'Mortal Kombat' succeeds with power and subtlety

September 08, 1995|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

MORTAL KOMBAT

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (TVT 6110)

Capturing the sound of a video game in a pop song is easy; just add a few sound effects, and you're there. Capturing the feel of a video game -- the robotic relentlessness of the attackers, the adrenalin-pumping buzz of the action -- is a different level of challenge. Yet somehow, the soundtrack to "Mortal Kombat" manages to generate a sound with all the pulse-racing excitement and play-it-again addictiveness of a good arcade game. It helps, of course, that the mix of techno, industrial and thrash makes this a more physical listening experience than the average soundtrack album, but don't take that to mean that "Mortal Kombat" gets by on brawn alone. For all the brute force evident in something like GZR's "The Invisible" or Napalm Death's "Twist the Knife," there's a surprising amount of drama and subtlety in the nasty cyberfunk of Sister Machine Gun's "Burn" and the Nine Inch Nails-style sizzle of Gravity Kills' "Goodbye." Ascend to the next level.

ELIXIR

Fourplay (Warner Bros. 45922)

Generally, jazz pop offers too little of either. When it isn't burying its melodic content under too-clever arranging tricks, it trades incisive improvisation for insipid instrumental flourishes; in the end, all that's left is a sort of high-class background music. More often than not, though, Fourplay avoids both faults. Some of the credit for that lies with the fact that the players involved -- keyboardist Bob James, bassist Nathan East, drummer Harvey Mason and guitarist Lee Ritenour -- have experience on both sides of the equation, having between them recorded with everyone from Eric Clapton to Michael Jackson to Steely Dan. Still, the quartet's greatest strength is its recognition that in this genre, melody comes first. Whether it's through the multi-layered funk of "Play Lady Play" or the quiet storm groove of "The Closer I Get to You" (which features vocals by Patti Austin and Peabo Bryson), Fourplay always manages to keep its music easy without ever making it seem cloying.

REACHIN' BACK

Regina Belle (Columbia 66813)

At first, it might seem as if Regina Belle has bitten off more than she could possibly chew with "Reachin' Back." Although it's easy to understand why she'd want to pay tribute to the Philly Soul sound of the '70s, trying to remake 10 such classics is bound to be a thankless task. How can anyone improve on perfection? To her credit, Belle does an impressive job with some of these songs, slipping deep into the sultry groove of "Love T.K.O." and filling "You Are Everything" with an almost heartbreaking vulnerability. But her "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" is embarrassingly overdone, and the cheesy synth-driven arrangements on "You Make Me Feel Brand New" and "I'll Be Around" are an affront to the orchestral glory of the originals. If a hit still works, why remake it?

OYSTER

Heather Nova (Big Cat/Work 67113)

With her soft, expressive voice, sharp, poetic lyrics and sad, evocative melodies, Heather Nova could easily have made a big splash as a folkie. But if she'd only used the soft, traditional side of her musical identity, the songs on "Oyster" wouldn't have been anywhere near as memorable. Nova is a terrific songwriter, not only smart enough to spin such lines as "I'm not touched but I'm aching to be," but gifted enough to back them with melodies that sear the words in the listener's memory. Even better is the way she brings a wide-screen sense of drama to those songs. She's not exactly a powerhouse vocalist -- tellingly, the singer her phrasing most recalls is Leonard Cohen -- but she uses her strengths wisely, investing such passion in these songs that it's hard not to hang on their every word. Add in arrangements that move easily from hushed concentration to symphonic majesty, and Nova's "Oyster" seems full of pearls.

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