It’s funny what can be gleaned from that most disposable of records, the movie soundtrack. It’s practically a given, for instance, that acts don’t always donate their best songs to films, or that, as recently demonstrated by Above the Rim and Sliver, a film’s music can linger far longer than the movie itself. But this fall’s onslaught of movie discs brings a slew of new issues into focus:
Dancehall Has Arrived: The songs compiled for Robert Altman’s Ready to Wear (Pret-a-Porter) include Ini Kamoze’s top 10 hit ”Here Comes the Hotstepper,” the kind of song that slowly insinuates itself into your brain. That and Super Cat’s ”My Girl Josephine” prove this slinky mix of Jamaican patois and hip-hop rhythms is no longer underground. The rest of this surprisingly sharp album captures the dance-club pulse of a fashion show; it’s easy to imagine supermodels sashaying down a runway to songs by Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Deep Forest, and M People. As for the big-name soundtrack marquee value, Janet Jackson’s lighter-than-air ”’70s Love Groove” takes her whispery singing style to its logical conclusion, and a rare Rolling Stones rocker, ”Jump on Top of Me,” is sprier than much of Voodoo Lounge. But still — what are the Stones doing here?
Alternative Rock Is Hollywood’s New Cash Cow: It may have started with 1992’s Singles, but 1994 truly marks the year of the flannel soundtrack, starting with Reality Bites and continuing with S.F.W. and Love & a .45. The music for Clerks is the loudest and rawest yet: For a sign of the times, how about a Sony-distributed score that emphasizes punk, industrial sludge, Beavis and Butt-head-style thrash, and cantankerous indie bands like Girls Against Boys? On the down-side, many of those tracks (by bands like Bad Religion, Stabbing Westward, and Corrosion of Conformity) are rote, especially Soul Asylum’s new, slightly edgier ”Can’t Even Tell”; much more fun are Fleetwood Mac and Bad Company remakes by Seaweed and Golden Smog, respectively.
Then there’s the Jim Carrey vehicle Dumb and Dumber, whose soundtrack has a wink-and-nudge high concept: alternative-rock ditties that are pretty dumb, like a Green Jelly metal parody and jokey songs from Pete Droge and Deadeye Dick. Meanwhile, hooky, destined-to-be-radio-fodder tracks by the Primitives, Echobelly, and Gigolo Aunts are further proof, if any is needed, that the alternative is now the mainstream. And to reinforce Lesson No. 1, Dumb and Dumber goes dancehall too, with Willi One Blood’s goofy ”Whiney, Whiney (What Really Drives Me Crazy).”
You Can Rhyme ”Chernobyl” and ”Mobile”: As in phone-rapper Casual does just that on ”Later On,” a track on the soundtrack of Keenen Ivory Wayans’ action farce A Low Down Dirty Shame. Unfortunately, that song, like many of the 18 compiled here, is more workmanlike than inspired. The album has its moments (like Zhane’s bubbly remake of the disco oldie ”Shame”), and it shows the influence of singer-producer-songwriter R. Kelly. He and his more vocally charismatic protégés (including Aaliyah and Changing Faces) are here, but even tracks Kelly didn’t work on dip into his slurp-and-grind school of lewd-jack swing. Not to worry, though-among the R&B styles heard here is, yes, dancehall, via FU-Schnickens’ rapid-fire ”Cray-Z.”
Neil Diamond Is the Next Kitsch Icon: The soundtrack of Pulp Fiction has been justly praised for its mix of savvy oldies (Dusty Springfield, Al Green) and surf instrumentals. But Urge Overkill’s deadpan version of Diamond’s ”Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” revives one of his lost ’60s singles with the brooding, surly tone of the Man himself. Toss in a planned tribute album, and it’s only a matter of time before hipster rock stars start announcing that ”Song Sung Blue” has long been a guilty pleasure. As with Clerks, the album also incorporates funny dialogue snippets from the movie.
Guns N’ Roses Need to Reload: This suspicion has been lingering for at least a year, between Axl’s legal bouts with a fashion model and the band’s outmoded bad-boy image. But the album of Interview with the Vampire confirms GN’R’s flux. They contribute a note-for-note remake of the Stones’ ”Sympathy for the Devil” that works up a decent lather but seems utterly bankrupt, especially coming on the heels of last year’s all-remakes record. The rest of Interview consists of Elliot Goldenthal’s sweeping, rushing-through-alleyways symphonic score — a must-own for soundtrack buffs only. Maybe he and GN’R should have collaborated on a dancehall rendition of ”Angie.”
Ready to Wear (Pret-a-Porter): A-; Clerks: B; Dumb and Dumber: C; A Low Down Dirty Shame: B-; Pulp Fiction: A; Interview With the Vampire: B-