It is inevitable that all dual-gender vocal harmony groups will be compared to Fleetwood Mac. Those comparisons, of course, are often fueled by the artists themselves–in interviews and bios they routinely cite the hippie-era pop group as a primary influence. That a given band contains boys and girls who blend their voices together in order to make pretty sounds doesn’t necessarily render that comparison valid, however, and the truth is that despite the typical rhetoric there is seldom much of a musical connection to Fleetwood beyond that fact that when four people sing at the same time it creates a certain recognizable auditory effect. With every voice that is layered into a mix it becomes more difficult for particular sonic elements to stand out, and that can cause a vocal band—no matter how precious its individuals pieces may be—to sound a heck of a lot like every other vocal band.
Outside of that there is little that links Gloriana to the music of Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks and company. In fact, with its self-titled debut album this Nashville foursome, incubated by Matchbox 20 helmsman Matt Serletic, has carved out a piece of musical territory that owes more to its own creative vision than it does to any single influence (regardless of that influence’s preeminence). Gloriana is a smooth pack of highly polished pop country that churns along thanks to its slick rhythms and systematic, looping percussion. Serletic’s tracks are bouncy and keep even the album’s downbeat moments plowing forward towards its hooky, think choruses.
Gloriana has perfected the “one voice” persona, and for better or worse the fusion of these four singers results in something quite distinctive, their harmonies blending so sweetly that when all join together the sound feels almost synthetic, as if this voice we’re hearing is coming not from a man or a woman but from some higher form of musical being. Unfortunately, while the result sounds beautiful, it also sounds over processed and impersonal. Throughout these 13 tracks the members of Gloriana weave in and out of each other like players on a stage, exiting left and entering right only to join at times for climactic choral arrangements.
Listening to Gloriana is to witness a performance, not to commune with an emotion, a story or a character. And despite the generally fine material present here—it’s nice to see Stephanie Bentley’s name on a number of writing credits—none of it feels very real. Somewhere between Serletic’s use of his slick production hand and the group’s attempts to make the best uses of its vast store of talent the record lost its soul. Even when the tracks make way, as they often do, for tasteful instrumental segments, the transitions often feel awkward and calculated, as if they were designed solely for the sake of symmetry.
Gloriana is an album that should go a long way towards silencing anyone who doubts the group’s talent or creative ambition. But there is a barrier between them and us that is hard to break through. The album sounds sweet but is so slick that it slides right off us, so perfect that when we touch it we feel only the smoothness of its edges. And while it is entertaining, and, to a point, endearing, it’s difficult to fully connect with music that sounds so artificial.