The Belgian choir displays fleeting signs of ambition beyond achieving novelty status.
Ian Wade 2011
Many centuries ago – okay, in 2004 – a strange and beguiling version of the Divinyls’ slightly mucky hit I Touch Myself emerged, sung by what sounded like a ghostly children’s choir. It made for spooky mixtape fun at the time, and little else seemed to be known about the mysterious Scala Choir. Were they some sort of religious cult? Polyphonic Spree Juniors? All seemed shrouded in a cloak of mystery.
Fast-forward to late 2010, and The Social Network’s trailer is accompanied by a hymnal version of Radiohead’s Creep – turns out that it’s by the same choir. More facts began to emerge: the group is the brainchild of two classically trained brothers Steven and Stijn Kolacny, and they have at their disposal a 200-strong all-girl choir… and a penchant for covering rock classics.
This compilation, billed as their UK debut (they’ve many more long-players available), features a range of rock classics from across the years. It takes in Metallica (Nothing Else Matters), U2 (With Or Without You), Oasis (Champagne Supernova), Depeche Mode (I Feel You) and Kings of Leon (Use Somebody). And then there’s Alanis Morissette’s Ironic – but that should only be ever covered in concrete and thrown into the sea.
The choir is undeniably brilliant at what they do, and there’s no denying the loveliness and talent and pleasing mellowness, but where does this sit as an album? Is it an edgier easy listening? Paul Anka tried his hand at easying-up rock standards a few years back with his Rock Swings set, which featured songs by Soundgarden and Nirvana, so taking this material into rather less raucous waters isn’t that new an idea. Is it lounge indie? A Twilight Swingle Singers? The point where the Jameses Blunt, Blake, Osterberg and Last naturally converge? Perhaps the selections here have become too much like standards, and the associations that many of the originals have attached to them may bog these versions down.
In small doses this album works perfectly – should a track pop up on a shuffle setting, it’ll likely last its duration without the skip function being employed. But digging in the crates for rather more interesting songs to rework in this style would’ve added intrigue where there isn’t any. Lesser-known tunes – I Touch Myself worked so well because it was a one-hit wonder reassessed – would enable Scala to shine a new light on previously unnoticed material. That said, the three self-penned numbers here – Our Last Fight, Masquerade (Of Fools) and Seashell – suggest that this project has ambitions beyond becoming little more than a novelty turn.