When movie music is not necessarily a soundtrack

CD REVIEWS

July 01, 1999

'Wild Wild West'

Music Inspired by the Motion Picture (Overbrook/Interscope 90344)

'American Pie'

Music from the Motion Picture (Universal 53269)

It's amazing what you can learn from soundtrack albums.

Studying the CD may not be the best way to learn what a movie is about -- though most include a few stills from the flick, it's impossible to infer anything about the plot from them -- but soundtracks speak volumes about a specific flick's target audience. Just look at the albums for "Wild Wild West" and "American Pie."

Although "Wild Wild West" is nominally based upon the Robert Conrad TV series, there's nothing of the old "West" in the music.

Instead, what the CD wants us to remember is star Will Smith's funk-fueled "Men In Black" album. Like "M.I.B.," the "Wild Wild West" album is not a soundtrack per se, but a collection of music "inspired by the motion picture." In other words, it's a pop album built around a movie theme.

Unsurprisingly, that theme follows essentially the same formula as Smith's comeback hit from "Men In Black." It draws from a '70s soul hit (Stevie Wonder's "I Wish"), with a rewritten, movie-inspired chorus. Still, it's a solid piece of work, making excellent use of Dru Hill -- Sisqo admirably evokes Wonder's joyous intensity -- and boasting the usual clever/cool rhymes from Smith.

But the rest of the album hardly shines as brightly. Enrique Iglesias' "Bailamos" is tuneful and romantic and far more satisfying than anything on Ricky Martin's album; Dr. Dre and Eminem inject new life into an old formula on "Bad Guys Always Die"; and "Keep It Movin'" is the best thing MC Lyte has done in years. But the rest of the disc, from Tatyana Ali's flirty "Getting Closer" to Guy's comeback single, "The Best," is only mildly entertaining.

"American Pie" is a far more consistent soundtrack, but mainly because none of the songs are strong enough to make the rest of the album seem weak by comparison.

A coming-of-age/losing-of-virginity comedy, it's aimed squarely at white suburban teens, and as such loads up on alt-rock bands like Sugar Ray, Third Eye Blind and Dishwalla. But apart from Tonic's sweet and heavy "You Wanted More," most of the songs sound like leftovers or B-sides, not radio-ready hits.

Worse, the soundtrack is awash in testosterone. Not only does it go heavy on such frat-boy fare as Blink 186's "Mutt," but apart from Bic Runga, who brings a tart, Petula Clark-meets-Chrissie Hynde charm to "Sway," it's an all-boy album, packed to the rafters with hoarse-voiced vocals and punk-rock rave-ups.

Then again, if teen-age boys are the film's ideal audience, what better way to reach them?

"Wild Wild West" **1/2

"American Pie" **

-- J.D. Considine

Pop/rock

Missy Misdemeanor Elliott

Da Real World (The Gold Mind/EastWest 62232)

Back when Barbara Bush called Democrat Geraldine Ferraro "a rhymes-with-witch," it was meant as an insult. But on "Da Real World," Missy Misdemeanor Elliott embraces the b-word, wearing it almost as a badge of pride. It's a funny form of feminism, but one which perfectly suits the quiet confidence of her delivery. Where other rappers try to prove their potency by overpowering the beat, Elliott takes a sly, seductive approach, answering the slinky insistence of producer Timbaland's drum loops with lean, catchy cadences that draw the listener into the groove. So whether she's challenging other rappers on "Beat Biters" or calling out a two-timing boyfriend in "We Did It," there's something soulful and enticing about her sound. ***1/2

-- J.D. Considine

Joe Henry

Fuse (Mammoth 355498-0190)

Already intelligent and moody, alt-rocker Joe Henry has added another adjective to his list: rhythmic. New release "Fuse" is almost funky at times, in a shuffling kind of way, and some reviewers have even invoked Marvin Gaye to describe the sophisticated slide of one song to the next. A little more name-dropping is only appropriate for Henry, who is Madonna's brother-in-law: Guest appearances by Jakob Dylan and Chris Whitley, and mixing by T-Bone Burnett, round out a rich and fluid rock sound. "Skin and Teeth" is an almost gently melodic single but doesn't represent the playfulness of some other tracks. Deft sampling highlights "Fat," and "Curt Flood" is a charmingly cheesy instrumental. Closing the disc with a meaningless cover of "We'll Meet Again" was a goofy idea, but it's forgivable because of the clever interview and two live tracks included in Quicktime on the enhanced CD. ***1/2

-- Greg Schneider

The Flaming Lips

The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros. 46876)

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