Oh, silly Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Despite being a show about vampires, a 17-year-old girl with superpowers, and lesbian Wiccans, I loved it all. I may not have been an absolute fanatic for the show (I never attended any of those insane conventions), but I watched the show every week, and I admittedly connected with the characters. However, season 6 of Buffy
saw it on something of a decline to many viewers, as the dark and depressing atmosphere was just not what they had come to expect. Enter the musical episode Once More With Feeling
Executive-producer and head writer Joss Whedon went on a small retreat to pen on all the songs on OMWTF
. Taking two weeks to shoot, the episode was a landmark for both Buffy
and current television standards. Featuring complex dance numbers and camera tracking, it was still eclipsed by the surprisingly well put together songs. Performed completely by the series actors, the emotional impact was well felt by fans and new viewers alike. It wasn’t too long after the episodes score and musical numbers were released as a separate album, although the title was not quite as surprising: [b]Once More With Feeling
The cast does an amazing job performing all of these songs. Although there were grumbling about the work that was required to make the episode (particularly from lead Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy), it isn’t apparent in any of the performances. In fact, Gellar herself, while not the best singer out of the cast, gives the most driven performance on the entire soundtrack. Her first trip through the motions is in fact Going Through the Motions
. It’s a fun little romp through some of what the character Buffy had been feeling about her “Slayer” duties at the time. Yes, it sounds very, very stupid out of context, but it still had a few comic moments and nifty little group choruses. The overture preceding it also sets up the album well; Whedon obviously spent massive amounts of time planning this all out.
This leads into I’ve Got a Theory/Bunnies/If We’re Together
, in which nearly every cast member sings a line or two. It continues the rather comedic feel from the beginning of the episode, and it’s where we get the first of the transitioning numbers. The first “suite” is a funny little ditty about what’s going on (essentially, a demon visited Sunnydale and caused the entire town to burst into song and dance), and the Bunny interlude may be a bit over the top, but it still has its own charm and wit about it. Under Your Spell
is the power ballad of the album, in which Tara (Amber Benson) sings to her witchy lover Willow (Alyson Hannigan), and the chorus of “ah-ah” in the background accentuates Benson’s strong vocals (some of the best on the album). Despite it being the song that many feel should have won and Emmy, it’s my least favorite of the major songs on the album, only because it’s too cheesy for even me. It still has a nifty scene on the actual episode, however.
The most bouncy song on the album, I’ll Never Tell
, is a campy romp through a relationship essentially founded on lies. It’s one of the moments here that both fit the plot of [b]Buffy[/i] and has lyrics that are relatable. While Xander (Nicholas Brendon ) may seem like he’s just talking slightly melodically, Anya (Emma Caulfield) more than makes up for it with her sarcastic, biting, and surprisingly powerful performance. One of the highlights of the album is Caulfield and Brendon singing duet-style “I lied, I said its easy…I’ve tried…but there’s these fears I can’t quell”
. After such a rather lighthearted piece (The horn section really does add to the feeling), Whedon decided to bring down the pace with the Spike (James Marsters) rocker Rest in Peace
. Despite how much I always liked the song during the episode, on album it loses a lot of its punch, mainly due to the loss of the creepy dungeon it was originally performed. Marsters voice is also raspy and generally unlikable; whilst the song itself feels out of place on an album full of Broadway-ready numbers. The acoustic guitar, however, is a welcome respite from the dredge the rest of the song shows, and the lyrics out of context are so deliciously corny that you may get a kick out of them without having the faintest idea of what is going on.
The three piece suite that is essentially Dawn’s Lament/Dawn’s Ballet/What You Feel
starts off boring with Lament; Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) has an extremely average voice, and you can see why she was left off of most of the other songs. The Ballet is a quirky number, with a marching drum and a string section that leads us into the real meat of the piece, What You Feel. Sweet (Hinton Battle) is the demon who came into town and caused all of the ruckus, and as such, can only be one thing: A singing tap dancer. After a toe-tapping introduction, Battle leads us in with his psuedo-legendary voice (being the first Scarecrow in the stage production of The Wiz
), and has some of the strangest lines on the album, including ”I bought Nero his very first fiddle”
. However, it’s all made up for in his smooth delivery, and (surprise to me, at least) very cool slow jazz backup. The sax on the song is ace, as are the random chimes and flowing piano melody. All in all, a very, very fun song to snap your fingers.
However, from here on out, the song’s get much darker and serious and tone, and it’s all for the better. Standing
is performed brilliantly by Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), featuring “inspirational power chords” and a very nice lead part, it’s the most sentimental arrangement Whedon made for the episode/soundtrack. Head is arguably the most talented singer out of the entire cast, and while his real shining moments are to come, it’s hard to beat him for his power. Unless it’s the duet him and Benson perform on Under Your Spell/Standing Reprise
. It’s nothing particularly new, but the harmonization’s Head and Benson accomplish culminate in the most moving moment of the album as they declare ”And I just wish I could stay
While Head may have the best voice, Gellar once again returns to the spotlight in strong fashion with Walk Through the Fire
. Beginning with a “spidery” guitar, the piano line kicks in as Gellar’s vocals do, and causes a strange progressive feel to be felt throughout the song. It also quickly becomes apparent this is no one man show; Marsters and Battle join her soon enough, followed by Head, Brendon, Caulfield, and the rest of the gang. it’s a difficult song to describe: Whether it’s the alternating vocal segments, the return of the marching drum, the chorus of ”We will walk through the fire…and let it burn”
, it’s pound for pound the track that leaves the greatest impression. Something to Sing About
is a strange follow up, as it sounds like it could be found on your local Top 40 station. Gellar gives it her best, and while she is obviously untrained and at times annoying, you cant help but sing along to some of the more bouncy moments. After a weird dance break and verse, the apex of the episode was hit with the refrain “I live in hell because I’ve been expelled from heaven/So give me something to sing about”.
It’s close to being up to Walk Through the Fires standards, but the occasional spottiness from Gellar holds it back.
The assorted mini-songs and suites from previous episodes are, at best, beautiful, and at worst, useless. Mustard
and The Parking Ticket
may be sung by series writers, but they’re still very film-centric pieces, and shouldn’t have been included on this soundtrack. Something to Sing About (demo)
is sung by Whedon and his wife, and is actually quite a funny take on the song. However, it wasn’t any way to end an album after the likes of Suite From Restless/Hush
, both of which are haunting pieces; Hush in particular has some very creepy ambience moments that would serve well in any horror or thriller soundtrack.
All in all, this is by far the greatest TV musical of all time. Yes, it may not stand up to the likes of Rent, Cats,
or the ever so lovely Hairspray
, its important to keep in mind this was done specifically for the small screen. As it is, it’s a shining example of what any TV musical should hope to accomplish: the characters were developed more thoroughly than could be accomplished effectively in 3 normal episodes, the mood was incredible, the arrangements were spectacularly well put together, and the singing was polished and, frankly, fun to listen to. In time, this will go down as a monument for all other TV musicals to be judged by, and hey, perhaps it will one day be listed among the previously mentioned musicals when it comes down to the greatest. It’s already been voted the 13th best musical of all time by a British poll. Time will tell whether or not it will be on your list. My guess will have to be a resounding “hell yes.”.
What a lot of fun
You guys have been real swell
And there's not a one who can say
This ended well
All those secrets
You've been concealing
Say you're happy now,
Once more with feeling
Now I gotta run
See you all in hell