A Great Big World • Is There Anybody Out There? • Epic • US Release Date: January 21, 2014
As the wise, old saying goes, “Two heads are better than one.” Indeed, new singer/songwriter duo A Great Big World is the epitome of that sentiment – two talented, young musicians. Comprised of former New York University music business students Chad Vaccarino and Ian Axel, A Great Big World is the latest power-pop creation sharing its exuberance with the world. Ultimately though, it’s more than that. Why should anyone care about these dudes? Well, they have one killer, moving single called “Say Something” that is nothing short of beautiful. Additionally, they infuse their brand of pop with an extra dash of creativity that isn’t known as EDM, hip-hop, or ‘swagger’. On debut LP Is There Anybody Out There?, Chad and Ian show the world they are both contemporary and vintage, which is definitely a balanced approach.
“Rockstar” opens Is There Anybody Out There sensationally, establishing a piano-driven pop identity from the onset. The song’s theme is one of dreams and aspirations, conveyed through simplistic lyrics “Singin’ ah ha ha I just wanna be a rock star”. Additionally, the songwriters play around with the album’s title, referencing it alongside the concept of dreaming: “If there’s a meaning can you show me a sign / the more I look it just gets harder to find / the world is spinnin’ and I wanna know why…” “Rockstar” definitely starts the fire and makes the listener want even more.
“Land of Opportunity” rides the established momentum to its upmost, sporting a quick tempo and unshakable enthusiasm. “Land of Opportunity” incorporates various sound and stylistic cues, including a ragtime/cabaret section as well as a cacophonous crescendo that’s quite theatric and manic. Keeping A Great Big World’s New York roots in mind, “Land of Opportunity” very much sounds like a musical representation of Broadway. Besides the overall sound and vibe, the songwriting isn’t too shabby: “Ahh I just gotta believe there’s somethin’ better / Ahh I just gotta believe there’s somethin’ more than you and me…I’m sailing away / to a land of opportunity”. “Land Of Opportunity” gives A Great Big World another great ‘big’ triumph.
“Already Home” slows the tempo from the rollicking “Land of Opportunity”, opting for more mid-tempo fare. Even though it’s slower, there still plenty of energy and overall excitement behind the shared vocals, particularly as the cut builds in intensity. Vocal harmonies and soaring strings help to guide “Already Home” to its remarkable fever pitch, only to settle down as the cut closes. As strong as the power balladry of “Already Home” is, “I Really Want It” is even more brilliant. The tempo once more picks up and piano retains prominence, particularly the accented bass notes in the left hand. Typical of power-pop, the lyrics possess an ambitiousness, in spite of simplicity: “I’m not givin’ up / it’s crawlin’ under my skin / and I don’t care if I sin / I really want it / I really want it / I really want it right now”. The listener easily perceives the duo’s passion; they truly make the audience “want” what they “want”.
Gorgeous single “Say Something” appears as both a solo track performed by Axel as well as a better-known version in which he duets with Christina Aguilera. The inclusion of both is a nice touch, even if the version sans Aguilera feels as if it needs that extra voice to ‘complete it’. Ultimately, “Say Something” is the crowning achievement of Is There Anybody Out There – it is definitely deserving of success it has already garnered. The stripped approach with piano, strings and voice is perfect; it necessitates nothing more.
“You’ll Be Okay” gives the set a bluesy, gospel-tinged number. “You’ll Be Okay” has that Elton John quality written all over it, particularly the harmonic progression and weight of the piano part. For a pop parallel, think Adele’s “One And Only”, where meter (six-eight) as well as emotion and overall pacing are concerned. Vocally, the musicianship ascends to a lofty level, with added grit behind the duo’s impressive pipes. As the title suggests, “You’ll be okay, you’ll be okay / the sun will rise / to better days / you’ll be okay, you’ll be okay.” Amen brothers, amen! Let the church say yesssssss!
After “You’ll Be Okay”, things ‘slow down’ a bit for A Great Big World. “Everyone Is Gay” has great intentions, but perhaps it doesn’t quite achieve the bar it sets. The message is one of tolerance and being ‘you’ (“If you’re gay, then you’re gay / don’t pretend that you’re straight / you can be who you are any day of the week…”). However, it comes off so tongue-in-cheek and over-the-top that it’s incredibly corny. “Everyone Is Gay” is much more Broadway than “Land of Opportunity”, and perhaps it’s just a wee bit too much. Still, A Great Big World makes its point of self-expression loud and clear.
“There Is An Answer” retains the optimism without truly ‘reinventing the wheel’, or power-pop for that matter. The biggest rub with this solid song is that it seems as if it’s missing that extra ‘somethin’ somethin’ that makes, say “Say Something” a true gem and representative cut. “I Don’t Wanna Love Somebody Else” has bit more swagger, but still falls short of the glory of the very best. Still, “I Don’t Wanna Love Somebody Else” is enjoyable because of its simplicity; it eschews overdoing and overthinking. Chad Vaccarino handles solo vocals here.
“This Is The New Year” keeps Is There Anybody Out There? afloat, pushing the tempo and keeping the vibes happy – yep, that means a jubilant, major key. “This is the new year / a new beginning / you made a promise / you are the brightest / we are the voices / this is the new year.” “Shorty Don’t Wait” finds Chad evoking some fine personality, not to mention some mean vocal grit. Throw in a folky nature and some magnificent backing vocals, and “Shorty Don’t Wait” is definitely interesting if nothing more. On penultimate cut “Cheer Up!”, Ian once more takes the lead, with Chad handling backing duties. What makes “Cheer Up” unique compared to others tracks is its reliance on electronic sounds. The brief cut isn’t among the best, but it does set itself apart. The duet version of “Say Something” impressively closes Is There Anybody Out There?.
Overall, A Great Big World delivers a compelling debut with Is There Anybody Out There?. It’s not the perfect album mind you, but its pros easily outweigh its cons. In a generation where optimism in music or anything seems to be rare, A Great Big World deliver an album that thrives on its positivity and reminds the listener its okay to be ambitious and dream. Perhaps Chad and Ian’s tremendous jubilance will rub off on the world. We can only hope.
“Rockstar”; “Land of Opportunity”; “I Really Want It”; “There Is An Answer”; “Say Something” featuring Christina Aguilera