Things to like and hate about current soundtracks

CD REVIEWS

April 08, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

'The Matrix'

Music from the Motion Picture (Maverick 47390)

It used to be that sci-fi soundtracks emphasized music that was eerie and otherworldly, evoking the mysteries of outer space with moans and all sorts of atonal creepiness.

Not anymore. Today's S.F. films believe that techno music is the sound of the future -- particularly if the action takes place not in outer space but cyberspace. Rock and roll may be great for evoking the sweaty exuberance of flesh-and-blood heroes, but it takes the cool, clockwork precision of techno's synths and sequencers to convey the cold, electronic world of computer logic.

Trouble is, too much techno can leave an S.F. soundtrack seeming devoid of human warmth, and that's bad news for a film trying to present the struggle of man vs. machine. For that sort of story, the music needs to be both steamy and cool, passionate and pre-programmed.

It needs, in other words, to sound like the songs on "The Matrix: Music from the Motion Picture."

Although the artists included here run the gamut from totally electronic (Prodigy, Propellerheads) to utterly synth-less (Rage Against the Machine, Monster Magnet), the album's sound remains remarkably coherent. Some of that quality has to do with similarities in the groups' tonal palette. For instance, there's as much punch-and-crunch in Propellerheads' "Spybreak! (Short One)" as in most heavy rock hits, while Tom Morello's guitar solo in Rage Against the Machine's "Wake Up" boasts more scrambled sonics than most synth players could imagine.

But the most important link between these acts is attitude. It isn't just the rhythmic insistence and aural aggression built into these songs; what ultimately unites these tracks is their relentlessly dystopian vision. In other words, these bands have seen the future, and it stinks.

Hence, the hopeless voice repeating "Set me free" against the churning samples of Meat Beat Manifesto's "Prime Audio Soup," and the distorted thrum of guitar and hell-borne vocals of Ministry's "Bad Blood." Even the most conventionally commercial numbers -- Marilyn Manson's snarling, cyberpunk anthem "Rock Is Dead," the dark, thumping remix of Rob Zombie's monster movie pastiche "Dragula" -- seem tinged with dread. Party music it ain't.

Yet for all its cyber-savvy darkness, there's something genuinely entertaining about "The Matrix: Music from the Motion Picture." Just as a good amusement park ride provides a taste of terror without any real peril, the music on this soundtrack offers only enough darkness to seem dangerous. Deep down, we all know it's just entertainment. ***

Soundtracks

'The Mod Squad'

Music from the MGM Motion Picture (Elektra 62364)

Is there anything worse than fake hip? "The Mod Squad: Music from the MGM Motion Picture" does a pretty good job of looking hip, what with its edgy assortment of alt-rock and rap acts, but like the Mod Squad itself, there's something essentially false about the setup. It's one thing to hear the soulful Curtis Mayfield drawing on hip-hop influences in "Here But I'm Gone," something else again to hear the arch, mannered Crash Test Dummies draw from similar sources for the absurd "Keep a Lid on Things." Even the remakes, like Gerald Levert's revamp of Todd Rundgren's "Hello, It's Me," fall flat. Somehow, though, that seems all too appropriate for this soundtrack. **

'10 Things I Hate

About You'

Music from the Motion Picture (Hollywood 20616 2216)

According to the trend-mongers, today's teens see guitar rock as a relic of the past, the sort of thing listened to only by fossils in their 30s. So how is it that the teen flick "10 Things I Hate About You" is the strongest guitar-rock album to come along in months? It helps that the album is larded with oldies and cover versions, from Joan Armatrading's mournfully beautiful chestnut "The Weakness in Me" to Letters to Cleo's vigorous remake of Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me." But it's the recent material that really carries this disc, thanks to Sister Hazel's gruff, tuneful "Your Winter" and Semisonic's ineffably catchy "FNT." All told, there are at least 10 things to like about this album. ***

'EDtv'

Music from the Motion Picture EDtv (Reprise 47310)

If life were like the movies, Bon Jovi would be able to make a stirring comeback on the strength of "Real Life," the rousing mini-epic that kicks off "Music from the Motion Picture EDtv." Unfortunately, the Bon Jovi song comes off like just another over-inflated Hollywood gesture. Sadly, much the same could be said for the rest of the "EDtv" soundtrack. Although it's fun to have Barry White redo Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again)," his version isn't different enough from the original to warrant a remake. But then, the whole of "EDtv" is plagued by a lack of originality, as none of the best tracks -- from Barenaked Ladies "Call and Answer" to Al Green's "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)" -- are unique to the soundtrack. **

'Life'

Music Inspired By the Motion Picture Life (Rock Land/Interscope 90314)

Where else but on a soundtrack would you find a list of artists that included DJ Quick, Trisha Yearwood and the Isley Brothers? But the most amazing thing about "Music Inspired By the Motion Picture Life" isn't that it boasts such an unlikely roster of artists, but that, for the most part, its motley crew actually fits together. Granted, Yearwood's "Follow the Wind" is considerably less R&B-oriented than the rest of the album, but frankly, the sweet, sentimental tone she brings to the power ballad isn't that different from what Brian McKnight does with the equally gentle "Discovery." Still, the album's heart is in its more soulful fare, such as the Isleys' slow-simmering "Speechless" or R. Kelly's rap-tinged "It's Like Everyday." **1/2

* = poor

** = fair

*** = good

**** = excellent

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