MUSIC REVIEW: The Network’s “Trans Am”, Tim Minchin’s “Apart Together”, and “If the Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album”

I don’t normally review music here. From time-to-time, I make exceptions, but on the whole, I don’t feel particularly qualified to review music. I don’t write music, I don’t understand how one comes up with the perfect song. Nonetheless, I love music. And, sometimes, there are weeks where multiple albums that I am excited about all release on the same day. And, on those weeks, I feel the desire to take a listen to those albums and talk about them. This week, The Network (a Green Day side project) released an EP entitled “Trans Am,” Tim Minchin released his debut solo album entitled “Apart Together,” and the original Broadway cast of Hadestown released “If the Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album.” So, let’s talk about all of them.

The Network – “Trans Am” (EP)
I was a bit too young to get in on the original Network craze. I didn’t become a Green Day fan until sometime after American Idiot came out, so I didn’t hear about The Network until well after the fact. But I have always enjoyed Green Day’s various side projects—even the ones they won’t confirm are them. So, when The Network started teasing new music earlier this month, I was pumped. It turns out, all of that teasing was leading up to a new EP (possibly with more to come in the future), “Trans Am.” The first single for “Trans Am,” “Ivankkka is a Nazi,” was an absolute bop and that remains true for the entire EP. It’s not particularly long (featuring 4 songs and clocking in around 10 minutes), but it’s great. Each song is that perfect mixture of strange and catchy that The Network is best known for.

Some of the songs are politically driven (“Ivankkka is a Nazi”) while others are sci-fi and conspiracy-focused (“Trans Am,” “Flat Earth”). All of them, though, are great—with my favorites being “Flat Earth” and “Ivankkka is a Nazi.” Even if you’re not a fan of Green Day, I still think there might be something here for you. Trans Am has more of a European sound than Green Day traditionally does, and the songs are far more tongue in cheek—“Flat Earth” has a chorus that pronounces: “Flat earth / flat earth / it’s what we’re living on / if you think the world is round / you’re probably a moron” and it’s a delight. It’s a quick adrenaline shot of fun and well worth a listen if you’re a fan of Green Day or interesting and unique rock music. (5 out of 5 wands)

Tim Minchin – “Apart Together”
I’ve been a fan of Minchin’s since 2013/2014, when I first saw the recording of the Jesus Christ Superstar 2012 arena tour, where he played Judas. I quickly got turned onto his comedy albums and fell in love with them. Minchin has such a gift for witty lyrics, and the music he composes to accompany those lyrics are so whimsical. The same is true for the two musicals he wrote the music and lyrics for—Matilda and Groundhog Day. So, obviously, I was very interested in hearing his debut studio album, “Apart Together.” For fans of his comedy work, “Apart Together” may prove a bit polarizing. But for everyone else, it’s a great debut album from an artist with a gift for storytelling through music.

I’m gonna be up front—I don’t love ballads. Sure, they’re great, and who doesn’t enjoy the occasional cry to a really sad ballad? But they’re not my favorite. “Apart Together” is comprised of about 75% ballads, 25% upbeat songs—which is a pretty big departure from what fans of Minchin’s comedy output are familiar with. All of the songs on “Apart Together” are good, though, and they bear similarities with Minchin’s theatrical work. Musically, this album doesn’t quite have the same whimsy found in Minchin’s comedic output and Matilda, but lyrically, it’s a masterpiece. Every song on this album feels deeply personal, often vulnerable to the point of being uncomfortable. Here, Minchin has cut open his heart and laid everything within it in plain sight for everyone to see. There are songs that don’t paint him in the best light, there are melancholic songs reflecting on his career, there are sweet songs, and there are songs that are reminiscent of his comedic work. Naturally, my favorite songs tended to be the more upbeat ones, such as “Airport Piano,” “Talked Too Much, Stayed Too Long,” and “Beautiful Head,” but there isn’t a bad song on this album. Some highlights from the ballads include “Apart Together,” “Carry You,” “I’ll Take Lonely Tonight,” and “If This Plane Goes Down.”

Ultimately, “Apart Together” is a great album, though your enjoyment may depend on what you expected going into it and what you’re in the mood for. It’s autobiographical and the lyrics will move you, make you laugh, and—best of all—make you feel something. Many of the songs are so catchy they’ll be implanted in your brain for days. I miss some of the light-hearted whimsy found in some of Minchin’s other work, but I enjoyed everything new he brought to this album. Regardless of if you’re more familiar with Minchin’s comedy work or his theatrical work—or even if you’re not familiar with any of his work—there will be something on this album for you. Give it a listen. (4.5 out of 5 wands)

The Original Cast of Hadestown – “If the Fates Allow (A Hadestown Holiday Album)”
At this point, everyone knows how much I love Hadestown. I think the story is great and the music is even better. So, when it was first announced that the original cast of the musical would be reuniting to deliver a Holiday album, with covers of classic Christmas songs in the style of Anaïs Mitchell’s music and new songs written especially for the album, I was immediately excited. I mean, Christmas music in the style of one of my favorite musicals? What else could someone ask for? And, predictably, the album’s great. It’s a perfect mixture of holiday spirit and the optimistic melancholy found within the world of Hadestown. If you like Hadestown, you’re gonna like “If the Fates Allow.”

Led by Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad—the three actresses who played the Fates in Hadestown, the album reunites most of the original cast (including Amber Gray, Patrick Page, Reeve Carney, Eva Noblezada, André De Shields, and the rest of the ensemble) and it’s such an immediate delight to hear this group of people making music together again. The songs, though, are probably the real highlight. The album, like the musical, features a combination of ballads (like “Thank God It’s Christmas,” “Blue Christmas,” and “The Longest Winter”) and more upbeat songs (like “Sleigh Ride,” “8 Days (Of Hannukah),” and “’Twas the Night”)—all of which are great. Of course, I tend to prefer the more upbeat songs, but I do love a good Christmas ballad, and “If the Fates Allow” is filled with them. The standout songs, for me, are probably “Sleigh Ride,” “Come Healing,” “Blue Christmas,” “Winter Song,” and “’Twas the Night.”

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure which songs are covers and which songs are originals written by Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Anaïs Mitchell, Liam Robinson (the show’s music director) because all the songs blend perfectly together. Everyone did an amazing job of transforming these songs into the style of Hadestown. It’s the kind of album you’d primarily listen to on a cold night at 11 pm by the fireplace. It feels destined to become the kind of holiday classic that theatre lovers return to year-after-year. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

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