Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
In “Funeral,” the glee club prepares for their pending trip to Nationals, but are hit surprisingly hard by the death of club nemesis Sue Sylvester’s sister.
I imagine some viewers out there feel cheated by the identity of the person who dies in “Funeral.” I thought for sure the smart money was on Kurt’s dad Burt (Mike O’Malley). On last week’s post commenter Jason supposed it’d be Karofsky, closeted football player and Kurt’s one-time enemy, whose death would’ve provided a surprising end to his arc but didn’t seem impossible. Yet “Funeral” took from us Sue (Jane Lynch) Sylvester’s sister Jean, an almost non-character who appeared a few times throughout the course of the show to remind viewers that Sue indeed had a heart.
Despite some potential foul play in the advertising, “Funeral” ought to have reminded all of us that Jane Lynch is a terrific actress. If any of the young stars of Glee have a career resembling hers in 20-30 years, they’ll be very, very fortunate. There are people who’d argue that Lynch is Glee‘s only asset, and if those people were watching last night, I hope they enjoyed themselves.
To the point, there are also those of us who think that Glee’s music can be pretty good. Last night’s episode deployed its songs in a way the show hasn’t really done before: four tunes were stacked on top of each other in the show’s first half, while the big group number that usually anchors each episode came with an act left to go. The reason? “Funeral” divided itself into a set of audition pieces for four characters who want to take the solo at nationals and one big song to sing at Jean’s funeral. That being the case, I’d like to look at the first four songs as a battle royale between four of Glee‘s major singers: Santana (Naya Rivera), Kurt (Chris Colfer), Mercedes (Amber Riley) and Rachel (Lea Michele).
Back to Black (Amy Winehouse cover)
Santana’s audition piece takes the form of this title track from Amy Winehouse’s 2006 record. Naya Rivera does a pretty incredible impression of Winehouse here, and I continue to think she’s one of the show’s best and least-utilized assets. The more lead vocals she gets, the better. Additionally, each character’s audition choice lines up with their personality, and when I look at all four of the songs performed in this segment I find myself preferring Santana’s tastes to the others. I wouldn’t say this is the best performance of the night, but it’s pretty darn good.
BONUS: Mark Ronson and Charlie from The Rumble Strips rock the song live.
Some People (from Gypsy)
Kurt, meanwhile, never lets his love of Broadway rest. Here he delivers a song from a 1959 musical written by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim. If we again look at personal tastes, this just isn’t my style. Colfer can sing excellently, although his greatest strength is probably also his most off-putting quality – his range is unnatural. The song’s delivered well, but it just seems like more of the same Kurt. Were I the judge of this contest, I’d be passing on him.
BONUS: Patti Lupone kills this song.
Try a Little Tenderness (Ray Noble Orchestra cover)
After Mercedes belts out this classic love ballad, Coach Shue (Matthew Morrison) points out that it took him back to Mercedes’ initial glee club audition, which used Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” I thought the same thing during the performance. “Try a Little Tenderness” is best known thanks to Otis Redding, a classic R&B singer. Riley seems to perform at her finest when her incredible raw talent’s given free reign on that genre (see also her cover of the Franklin rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”). I was really taken aback by the power Riley/Mercedes dug up tonight. I thought this cover was fantastic, and had I been judging these kids she’d be singing my solo in New York.
BONUS: Here’s another classic, less R&B version courtesy of Frank Sinatra.
My Man (Mistinguett cover)
Then we come to Rachel/Lea Michele, who the show keeps insisting is its star. Regular readers of my column will know I often tire of Rachel’s spotlight, and tonight was no exception. “My Man” was composed in France in 1916 but popularized by a number of American singers, including Barbra Streisand, whom Rachel was tributing last night. That marks the third Streisand cover this season for Michele, and none of them have been any good. Was I the only one who thought this performance was purposefully bad? I mean, the notes are there but Michele’s delivery is so overwrought and super-serious it rockets past earnest and lands squarely in the realm of self-parody. That problem exists in the original artist, mind you, but to me it doesn’t make these ridiculous covers any more tolerable. “My Man” is definitely fourth out of four in this competition.
BONUS: You know who’s a better singer than Barbra Streisand? Billie Holiday.
Pure Imagination (from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory)
The episode’s full-choir number comes from Jean Sylvester’s favorite movie. The kids’ performance stays pretty rote, but they do offer a fairly sensitive delivery of the material, while the xylophone instrumentation retains the creepy quality it’s always had.
BONUS: Chicago band Smoking Popes totally owns this song.
Next week: The Glee gang heads to New York City for Nationals! More drama, more original songs, less for me to write about. It’s also the season finale, which means my last post of the season.