Current soundtrack albums miss the boat


December 25, 1997|By J.D. Considine An American Werewolf in Paris

Jackie Brown

Music from the Miramax Motion Picture (Maverick 46841)

Curtis Mayfield

Superfly (Rhino 72836)

One of the best things about the "blaxploitation" flicks of the '70s was their soundtracks. Films like "Shaft," "Superfly" and "Slaughter's Big Rip-Off" may not have been masterpieces of the cinema, but the music that went with those movies often verged on the classic.

That Quentin Tarantino would try to evoke that vibe for his latest film shouldn't be too great a surprise. After all, "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs" got major mileage out of their use of oldies.

But apart from a few flashes of brilliance, the soundtrack he has assembled for "Jackie Brown" seems half-baked at best. For one thing, the selections are generally too obscure to have the sort of resonance "Jungle Boogie" (in "Pulp Fiction") or "Stuck in the Middle With You" (in "Reservoir Dogs") did. The only really well-known oldie in "Jackie Brown" is the Brothers Johnson's version of "Strawberry Letter 23," and while it's a pleasure to be reminded of its trippy charms, the tune hardly conveys a crime-caper ambience.

To that end, Tarantino relies on such soulful obscurities as Bobby Womack's undeservedly forgotten "Across 110th Street," Bill Withers' slow-burning "Who Is He (And What Does He Mean to You?)" and Randy Crawford's jazzy, dramatic "Street Life."

Each is a gem, but they're surrounded by dross. Neither Bloodstone's "Natural High" nor Minnie Ripperton's "Inside My Love" have withstood the test of time, while Pam Grier's performance on "Long Time Woman" makes it clear why she went into acting. Add in the stylistic distance between rapper Foxy Brown's "Letter to the Firm" and Johnny Cash's country chestnut, "Tennessee Stud," and you're left with a hopelessly unfocused soundtrack.

Anyone wanting a sense of how it should have been done need only turn to the recently re-released Curtis Mayfield soundtrack to "Superfly."

One of the greatest and most enduring works in the '70s soul canon, "Superfly" is best remembered for the singles "Freddie's Dead," "Superfly" and "Pusherman." In those songs, Mayfield considered and criticized the main character's morals, and in so doing generated a musical narrative that's every bit as compelling as the story on screen.

Making this reissue all the more compelling is the fact that the original album is augmented with a selection of demos, alternate takes and other rarities. Many, admittedly, will be of greatest interest to collectors, but even casual fans will be fascinated by the differences between the finished and demo versions of "Little Child Running Wild." Music from the Motion Picture (Hollywood 21312)

As a marketing concept, the soundtrack to "An American Werewolf in Paris" looks like a sure winner. Take a sexy, horror-film sequel, mix in a dozen or so moody alternarockers, and voila! Instant hit, right? Wrong. Although most of the bands assembled here get the basic sound right, few manage to deliver songs memorable enough to make the formula matter. Bush puts a malevolent smirk on its remix of "Mouth," and Fat adds a nicely sinister note through its engagingly snarling "Downtime." But Cake's version of Barry White's "Never Gonna Give You Up" is just a poor repeat of the gimmick it exploited with "I Will Survive," while Phunk Junkeez' "Adrenaline" is in desperate need of some. All told, this "Werewolf" really bites.

J.D. Considine

Tomorrow Never Dies

Music from the Motion Picture (A&M 31454 0830)

Why do the soundtracks to new James Bond films invariably end up as tributes to the older ones? Take "Tomorrow Never Dies." That David Arnold's orchestral episodes would go for the same classy drama John Barry concocted for the early films is reasonable enough -- how could anyone hope to improve on the master? But k.d. lang's "Surrender" is so full of Bond ballad mannerisms, it's hard to know whether to laugh or applaud (lang sounds so much like Shirley Bass she could almost do a Vegas tribute show). At least Moby's sample-filled "James Bond Theme" has an excuse for its retro attitude, but Sheryl Crow's title tune is a sprawling, overwrought mess that sounds less like a Bond song than a bad attempt at Elvis Costello.

J.D. Considine


She Moves

Breaking All the Rules (Geffen 25161)

You've heard of the Spice Girls? Well, say hello to the Bland Girls. A multi-racial trio that looks and sounds like every Europop girl group of the last decade, She Moves is the ultimate in generic dance pop. So even though "Breaking All the Rules" is full of perky hooks and pulsing synths, the net effect is earwash, conveying the feel of dance pop but none of the pleasure. Some of the blame belongs with the Berman Brothers, whose production is so listless and cliched it could pass for self-parody (it's hard to believe these guys cut hits for Real McCoy and Amber). But mostly, it's the singing that sinks the project, as Carla, Danielle and Diana don't even have the personality of jingle singers.

J.D. Considine


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