Oh, Buffy. My poor Buffy. The horrible rut that is the sixth season of this show has only one memorable moment: the musical episode Once More, with Feeling, where a musical demon Sweet made everybody in the show sing. It’s a vanity project, which makes the fact that a vanity project being the best episode of the season even more of a tragedy. (That is, unless you’re a Spuffy fan, then rejoice, you people, as Spike gets ten thousand ways of naked then. That season’s DVD will be like the Naked Spike Show, you lucky people you.)
Now into its seventh and hopefully final season, Buffy still shows no signs of slaying the suckage. The Final Evil can undergo remission – too bad the cancerous suckage of this show can’t do that as well – and everyone just sits there and stares into space, no plot, no pacing, nothing. You don’t see Angel in a musical, but that’s because after its lacklustre last season, the show has actually overcome the suck and become bigger, better, more watchable, even if Fred still must die and I sort of hate everybody on that show. The plots are pretty good, much better than anything on Buffy.
But this is a review about the CD, not the show. So people, let’s spare a thought for late, lamented Buffy of old, Once More, with Feeling.
For a non-Buffy fan, this CD – filled with mostly throwaway watered down musical numbers and injokes – will be unnecessary. For a disenchanted Buffy fan like me, this CD is an eulogy to my dearly missed once-favorite good TV show of yore. In an hour, stripped away from bad plots and worse writings, I am lost in a moment when Xander isn’t an asshole, Buffy isn’t a tool, Spike isn’t a loser, Willow isn’t pathetic, Giles isn’t lost, Anya isn’t ill-treated, Dawn isn’t there (most of the time, anyway), and Tara is actually an interesting woman with a beautiful voice.
Unfortunately, there is no escaping the fact that only Amber Benson and Anthony Stewart Head can sing, and to a lesser extent James Marsters and Emma Caufield too in a limited way. This is no coincidence, as Mr Head and Mr Marsters are singers as well as actors while Ms Benson’s voice is a revelation. Ms Caufield is fun, snarky, and amusing in her lines, just as how Anya is one of the few fine moments in the current suck pit that is the TV show.
Indeed, Ms Benson’s marvelous solo Under Your Spell is just amazing. An otherwise standard ballad with typical orchestral violins is lifted from mediocrity by her smooth, goosebump-inducing voice that soars over the high notes effortlessly. Stripped away from her ugly Tara make-up and dowdy clothes on the show, in this moment, with that voice, Tara becomes a charismatic woman who becomes so alive and vibrant with love. This is one of the few songs that became better when not taken in context of the show.
Likewise, Mr Head’s truly sexy and heartbreaking solo in Standing is better when I can forget the context of this song in the show. Giles’ leaving Buffy is a badly contrived development to suit Mr Head’s brief departure from the show, just as Giles’ current portrayal as the potential First Evil in the show just sucks big bal – ahem, back to the CD, yes. Standing is the anthem for people with Giles-crushes everywhere. With his luscious baritone strumming my senses like a guitar, he makes this song a pure softporn moment. How can a man draw out the “i” syllable in one word and makes it seem as if he’s doing some X-rated thing to me with his voice?
Ms Benson and Mr Head do a duet in a reprise of each of their individual solo: Under Your Spell/Standing, and their voices, predictably, blend beautifully.
Emma Caufield has her moment in I’ve Got A Theory/Bunnies/If We’re Together, but she is never given enough material to shine. James Marsters is appropriately rocky but holy crap, he’s singing about how much he loves Buffy, give me a bucket and let me vomit all my intestines out and offer them to Joss Whedon with a note, “See what you have done, bastard?”
Sarah Michelle Gellar and Michelle Trachtenberg (Once More, with Feeling: Die, Dawn, Die!”) have high, squeaky voices that make them sound like Minnie Mouse and her mini-me. Nicholas Brendan is… well, don’t try too hard, dear, and Alyson Hannigan only sings what seems like one line every two songs. The rousing anthem Walk Through the Fire is one of the few tunes here that are worthy of a Broadway style rendition, but alas, only the familiar few (guess who) shine in their vocals to pull this song through.
To drive home Ms Gellar’s vocal inadequacies, Kai Cole (Mrs Joss Whedon) and Joss Whedon perform the demo version of Something to Sing About much better than Ms Gellar and Mr Marsters ever could.
The lyrics – oh, my poor heart. It’s like reading about the foreshadowing of the cracks that my beloved TV show has fallen into. In Going Through the Motions, Buffy sings that she has lost her will to live and the demons and vampires she is fighting notice this.
Whatever, I don’t want to be
Going through the motions
Losing all my drive
I can’t even see if this is really me
And I just want to be
I could cry then, because it’s apparent that even after the credits of Once More, with Feeling have rolled, Buffy is still trapped in this rut. The irony is heartbreaking for a die-hard Buffy fan like me. Anya and Xander’s codependent relationship is given a maturity that never existed anywhere else in I’ll Never Tell. Bad singing aside, in this brief moment, I actually cared for these two instead of wanting Xander to be castrated without anesthetics and Anya to hook up with Giles.
Spike sings to Buffy in Something to Sing About:
You can only heal by living
You have to go on living
So one of us is living
I sniffle a tear – me, a die-hard anti-Spuffy person! – because unlike this song, the whole Spike and Buffy coupling is all about lazy writing, inconsistencies, and shoddy continuity. And don’t forget that Spike and Buffy are really pathetic shadow of their former selves, thanks to Spuffy sex. But in that song, these two actually come off as what could’ve been – two lost souls in a dark and beautiful forbidden relationship that would have worked magic (if we didn’t have Angel and Buffy first, that is).
Maybe Joss himself sums it best with the closing strains of Walk Through the Fire about the sad state of one of the best shows on TV
The point of no return
Let it burn
Amber Benson and Anthony Stewart Head should record a CD of no-nonsense pop anthems together. The rest of them can go down with the sinking ship that is Buffy. I’m too fatigued to care anymore about the show. I’ll just listen to Once More With Feeling, with its unwittingly prophetic and ironic songwords, and oh yes, Under Your Spell. Once upon a time, there was a really grand show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Once upon a time, that girl kicked ass. Once upon a time.