'Batman Forever' seldom disappoints



Original Music from the Motion Picture (Atlantic 82759)

Soundtracks these days are generally assembled with as much care as the films themselves. As the actors, the musicians are recruited with an eye on marquee value, and it's clear that everyone involved is hoping for a hit -- at least one in the Top 40. Problem is, that track-by-track approach often results in a set of songs that rarely fit together well enough to make a convincing album. At first glance, "Batman Forever" looks like it will have that problem in spades, what with an artist list that includes such disparate talents as Mazzy Star, Method Man, the Offspring and Seal. Sit down with it, however, and it's astonishing how well the pieces fit together. Consider, for instance, the way U2's brash, T. Rex-y "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" dissolves into the dark, swampy blues of P. J. Harvey's "One Time Too Many," which in turn sets up the sweet, guitar-based funk of Brandy's "Where Are You Now?" Or how Nick Cave's suave, melodramatic "There Is a Light" sets up the sly, snarling patter of Method Man's "The Riddler," which itself serves as the perfect springboard for Michael Hutchence's gruff, minimalist remake of The Passenger." It's a great ensemble performance.


Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Walt Disney 60747)

By now, almost everyone knows the formula for Disney cartoon soundtrack albums. Half of the album has the sound and feel of an old-style Broadway musical, with exposition in the big, chorus-fattened production numbers; half sounds like traditional movie music, offering mostly short, dramatic pieces that convey action and mood without the benefit of lyrics. Then, at the end, comes the "pop" material -- contemporary-sounding versions of the film's big songs done by some big-voiced pop star. "Pocahontas" follows that formula to the letter, from the scene-setting refrain of "The Virginia Company" to the inevitable, radio-ready duet at the album's close. Yet as well-crafted as the music is, there's something second-hand about the pop material. "If I Never Knew You," the album-closing duet between Jon Secada and Shanice, comes across less as a musical romance than an exercise in writing a "Beauty and the Beast"-style ballad, while the Vanessa Williams' version of "Colors of the Wind," though certainly well-sung, lacks the depth and sparkle of the performance given by Pocahontas (Judy Kuhn).


Original Soundtrack Album (Fox/Atlantic 82777)

When considering an album like "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," it's best to take the "original" part of the phrase "Original Soundtrack Album" with a grain of salt. After all, much of the music -- like Van Halen's "Dreams," the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Higher Ground" and "The Power" by Snap -- will be plenty familiar to anyone who has spent time listening to Top-40 radio in the last decade. Even the "new" stuff isn't all that new, since Shampoo's sassy, silly "Trouble" was a big hit in Britain last year, while "Kung Fu Dancing" is just a techno-flavored gloss on Carl Douglas' original "Kung Fu Fighting." But everybody who knows anything about the Power Rangers realizes that originality has never been part of the appeal -- what matters is the energy and cartoonish excitement it generates. And on that level, the album definitely delivers the goods.


The Soundtrack (MCA 11243)

One of the more unexpected developments in hip-hop last year was the emergence of "horror-core," a verbally intense form of underground rap that took a Clive Barker-ish approach to talk of blood, guts and death. A natural format for the soundtrack to "Tales from the Hood," right? Maybe so, but that's not what we get. In fact, apart from the Gravediggaz' ominous "From the Dark Side" and the bass-driven haunted house Bokie Loc builds in "Death Represents My Hood," the "Tales" soundtrack avoids horror-core entirely. Instead, what we get is the same old collection of tough-talking, gun-toting, gangbanging cliches found on any hardcore collection these days. The list of contributors is impressive -- Wu-Tang Clan, Domino, MC Eight and the Face Mob featuring Scarface -- but the music is somewhat less so. Apart from Spice I's aurally intense "Born II Die," there's little here rap fans haven't heard before.

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