybe second-weakest) track on the album and Winky Made Me Pizza is one of the best, I do appreciate that WrockGuy puts so much thought into his reviews, even if he can’t prevent himself from being snarky. I don’t think he trashed Demons at all — I just really disagree with his narrow definition of meta and his insistence that every song on an album has to individually spell out the album’s intent because apparently all music listeners are incapable of picking up on contextual clues.

      Take out the grades, and WrockGuy is providing bands with extensive feedback they aren’t getting anywhere else. I think he has some major room for improvement as a writer, but he also has a shit-ton of potential, and it’s something that we (wizard rockers) should encourage.

      Reply

      • Russ
        Jun 15, 2010 @ 06:08:45

        I do still think there’s huge potential here, and I appreciate the Snob’s gracious responses when someone’s critical of his writing. I just feel like there’s so much potential here, and I don’t want to see it’s energy get wasted on trying to be overly witty/snarky when it can be better put towards really pulling out the little interesting things that can make/break a song.

        For the bands, yes there’s a wealth of information that the Snob can give because he does take the time to critically listen and give a response. For the rest of the readers, though, it might almost be like missing the forest for the trees, y’know? It’s almost like there’s an attempt (from my point of view) to be negative about performances. Maybe it’s a backlash against the overly saccharine lovefest feedback can be within wizard rock.

        I truly do hope things balance out as the Snob finds his writing voice; but I stand by my earlier comments that being unnecessarily negative for shock value’s sake is getting boring.

        Reply

  4. thefinalbattle2010
    Jun 15, 2010 @ 04:49:18

    This is one of my favorite wizard rock albums (ESPECIALLY Hairy Heart, as it really goes with my song if you put them together.) And I’m surprised you gave it a D, but I guess that’s your perogative!

    I do agree with Russ, that it’s very important to move forward with your work (Fair Fortune?) but I also understand if you change too much, it’s not the same band anymore (Insert example here.) But I think this album is obviously JFF, so a few changes are definitely not a bad thing, and DEFINITELY don’t warrant a drop in grade.

    As always, I love your writing, and I can’t wait to read more,

    Lena

    Reply

  5. Jarrod
    Jun 15, 2010 @ 10:47:33

    I can’t say I agree with the letter grade, however I agree with many of your comments. It just seems like you enjoyed the album more than a “D”. I think this (along with the EP of the Month) is JFF’s best work to date.

    A note about the drums in the first song: If I had played them faster as you had suggested, they wouldn’t have stayed with the song, as I was playing to the tempo JFF had set. And I assume he chose that tempo so hit could fit the “rushed and hard to understand” lyrics in the second verse.

    Thanks for reviewing a really good album! 🙂

    Reply

  6. Sarah
    Jun 15, 2010 @ 16:34:43

    I came over to read this review after reading your twitter convo with Matt, and I definitely agree with him that I was surprised with your final grade for the album after reading the whole review. I could have seen a C but a D feels harsh. I know the whole 6/10 thing, and I understand why you gave it that grade, but I think people have too many preformed notions about what good grades are to really use that type of scale.
    I personally think, and obviously this is your blog, and I am just talking out
    of my ass, that moving to the HP grades system, or using a star system or just doing some grade inflation would serve the blog well. Plus, there might be less people whovwere upset about your grades.

    Reply

    • wrocksnob
      Jun 15, 2010 @ 19:04:59

      I am definitely considering moving to the wizarding grading system, because there are far less preconceived notions about what the letters mean. I mean, a C means it’s Average, yet if you get a C then you’re not doing so hot. The whole thing is stupid. Anywho, part of me could care less who’s upset about a single (albeit large) letter, but on the other hand, part of me really doesn’t want people to think I’m saying something I didn’t. Or maybe I might just remove the letter grade all together – reviews don’t need a grade or a number or whatever. It’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about.

      Reply

  7. Sectumsampra
    Jun 25, 2010 @ 07:15:12

    That is so werid, I JUST went through an old box of VHS and found/watched “We’re Back”.

    Reply

  8. Sectumsampra
    Jun 25, 2010 @ 07:38:59

    And I definitely agree with changing or altering the grading system. I like to read the reviews and come up with my own grade determined by what you have written, and the grade posted always seems much lower. For example, I know when I see a “D”, I consider that an across the board fail, “C” is below average, “B” is average/pretty good, and “A” is above average. But that’s just a thought, keep up the good work!

    Reply

    • wrocksnob
      Jun 25, 2010 @ 18:16:57

      Yeah, that’s pretty much the stigma given to letters now, and instead of trying to fight it and confuse people, I think I’m gonna switch to the Hogwarts system, because besides the definitions, there are no hidden euphemistic meanings where the average grade is somehow a bad thing. Sigh. We live in a really weird version of a meritocracy.

      Reply

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