Soul FoodMusic from the 'Soul Food' Motion Picture...

CD REVIEWS

September 18, 1997|By J.D. Considine

Soul Food

Music from the 'Soul Food' Motion Picture Soundtrack Album (LaFace)

Considering the kind of success Babyface had with the "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack, it would be hard to approach his latest attempt at movie music with anything but the highest of expectations. Don't be surprised, then, if "Music from the 'Soul Food' Motion Picture Soundtrack Album" ends up seeming somewhat less astonishing than hoped. Part of that has to do with the nature of the project. Unlike "Waiting to Exhale," where the new songs were all by Babyface and personally tailored to fit the action of the film, "Soul Food" has no overriding sense of conceptual or compositional unity. Babyface wrote and produced only two-thirds of the album, with Teddy Riley, Timbaland, Jermaine Dupri and Sean "Puffy" Combs among the other contributors. Moreover, the material offers much greater extremes than "Waiting" did, ranging from such sweet, sentimental ballads as Boyz II Men's "A Song for Mama" to rap-oriented party fare like Blackstreet's jeep-beat-driven remix of "Call Me." But even if tracks like Milestone's overwrought "I Care 'Bout You" don't shine as brightly as they might, others -- particularly Total's funky "What About Us" and Dru Hill's gorgeous "We're Not Makin' Love No More" -- are just about perfect.

Aqua

Aquarium (MCA 17052)

There are few truer signs of how much we, as a culture, have lost our sense of humor than the footnote affixed to the back of Aqua's "Aquarium." Referring to the Danish quartet's "Barbie Girl," the note observes that the song "is a social comment and was not created or approved by the makers of the doll." Well, duh! Part of what makes "Barbie Girl" so entertaining is the way it lays bare the party-girl sexuality that is the unspoken core of the doll's fantasy appeal. But rather than play that for some sort of dreary Marxist-feminist critique, Aqua's perky Europop never loses sight of the fact that the Barbie myth is about fun and frivolity. So no matter how much the song pokes fun at the boy-toy aspects of Barbie's persona, it never denies the appeal of the doll's "Come on Barbie, let's go party" side. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Lene Crawford Nystrom conveys self-conscious sexuality with an aplomb worthy of Madonna's youthful efforts. In fact, it would be quite easy to imagine slow tunes like "Good Morning Sunshine" or "Be a Man" sitting cheek-by-jowl with "Borderline" on one of Madonna's early albums.

Ric Ocasek

Troublizing (Columbia 67962)

There are two reasons comebacks don't always work. One is that the second try sometimes sounds too little like the first, losing its original appeal; the other is that it seems locked in the past, as if the artist were unable to accept that time and taste have moved on. Impressively, Ric Ocasek avoids both those pitfalls on "Troublizing." Even though the twitchy choruses, edgy textures and defiantly unfunky rhythm arrangements evoke the flat, futuristic sound Ocasek conjured with the Cars, not even the presence of synth ace Greg Hawkes makes "Troublizing" seem second-hand. Credit co-producer Billy Corgan for some of that, as the calculated deadpan of his vocal presence only serves to sharpen the likes of "Situation" and "People We Know." But the bulk of the credit belongs with Ocasek. Few songwriters can pull as much beauty from grunge and distortion as he does on "Here We Go" and "Hang On Tight," channeling that noise into rTC disarmingly poetic depictions of emotional disaffection. More to the point, few singers can play off the anomie implicit in such a stance without seeming self-pitying. Ocasek, by contrast, comes off as the last sane man on earth -- and that, along with a few good hooks, is what makes "Troublizing" so reassuring.

Ken Ishii

Jelly Tones (Medicine 68179)

Anyone who has seen the video for "Extra" will have no trouble imagining Ken Ishii as a techno-modernist. As envisioned by "Akira" director Katsuhiro Otomo, the animated clip for "Extra" depicts a virtual dystopia, full of sadistic thugs and criminally inclined cyborgs. Ironically enough, what makes the clip so credible is that for all its clanking intensity, Ishii's version of techno is actually quite human at heart. That, ultimately, is the appeal of "Jelly Tones," a techno album even technophobes will find reason to like. As much as Ishii embraces the intellectual cool of digital synthesis, the sounds he concocts for "Jelly Tones" are surprisingly warm, rejecting the cold clank of technology for the clatter and thump of real-life percussion. Those semi-acoustic sounds breathe life into the pulsing percussion of "Cocoa Mousse" and ground "Moved By Air" in gamelan-like clangor. But as much as Ishii likes dabbling in aural exotica, he never forgets the first rule of dance music -- move the floor. And between the aggressive throb of the drum machine and the well-manicured swoosh of the synths, "Echo Exit" does that as well as any single on the club circuit right now.

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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