If you're the parent of a Pokemon fan, the release of the soundtrack album from "Pokemon -- The First Movie" (Atlantic 83261, arriving in stores today) is a real bad news/good news situation.
The bad news is that you're facing an ever-widening array of Poke-product. Not only have the cute little critters spread from Gameboys and trading cards to the TV, thanks to the "Pokemon" animated series, but now they'll be taking over movie theaters and home stereos. Who knows how many other appliances will fall under their sway? (Expect "Pokemon" toasters some time next year )
The good news is that Pokemon's album incarnation is not too bad -- provided you like perky teen pop.
On the album, "Pokemon -- The First Movie" boasts some of the biggest names in teen pop, with selections by Britney Spears, 98 Degrees, Christina Aguilera, 'N Sync, B*Witched and Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton, among others. How many of them will actually be heard at the movies remains to be seen -- this is not an actual soundtrack, but a collection of "Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture" -- but it's a fair bet that all will be in regular rotation on teen stereos for the next few months.
Interestingly, only a few songs are actually tied into Pokemania. Billy Martin opens the album with a full-length version of the "Pokemon Theme," but honestly, the only thing his breathless rendering adds to the video version is length. Other than that, only Angela Via's "Catch Me If You Can" even mentions the critters, thus sparing us from the prospect of "Do the Pikachu!" or "The Ballad of Ash Ketchum."
Instead, what we get are the staples of teen pop: Love and dancing. Each is represented by the reigning divas of adolescent music, with Spears taking the dance route while Aguilera chooses romance.
Unfortunately, neither track is especially interesting. Aguilera's slow, self-dramatizing "We're a Miracle" comes on like an awkward imitation of a Mariah Carey ballad, suggesting that the big-voiced teen has more talent than taste. Meanwhile, Spears' reggae-flavored "Soda Pop" is everything older listeners hate about teen pop, being maddeningly catchy and utterly brainless. The only thing that could make it worse would be to see the song remade as a soda commercial.
Far more palatable is "Don't Say You Love Me," by the Norwegian teen duo M2M. Rather than offer the usual synth-driven cliches of teen pop, the song opts for a tart, acoustic sound that owes more to Lisa Loeb than Ace of Base. Even better, there's an actual message to the song, as singers Marit Larsen and Marion Ravn -- M2M's two Ms -- complain about guys who blurt "I love you" on the first date. "What's that about?" asks the first verse, while the chorus goes on to advise, "If you really want me, then give me some time."
It's not exactly advice on how to catch Pokemon, but young listeners should find it useful nonetheless.
Bunton -- better known as Spice Girl "Baby Spice" -- makes her solo debut with "(Hey You) Free Up Your Mind." It's pleasant piece of soul/pop, but despite an engaging groove, the song doesn't quite offer the punch of B*Witched's giddily infectious "Get Happy" -- which frankly sounds more like a Spice Girls single than anything the Spice crew has done in ages.
Meanwhile, on the boy-group front, 'N Sync's "Somewhere Someday" is fervent and uplifting and features some surprisingly soulful singing. Add in a steady, mid-tempo groove and a spiritual-style chorus, and you've got a performance that could almost pass for a Boys II Men single.
Too bad 98 Degrees doesn't do as well with its tepid "Fly With Me," a mid-tempo dance number that fails to make either its simplistic chorus or mildly funky beat seem compelling. As for Backstreet Boy sibling Aaron Carter's "(Have Some) Fun with the Funk," suffice it to say that Spears' "Soda Pop" does not have the album's dumbest lyrics.
'Pokemon: The First Movie'
Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture
Sun score: **1/2