Escala’s Debut Album: “Escala”
Have I ever mentioned that I hate self-named albums? It’s lazy, it’s boring and it makes the titles of my articles particularly awkward. It’s not on. Especially when it’s such a crap name for a band, anyway. Scala is a very good name, and I’m not without sympathy that they had to let it go, but as coincidences have it, I have been a big fan of the “obscure Belgian choir” (as a tabloid described them, hey, they have only released seven albums!) that had first dibs on the name for a few years, and so I’m siding with the choir on this one (have you heard their rendition of ‘Teenage Spirit’? It’s bloody creepily fantastic, check it out here).
So, after changing their name from Scala, to eScala and then finally to Escala, they finally released their debut album. It kept being delayed but common sense tells me they wanted to release the album on the week of the Britain’s Got Talent live shows for maximum impact on sales, which has worked tremendously. After their live performance on the show, they ranked number one on the Amazon charts the next day above Eminem. I was expecting a modest but respectable top 30 album if I’m honest. I knew such an album would sell but not that well. It demonstrated the impact that Cowell’s shows have on the music industry.
So why would this album have selled either way? If you look a few years back you will find the answer in the embodiment of a string-quartet named Bond. They were an enormously successful classical crossover act, one of the few that sold extremely well in America. They were exactly as Escala are now: a sexy, leggy, string-quartet that punched out popular tunes on their custom made string instruments with a multi-techno layered production. Other bands came and went whilst Bond were still active (interestingly, Wild was one of them, two members of which are now in Escala) but Bond truly had the market. Bond, however, quit whilst they were ahead and left the music scene long before the public were ready for them to do so. They were lamented, and by the time it was clear that Bond really had disappeared, the public had missed the boat with the other quartets who had since disbanded or had been dropped.
So the string-quartet has been a gap just waiting to be filled up over the past few years, and what better way to fill it than with a group that are an exact replica of Bond and burst into the scene in one of the biggest promotional shows in the UK? Yes, Escala had success served to them on a plate but are they any good?
In classic Cowell style who can only emulate and not innovate, he has simply reproduced the tried and tested formula that Bond produced. The tracklisting is desperately unoriginal with the typical crossover material such as ‘Kashmir’, ‘Palladio’ and ‘Sarabande’, which , quite frankly, are no different to Bond‘s renditions. Whilst many arrangements are quite uninspired, Robert Miles‘s ‘Children’ is well executed as is the instantly recognisable ‘Requiem For A Tower’. The shame is that you may feel you are playing the soundtrack to Britain’s Got Talent as some of the songs has been used relentlessly on the show. It rather taints the material.
There are only two respectable classical standards on here, ‘Chi Mai’ and ‘Adagio For Strings’ (you can include Handel’s ‘Sarabande’ if you like, though the piece is easily manipulated for techno influences), and thankfully, they are treated with respect in their production (only a mild drum machine). Sadly their actual performance of ‘Adagio For Strings’ seems a bit static and I didn’t lose myself in it as I have with other renditions.
If you are new to classical crossover, a lot of this may seem quite new and special in which case, good for you, but for listeners of Bond, Vanessa-Mae and Lucia Micarelli this has all been done before. If this band really wants to replace Bond, the best thing to do is to record different songs from them. It’s common sense. No Bond fan wants to hear these songs again – they already have them. The good thing about Escala is that Bond‘s later albums were immersed in computer wizardry and the strings could barely be heard, this is not the case with Escala; they are never drowned out by drum machines. Even so, I hope for a little bit more originality from their next album.
If you’re disappointed the drum-machine trick, there is another string quartet on the market with considerbly less publicity called Raven who are probably the best out there at the moment. One of its members is renowned violinist’s Nicola Benedetti‘s sister!