Batman & Robin
Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture (Warner Bros. 46620)
Who are Hollywood's favorite music stars? Not singers who act, like Cher, Sting or Jon Bon Jovi, but pop acts whose hit singles will guarantee that the soundtrack is a box-office smash. On that level, then, R. Kelly, Smashing Pumpkins and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are every bit as important to the "Batman and Robin" sales strategy as Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney and Uma Thurman. After all, "Bat"-clips by Kelly and the Pumpkins were on MTV long before the movie got to the multiplexes. Yet for all its marketing acumen, the "Batman and Robin" soundtrack really doesn't deliver much in the way of musical thrills. Although the Pumpkins' "The End Is the Beginning Is the End" is a more commercial version of the band's new electronica-influenced approach, it's also less interesting than "Eye" (from the "Lost Highway" soundtrack); likewise, Kelly's "Gotham City" is terrifically tuneful in its sweeping, sentimental way, but still comes off as a poor copy of "I Believe I Can Fly" (from "Space Jam"). Granted, the album does have a couple of winners, thanks to Bone Thugs' snakey "Look into My (( Eyes" and Moloko's insanely catchy "Fun for Me." But given the marquee value of names like Jewel, Goo Goo Dolls and R.E.M., it's hard not to expect more than that.
God's Property from Kirk Franklin's Nu Nation (B-Rite/Interscope Despite Kirk Franklin's warning at the beginning of "Stomp" that those who think "gospel music has gone too far ... ain't heard nothin' yet," there's really nothing all that radical about the sound of "God's Property from Kirk Franklin's Nu Nation." Although the heavy bass, P-Funk-style synths and brief rap break (by Cheryl "Salt" James) is hardly typical ofgospel fare, it's almost old-fashioned by contemporary R&B; standards. Still, the relentless beat and obvious enthusiasm has been enough to make "Stomp" gospel's biggest secular soul hit since the Clark Sisters' 1983 "You Brought the Sunshine (Into My Life)." Unfortunately, there's more to this album than "Stomp," and not all of it is as funky. Though "It's Rainin' " puts a James Brown twist on a standard gospel rave-up, and "You Are the Only One" boasts the same kind of easygoing groove that once gave the Gap Band hits (though the Gap Band seldom detoured into dancehall the way Franklin does), those tracks are more the exception than the rule. While that won't be a problem for those who see funk as a pleasant change of pace from traditional gospel music, those with more secular tastes may find the album sleep-inducing as a long sermon on a hot Sunday.
Blurring the Edges (Capitol 36919)
Even though Meredith Brooks had a recording contract (with the Graces) long before Alanis Morissette became the defining voice for young women in rock, there's no mistaking the debt Brooks' "Blurring the Edges" owes Morissette. It's not that Brooks is overly imitative -- though her nasal tone and quick vibrato would surely earn a prize in any Alanis sing-alike contest -- but the two do cover much of the same turf. "Bitch," for instance, is precisely the sort of No-More-Ms.-Nice-Girl rant that would have had a hard time finding a home on radio pre-Morissette. But because its appeal lies as much with blend of Pete Townshend powerchords and sly, funky rhythm, it would be unfair to focus only on the vocals. Besides, Morissette isn't the only successful female singer whose influence is evident here. On "Shatter," she comes across like Courtney Love with a Stones fixation, while "It Don't Get Better" could pass for a forgotten Sheryl Crow song. And while none of that makes the album seem especially original, neither does it make it any less listenable.
Robyn Is Here (RCA 7864 67477)
Anyone who thinks every female vocalist in Sweden sounds like Marie Fredricksson from Roxette or Agnetha and Anni-Frid from ABBA is going to have a hard time dealing with Robyn. Because even though she has the look of a classic Swedish thrush, her sound is as funky as anything this side of Mary J. Blige. True, some of the credit for that lies with the production, which trades the robotic techno-pulse of Europopsters like Ace of Base for funky, retro-soul grooves like those favored by British and American R&B; artists. But what ultimately sells this album is the singing. Not only does Robyn get the phrasing exactly right, from the way she anticipates a chorus to the ease with which lengthens a line with melisma, but she's perfectly at home with the material, working the lyrics to "You've Got That Somethin"' like one who'd grown up on gospel and R&B.; So the deep groove and powerful singing of "Do You Know (What It Takes)" is no fluke; from the pumping jeep-beats of "Bumpy Ride" to the slow-burn funk of "The Last Time," Robyn proves that she's the real deal no matter where she was born.
Pub Date: 7/03/97