Is There Anybody Out There?

A Great Big World

Epic, 2014

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Say what you will about its artistic merits, but Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, the two men behind Is There Anybody Out There?, came to prominence through shrewd marketing and social media exposure. An EP funded by Kickstarter, their songs prominently featured on Glee and The Voice, a duet with a major star in Christina Aguilera – the lead-up to this record’s release could not have been handled much better.

Things aren’t where they used to be, where a few prominent DJ’s could make or break an album; these days, one has to try different things. So, kudos should be given to A Great Big World for realizing how to play the game and doing it quite well. Of course, there is still the question of just how good are these guys, and what will this album mean come the end of 2014?

The name chosen by Axel and Vaccarino is almost too perfect for the experience of listening to the album: if they are going to strikeout, then they will do it swinging for the fences. A Great Big World grabs everything they can get their hands on out of a pop musician’s bag of tricks and throws it against the wall to see what sticks. Subtlety has no place on this record. The biggest complaint I can levy against the album is that the effort is just too much to handle for the length of a regular studio album. 44 minutes isn’t that long compared to other typical albums, but this could have easily been an extended EP, or at the very least no more than a half hour, during which A Great Big World could have accomplished just as much.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Even the quietest moments on Is There Anybody Out There? eventually gather steam and blow up into huge, overwrought ballads, with the soaring strings and melodramatic wordplay that we have all heard a thousand times before. That formula only works if you fully commit, and thankfully that is a lesson A Great Big World has heeded well. Their huge hit single, “Say Something,” manages to avoid falling into those pitfalls, mainly because of the sense of sincerity behind it. When Axel reaches for those big notes at the song’s climax, he’s got you completely in his back pocket. It’s a terrific single, and an even better song in the original version without Christina Aguilera’s re-recorded duet vocal.

A Great Big World also is up to the task when it comes to delivering up-tempo numbers, albeit if a number of them sound remarkably like Ben Folds (and when I say remarkably, at least three people asked me when listening to this album, “Is that Ben Folds?”)“I Really Want It” and “This Is The New Year” in particular are outstanding. The latter legitimately captures that epic scope of Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).

Is There Anybody Out There does get a little too cute for it’s own good. While the message behind a song like “Everyone Is A Gay” is certainly inclusive and worth affirming, the manner in which it is done is too on the nose to appreciate the effort. The aforementioned bag of tricks sometimes result in unnecessary flourishes that just seem too calculated debated and discussed: for instance, the little ragtime, Beatles-esque interjection during “Land Of Opportunity,” the entirety of “Shorty Don’t Waitor “Cheer Up.” Again, professional to a “T” but just over the line where a little more judicious editing would have done some good.

Regardless of the manner in which Is There Anybody Out There? came to be released, the focus is on the music, as it should be. It should not take much for A Great Big World to tweak their approach and deliver a sophomore release that expands upon and builds on the foundation laid down here. Whenever that day arrives, I will definitely be one of the first in line to listen.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2014 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic, and is used for informational purposes only.