Music From and Inspired by "Shaft"(LaFace 73008-26080)
Me, Myself & Irene
Music from the Motion Picture (Elektra 62512)
Gone in 60 Seconds
Music from the Motion Picture (Island 314542 793)
Ever notice that Hollywood blockbusters are invariably built around a single star? Look at the ads for "Shaft," and what you'll see is a surly Samuel L. Jackson staring hard. Even though Renee Zellweger's character gets third billing in the title, Jim Carrey's face is all that you see in the posters for "Me, Myself & Irene." And while blond Angelina Jolie does appear in the print ads for "Gone in 60 Seconds," she's sharing space with a sports car as Nicolas Cage dominates the image.
But the blockbuster soundtracks are another matter entirely. Where once the music in a movie was the work of a single composer, now pop acts are carted in by the dozen to add aural appeal. Never mind that Isaac Hayes was able to take the soundtrack from the original "Shaft" to the top of the charts all by his lonesome; for the remake, his efforts have been augmented by the work of 15 other artists.
In theory, this cast-of-thousands approach should only increase an album's pop appeal. After all, if you have 15 acts and each is offering its single best song, shouldn't that leave you with 15 singles?
In reality, what these multi-artist soundtracks offer is 15 variations on an idea or mood, most of which are lucky to achieve mediocrity. Take, for example, "Music From and Inspired by Shaft." While it's great to hear Isaac Hayes remake the original "Theme from Shaft" in classic style, little else on the album lives up to the standard set by the original soundtrack.
Split between rap and retro-soul, most of the music is drearily predictable, as hackneyed pros like Too $hort, Mystikal and Beanie Sigel go through the motions with predictable results. That's not to say the album is entirely without merit; R. Kelly re-creates the sweet magic of Curtis Mayfield with "Bad Man," Big Gipp (from Goodie Mob) gets a groove on in "We Servin'," and Angie Stone gives Maxwell a run for his money in the sultry, soulful "My Lovin' Will Give You Something." But on the whole, there are more misses than hits here.
Much the same can be said for "Me, Myself & Irene: Music from the Motion Picture" -- although for different reasons.
At first glance, this appears to be a soundtrack with a concept: Get a bunch of alt-rock acts to remake Steely Dan tunes, and see what happens. But it's not a concept the creators had a lot of faith in, seeing as a third of the music is original material, and that kind of makes the album come off half-cocked.
It doesn't help that, apart from Smash Mouth's raucous remake of "Do It Again," most of the Dan songs come off as mannered or misbegotten. Half the acts take the music too seriously (e.g., Brian Setzer Orchestra's overblown "Bodhisattva" and Ben Folds Five's overly fussy "Barrytown"), while the other half don't take it seriously enough (as with Marvelous 3's sledgehammer take on "Reelin' in the Years"). If it weren't for the spritely charm of non-Dan numbers like the Foo Fighters' infectious "Breakout" or Third Eye Blind's "Deep Inside ofYou," the soundtrack would have been a total loss.
Things are much more consistent on "Gone in 60 Seconds: Music from the Motion Picture." Then again, this disc takes far fewer chances, opting to license existing tracks instead of commissioning new work for the film. Admittedly, that makes "Gone in 60 Seconds" seem more like a mix tape than a soundtrack album, but is that necessarily a bad thing?
Not from the listener's point of view, it isn't. Apart from the Cult's tunefully crunchy "Painted on My Heart" (one of the disc's few new numbers), and Gomez's atmospheric "Machismo," most of the album is given over to hip-hop and club music. But what a selection! From DMX's raucous, bass-pumping "Party Up (Up In Here)" to the Chemical Brothers' "Leave Home," the soundtrack is chockablock with should've-been hits, as well as some may-yet-be hits, in particular Groove Armada's "Rap" and BT's insistently infectious "Never Gonna Come Back Down."
"Shaft": ** 1/2
"Me, Myself & Irene": ** 1/2
"Gone in 60 Seconds": ***
B. B. King/Eric Clapton
Riding With the King (Reprise 47612)
Having the best-known bluesman in rock cut a dozen duets with the uncrowned King of the Blues is not only a great idea, but long overdue. Yet despite a first-class backing band and a solid set of songs, the Eric Clapton/B.B. King collaboration, "Riding with the King," sounds distressingly like coasting.
It doesn't help that the John Hiatt title tune (which is actually about Elvis Presley) doesn't quite work as a blues, or that the arrangements are often overwrought (like the ersatz Ray Charles treatment of "Come Rain or Come Shine"). But what ultimately sinks the album is the general lack of groove. Apart from the funky "I Wanna Be" and the jump blues "Days of Old," there's not enough rhythmic energy on these tracks to elicit any heat from either guitarist. Frankly, the King deserves better. **
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party
Dust to Gold (Realworld 72438-49178)
Before his unexpected death in 1998, Pakistan's Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had managed to make qawwali -- a virtuosic, elaborately improvised form of Moslem devotional music -- a worldwide commodity. He'd done duets with Peter Gabriel and Eddie Vedder, toured the world and had his music recontextualized as everything from dance music to soundtrack fare. But he also kept recording in the traditional style, and leaving an enormous backlog of unreleased material -- including the four performances of "Dust to Gold." Recorded with his longtime group, these tracks offer rhapsodic extrapolations on Moslem sacred texts, with Khan's soaring, skittering vocal lines supported by harmonium, thrumming tablas, and ecstatic group vocals. An exquisite collection, and as likely to thrill established fans as novices. ***