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Chipmunks in Low Places

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When it comes to overall family entertainment, it’s pretty hard to top an opus like Alvin & the Chipmunks’ Chipmunks in Low Places. Kids will have a tough time resisting the cuddly electronic chirpings of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore as the trio warbles a batch of country hits old and new, with verbal skits and cameos by the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus, Tammy Wynette, Alan Jackson, and Aaron Tippin.

And grown-ups — those first introduced to the ‘Munks with their timeless yuletide warp-speed classic, ”The Chipmunk Song,” in 1958 — will get to re-create one of the vicarious thrills of listening to the Chipmunks: the idea of inhaling lungsful of helium and singing along with your favorite songs. In that way, the Chipmunks are able, after 34 years, to bring together the generations — it’s almost enough to make a person misty-eyed.

Granted, adults may be taken aback at first by Chipmunks in Low Places. Alvin, Simon, and Theodore sound a little tinnier and a bit less warm and adorable than they once did. (Then again, the boys are getting on toward middle age.) And the theme of the album — Alvin and his brothers go to Nashville to record a country album — does reek of trendiness at a time when C&W is more popular than ever.

Then again, the Chipmunks always were bandwagon-jumpers. Starting with their original overseer, Ross Bagdasarian (who died in 1972) and continuing with the current team of Ross Jr. and his wife, Janice Karman, the ‘Munks have dabbled in everything from ”The Alvin Twist” to Beatles covers to versions of new-wave rock tunes (on the semiclassic Chipmunk Punk album, 1980). Can you say ”shameless opportunism,” boys and girls?

Of course, an album like this is made for boys and girls. Kids are bound to reap loads of silly fun out of Alvin’s pushy version of ”Achy Breaky Heart” (with coaching from Cyrus) or the ever anal-retentive Simon correcting the grammar of ”There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With the Radio” over Tippin’s objections. Each of these — including the Alvin/Jackson duet on ”Don’t Rock the Jukebox” — has all the unctuous charm of the Munkmeisters’ best work. And since many of these songs, like ”Achy Breaky Heart,” are virtually musical cartoons themselves, the conceit works more often than not. Still, why did they name the album after Garth Brooks’ ”Friends in Low Places” and then not include a version of it?

It’s hard to tell whether kids over, say, 5 years old, will enjoy hearing Waylon Jennings or Charlie Daniels lead the ‘Munks through some mawkish originals. Also, a few of the skits are so cornball (like Wynette guiding Alvin’s eternally suffering gal pal, Brittany, through ”Stand By Your Man”) that even kids may find them a little dumb. But then, it’s hard to deny Alvin’s gut-wrenching ode to optimism, ”Gotta Believe in Pumpkins,” which finds the precocious critter squeaking lines like, ”Sometimes I wonder what’s gone wrong/Most folks have lost their spark/Life without a ray of hope/Sure can get mighty dark (like my closet).”

If anything, Chipmunks in Low Places proves the boys are still doing something right. The album is currently in the country top 10 as well as making it into the Top 40 on the pop charts — which means that in another year, we’ll probably see the Chipmunks venture into now-mainstream forms like rap or alternative rock. ”Smells Like ‘Munk Spirit,” anyone? B-

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