John's 'The Lion King' is superior to most Disney soundtracks

June 17, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

THE LION KING

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Walt Disney 60858)

Despite Disney's reputation for pop market savvy, most of the studio's feature-length cartoons don't hold up at album length. Sure, there's always a hit or two on hand, along with a couple of spirited production numbers, but once past those, the listener is usually left with barren stretches of boring background music. Maybe that's why the soundtrack album for "The Lion King" became a best seller even before the movie was unleashed. As much as Elton John's songs -- particularly the lush, uplifting "Circle of Life" -- may lend a warm Top-40 sheen to the proceedings, the instrumental selections are equally enjoyable, thanks in large part to the rich colors of Hans Zimmer's African-inflected score. And even though the production numbers will doubtless make more sense once you've seen the film, you needn't know the plot to be swept away by these refrains.

REGULATE . . . G FUNK ERA

Warren G (Violator/RAL 314 523 335)

Warren G may not have a reputation the size of his brother's, gangsta maestro Dr. Dre, but that doesn't mean he's any less talented. In fact, there are moments on "Regulate . . . G Funk Era" where Warren's G sound seems far more imaginative than Dre's refried P-Funk. With its lean synths and terse basslines, the G Funk manages to be both stunningly modern -- check the clockwork synth intro to "Super Soul Sis" -- and supremely soulful. But if Warren and his crew really would like to see the beginning of the G Funk Era, they should consider cultivating some real content in their raps. Directionless rhyming doesn't enhance a groove, it merely fills space around it, and apart from narrative-driven raps like "Regulate" and "Do You See," Warren and his posse seem more interested in scoring stylistic points than in having something to say. Too bad -- the G Funk deserves better than that.

BETTY

Helmet (Interscope 92404)

When is a thrash band not a thrash band? That's the question Helmet raises on its second major-label release, "Betty." On the one hand, the album is full of the sort of over-amped, hard-driving riffs that will tax your woofers and tweeters as sorely any Pantera album. But at the same time, Helmet's playing and writing rarely succumbs to the kind of mind-numbing cliche that turns many thrash bands into heavy metal cartoons. That's why there's room enough on the album for the darkly pretty intro to "I Know," the warped bottle-neck blues of "Sam Hell" and the flanged funk of "Biscuits for Smut" without sacrificing the intensity of slamfests like "Clean" or the speaker-shredding "Milquetoast."

TURN IT UPSIDE DOWN

Spin Doctors (Epic 52907)

Most of the people who misunderstand the Spin Doctors' appeal do so because they assume the quartet is little more than some Gen X answer to the Grateful Dead's jam-band aesthetic. But as "Turn It Upside Down" makes plain, the band's greatest strength isn't its amiably funky groove, but the way that rhythm work enhances the band's pop smarts. After all, the most memorable aspect of tracks like "Mary Jane" or "Cleopatra's Cat" isn't the instrumental noodling between verses, but the strong, sing-along quality of the choruses. Trouble is, the Doctors not only fail to exploit that quality as much as they ought -- it wouldn't take that much work to turn "Funky Booty" from a one-riff wonder into a real song, would it? -- but often waste time emphasizing things that would be better left underplayed. So Doctors, take this as an Rx: Tighten the tunes and cut back on Chris Barron's lyrical indulgences, and you'll be just fine.

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