This is a review of "Amoeba To Zebra" recorded by Being 747. The review was written by Jessica Thornsby in 2010.
Being 747 don't like to make life easy for themselves. Not only have they devised a show covering subject matter that'll make your head hurt - the evolution of Earth, from single-celled organisms, right the way up to mankind - they've pitched it at the most awkward audience imaginable, by touring around secondary schools. And, as if that wasn't enough, now they've lifted those songs out of the show and onto a CD, where they don't even have the crutch of all those wacky costumes and props the press release alludes to. All this shouldn't result in a fun, charismatic listening experience: but it does.
Firstly, the voiceovers that are tacked onto the beginning of almost every track don't really work, but they are a necessary evil. They set the scene and shoe-horn in a few additional facts, but in most cases they feel heavy going and boring, and it's only on the few occasions where Being 747 add some music or eerie animal noises to the mix, that the voiceovers begin to get interesting. Frustratingly, most of the time Being 747 rely on frontman Dave Cooke's voice, and keep any musical accompaniment firmly out of the picture.
The adventure begins with 'The Microscopic Universe,' a cheerful, folky rattle about stalagmites and volcanic springs. The enthusiasm with which Being 747 sing their obscure, fact-packed lyrics is comical, and they play up to this, crooning and "oooooooh"-ing and "ahhhhhh"-ing about bacteria, with their tongues wedged firmly in their cheeks. This is a big part of 'Amoeba To Zebra's likeability, and is also heavily evident on second track 'Bodybuilding.' This is a fluttery, silly run-through of the early evolutions of segmented worms and jellyfish, but when it comes to the third track - 'The Struggle For Light' - Being 747 darken the mood. Seizing the opportunity to get gloomy, Being 747 serve up a damp, electro squelch shot through with buzzing, almost insectile synths. The vocals are also tailored to fit, with Cooke dropping his voice a few notes and the backing vocalists adopting a more ghoulish slant. A darker mood, and a perfect change of tone.
'Strength In Numbers' is one of the few songs where Being 747 get the necessary evil of the introduction right. Dropping some rumbling beats behind those dry facts is a simple technique, but it brings some desperately-needed drama to 'Strength In Numbers's opening minute. Throughout this album, Being 747 cram in the sound effects at every given opportunity, and 'Strength In Numbers' is no exception. As 'Amoeba to Zebra' enters the era where insects first started appearing, Being 747 dutifully bring in the bug noises. It's an album highlight, followed by another high point; previous single 'Shake Your Backbone.' This is a lovably bombastic, jazz-hand friendly song, with a chorus of "come on shake your backbone!" that'll take you straight back to 90's UK holiday camps. 'Shake Your Backbone' is a good old fashioned dose of retro pop silliness.
'Streamlined' is one of the more one-dimensional songs on the album, but it does simplicity well. This is a very silly, fluttery ode to an aerodynamic form, which features plenty of unlikely lyrics ("I have been streamlined / for minimum drag / minimum drag.") This chorus will be going around your head for days.
Being 747 might just be the first band to pen a song called 'Land of the Amphibians.' Starting off as a soulful homage to the first amphibians to crawl out of the ocean and onto the land, 'Land of the Amphibians' loses its way with a muddled, horn-studded ska mess. It jumps around so much, you'll be glad when the mid-song voiceover kicks in, just because Being 747 stand in one place for a while. Being 747 redeem themselves by promptly moving along to everyone's favourite stage of evolution: the dinosaurs. Served up with a healthy dose of T-Rex roars, 'Reigning Reptiles' scores points for presenting its lengthy voiceovers against a backdrop of snappy guitar, and not just relying on Cooke's voice and some facts to entertain. From dinosaurs, we move onto birds, and a song that pushes the boundary of where 'irritatingly catchy' becomes just plain irritating. 'Lords of the Air' bristles with shrieky synths and pointy vocals, but it gets the job done: you'll be hearing Cooke squealing "lords of the air!" to a fanfare of trilling synths, for days. A song you'll love to hate.
Finally, this evolutionary pop-opera moves into the era of mammals, with the clunky ska of 'Milk.' Like the other ska-influenced track - 'Land of the Amphibians' - it all goes a bit wrong. The choruses, where Being 747 usually excel, are a hook-free zone. Thankfully, Being 747 give this stage of evolution another shot, and do much better the second time around. 'We Are Mammalian' has a tongue-in-cheek theatrical flourish, as Cooke proudly declares "we are mammalian!" to a fanfare of drum rolls and flashy rock riffs. A fizzing, mock-impassioned ode to being warm-blooded.
'Hooves, Horns and Teeth's intro can be neatly divided into two halves: the yawn-inducing opening, where it's just Cooke's voice, and the taunt second half where the music swells beneath the vocals, and breaks out into random, twisted guitar-spasms. The song itself is layered with catchy vocals, and you have to admire any vocalist who can make a line like "I am an insectivore / I do what an insectivore does" run smoothly.
Being 747 finally get ska right, with the euphoric 'Life In The Trees.' Cooke's voice ricochets off tootling synths, brass horns, monkey noises and "bah-bah-bah-da!" backing vocals. This is a song that wants nothing more than for you to have a good time. Mission accomplished.
The journey comes to an end with 'The Power of Speech.' As album-closer, this song isn't quite up to scratch. It feels meandering and empty, and when it's time for the finale, it doesn't really have anything to build a finale out of, and so settles for bleating out snippets of the chorus over and over again. It's a disappointing end, but Being 747 snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (just) by tacking on a short voiceover conclusion, leaving us with an environmental message. It's the obvious conclusion, but is nevertheless the perfect note to end 'Amoeba to Zebra' on.
This album must have been a formidable undertaking for Being 747. The mixture of indie-pop and lyrics lifted straight out of a biology lesson, puts 'Amoeba to Zebra' in a genre of one. This educational concept album never feels hampered by its subject matter, as Being 747 somehow manage to make choruses about armour plated protofish catchy and fun. The voiceover introductions do feel flat and lifeless, and could have been handled better, but they undoubtedly work better in the live show. This isn't really a CD for the random music fan but, if Being 747 have this available at the end of their performances, and the live 'Amoeba to Zebra' show bubbles with as much energy and enthusiasm as the recorded version, then it's easy to imagine this shifting a fair number of copies.