I confess that when I first heard that Monty Python's gloriously stupid film Quest for the Holy Grail was being translated into a Broadway musical I was somewhat cynical. OK, it had the involvement of original Python Eric Idle, but how on earth could a stage show capture the inspired lunacy of the film?
Then I actually saw Spamalot performed in the UK and my opinion changed. Not only was it incredibly, laugh out loud funny, it also contained some surprisingly good songs. Hot on the heels of that, I raced out to buy this CD - a recording of the songs performed by the original Broadway cast.
It's testimony to the strength of the songs that it's irrelevant that the cast performing them are (for the most part) not natural singers and, in some cases, not actually terribly good. This recording features Tim Curry, Hank Azaria and David Hyde Pearce - all people known more for their acting than their singing skills. Yet, the songs are so much fun that even when they are not necessarily sung terribly well, they are still great to listen to.
When I saw the stage show, I expected it to be a stage version of Holy Grail with a few songs thrown in. Yet, the songs themselves are all proper songs, well written and well orchestrated. Sure, they parody some of the conventions of musicals (or music in general), but they are also damn good songs in their own right. The balance between parody and "real" music is just about right, too. Had the CD featured too many out and out parodies, it would have become a little tedious. However, Spamalot has its own distinct musical style which also makes you want to listen and sing along. Combined with some genuinely funny lyrics that will make you laugh no matter how many times you hear them ,this is a CD that will have you tapping your foot, singing along and laughing out loud at the daft lyrics... often at the same time. The excellent songs also means that this is more than just a novelty CD that you will play a few times and then forget about; it's one that you will definitely want to listen to time and time again.
Spamalot also excels in its use of different musical styles of, with almost no two songs the same. You Won't Succeed on Broadway combines the style of Noel Coward with the rhythm of Jewish songs (sounds odd, I know, but it works). Find Your Grail parodies the power ballad, whilst yet The Song That Goes Like This is a parody of love songs. Some (the Fisch Schlapping Song, Run Away) are just plain silly and only a couple (Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Brave Sir Robin) will already be familiar to you if you've not seen the show. It's probably safe to say that in terms of musical styles, this is one of the most varied albums that it's possible to buy.
Despite the use of so many different styles, the CD does still manage to retain a theme and style of its own, rather than simply feeling like a load of different tracks stuck on the same album for convenience.
The CD also represents incredibly good value for money, containing 25 tracks. OK, some of these are quite short and quantity is not necessarily an indication of quantity; but in the case of Spamalot you get both. There is scarcely a weak track amongst them. Sure, you will like some more than others, but there are none that will have you reaching for the Skip Track button.
Normally, at this point, I'd do a track by listing, but to be honest there are so many that if I did that, you'd be reading this review until Christmas. Besides, there's a limit to how many times you can write "another great song" before your readers wander off to read something less predictable (like a cornflakes packet). So instead, I'll just pick out a few of my personal favourites.
The Song That Goes Like This
A parody of ballads, The Song That Goes Like This pokes gentle, affectionate fun at some of the music of a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber. Both amusing and musical, it's a great song to listen and sing along to - particularly if you have someone with whom you can perform it as a duet. The vocal styles of the two lead singers are well suited to this song, perfectly capturing the breathless, over the top acting and emotion that frequently marks this type of song without ever straying too far into ridicule. This is one of the songs on the album that you will listen to then hit the "replay" button to listen to again.
Find Your Grail
Another parody - this time of the power ballad that people like Tina Turner inflicted on us in the 90s. It's actually a surprisingly good song with some strong writing and amusing lyrics to boot. Well sung by Sara Ramirez (although flying the flag for Britain, Hayley Tamaddon did it better in the UK stage show version I saw!), it's a genuinely good song in its own right.
Brave Sir Robin
One of the few songs that will already be familiar to Python fans. The medieval simplicity of Brave Sir Robin is instantly appealing, whilst the utterly bonkers words, describing various ways of torturing people are very, very funny without being offensive. One of the shorter songs on the album, but still great.
You Won't Succeed on Broadway
Arguably the best song on the whole album. Combining the vocal style of Noel Coward (clipped, upper class lyrics) with Jewish rhythm and melody (for obvious reasons once you hear the song), this is simply inspired. It's a cracking song in its own right, but the sheer lunacy of the words will make you laugh and smile every single time you listen to it. Pure, unadulterated brilliance.
There are very few soundtracks - particularly for comedies - that you can listen to independently of the visual element and still enjoy, or that you can listen to repeatedly and still enjoy as much as you did on first play. Spamalot is one, rare example. The tunes are great, the lyrics funny and the whole CD is just a lot of fun.
© Copyright SWSt 2011