Actors who sing: Which ones really rock
As Juliette Lewis releases a punk album and Jada Pinkett Smith prepares for Ozzfest, we rate a recent crop of thespians taking the mic
Image credit: Juliette Lewis: Wattie Cheung / Camera Press / Retna
Actors Who Sing: Juliette Lewis
BAND Punk quintet Juliette & the Licks
ALBUM You’re Speaking My Language, 2005 (EW Grade: C)
SOUNDS LIKE… Patti Smith caterwauling over danceable, Blondie-esque beats and Ramones-influenced riffs.
THE LOWDOWN Though Lewis seems passionate about her music and has a crazy live show (complete with Iggy Pop-like dancing and skin-tight costumes), EW’s Marc Weingarten says the former Cape Fear star has ”an unintentionally amusing movie-star ego… with all of the requisite posturing and nary a trace of self-aware wit.”
MEMORABLE LYRIC ”Money in my pocket/ Settin’ fire to a second-rate dream/ Cash it or check it/ You gotta change that dead red light to mean green.” (”Money in My Pocket”)
DOWNLOAD THIS The title track, though far from original, is somewhat catchy.
Image credit: William Shatner: Kelly A. Swift/Retna
Actors Who Sing: William Shatner
MOST RECENT ALBUM Has Been, 2004 [Previous album: The Transformed Man, 1968]
SOUNDS LIKE… A lighter take on Henry Rollins’ spoken-word records, with music ranging from easy listening to doo-wop.
THE LOWDOWN We all got some laughs from the former Captain Kirk’s version of ”Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” on Transformed Man, but Has Been showed us Shatner’s darker side. With a little help from collaborator and producer Ben Folds and a guest appearance by Aimee Mann on the haunting ”That’s Me Trying,” Shatner beamed himself up from Beatle butcher to true artist.
MEMORABLE LYRIC ”Has been implies failure/ Not so/ Has been is history/ Has been was/ Has been might again” (”Has Been”)
DOWNLOAD THIS ”Trying” is good enough to be on one of Ben Folds’ solo albums. (But if you’ve never heard Shatner’s ”Lucy,” find it ASAP. Your jaw will drop.)
Image credit: Robert Downey Jr.: UPI/HO/NewsCom
Robert Downey Jr.
Actors Who Sing: Robert Downey Jr.
ALBUM The Futurist, 2004 (EW Grade: D)
SOUNDS LIKE… Piano by Bruce Hornsby, voice by second-rate Tom Waits imitator. Ugh.
THE LOWDOWN The lyrics on Futurist are introspective (perhaps they were inspired by Downey’s countless trips through rehab?), but EW wasn’t exactly moved: ”Unfortunately, this dribbly effort lands him in the same category as Don Johnson circa 1987… Downey displays neither a supple voice nor the ability to at least keep the beat.” Ouch.
MEMORABLE LYRIC ”Mirror takes a look at my face/ I’ll never set foot in that rat hole again.” (”Man Like Me”)
DOWNLOAD THIS While his cover of the Yes tune ”Your Move” doesn’t match the original by any means, it’s the best track on the album.
Image credit: Russell Crowe:Jamie Bowering / Headpress / Retna
Actors Who Sing: Russell Crowe
BAND The sextet 30 Odd Foot of Grunts
MOST RECENT ALBUM Other Ways of Speaking, 2004 (EW Grade: C) [Previous albums: Bastard Life or Clarity, 2001 (EW Grade: B-); Gaslight, 2002]
SOUNDS LIKE… Brooding, ’90s-style alt-rock — except one track on Speaking, ”Mission Beat,” which is reminiscent of The Sopranos‘ theme song (by Alabama 3).
THE LOWDOWN If you love Crowe’s emotional intensity as an actor, bad news: He’s not as convincing while singing about infidelity and lost love. ”The Grunts’ tunes milk folk-rock clichés, while Crowe’s vocals strain with faux sensitivity,” said EW’s Jim Farber. The Grunts dissolved a few months ago, but Russ released a solo project just last week, My Hand, My Heart (now available on iTunes).
MEMORABLE LYRIC ”I’ve never found it easier to spend my days/ My soul sings the prowler’s nocturne/ From deep down within this cage.” (”Painted Veil”)
DOWNLOAD THIS ”Never Be Alone Again,” a duet with the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, may not be the best-written song (”I engender in your fear”?), but it’s a sweet, simple acoustic tune. And you may even tap your foot a little to ”What’s Her Name?”
Image credit: Minnie Driver: David Atlas / Retna
Actors Who Sing: Minnie Driver
ALBUM Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket, 2004 (EW Grade: C+)
SOUNDS LIKE… A Starbucks-ready blend of Aimee Mann’s guitar and Sheryl Crow’s vocals, with a teaspoon of Norah Jones’ jazz sensibility and piano.
THE LOWDOWN Driver’s silky voice is above usual movie-star standards — but she bit off more than she could chew when she tried to cover Bruce Springsteen. Wrote EW’s Leah Greenblatt, ”her take on the Boss’ ‘Hungry Heart’ sounds less like real hunger and more like mild longing for a Zone bar.”
MEMORABLE LYRIC ”But karma has a certain charm/ My dad always used to say/ You never run up a tab, you don’t eventually have to pay.” (”Down”)
DOWNLOAD THIS If you close your eyes and listen to ”Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket,” you might swear you heard it on the Magnolia soundtrack.
Image credit: Tenacious D: Dennie Van Tine/London Features
Actors Who Sing: Jack Black
BAND The duo Tenacious D
ALBUM Tenacious D, 2001 (EW Grade: A)
SOUNDS LIKE… A souped-up, deliriously dirty version of mock-rock faves Spinal Tap
THE LOWDOWN Black (pictured, right, alongside brother-in-rock Kyle Gass) proves that he’s got the voice and the guitar chops on a handful of ”crank up the volume” songs. And like any great metal band, D’s even got a power ballad: ”F— Her Gently.”
MEMORABLE LYRIC ”And then you say, ‘Wait a minute, Sally/ I think I got something in my teeth/ Could you get it out for me?’/ That’s f—ing teamwork!” (”F— Her Gently”)
DOWNLOAD THIS ”Tribute” is a hilarious tune about going face-to-face with the devil, who demands the band play the greatest song in the world. It’s also surprisingly rockin’ — you’ll find yourself head banging and playing air guitar.
Image credit: Jennifer Love Hewitt: Chris McKay / Retna
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Actors Who Sing: Jennifer Love Hewitt
MOST RECENT ALBUM BareNaked, 2002 (EW Grade: C) [Previous albums: Let’s Go Bang, 1995; Jennifer Love Hewitt, 1996; Love Songs, 1997]
SOUNDS LIKE… A less talented Jessica Simpson on her first albums; a less talented Ashlee on BareNaked
THE LOWDOWN Her earlier albums attempted the same kind of teenybopper pop that starlets like Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff are making now, but on BareNaked J.LoH tried for a more rock-influenced sound. Unfortunately, she’s just too vanilla to make it work. Another strike: She covers ”Me and Bobby McGee,” with disastrous results. Janis is rolling….
MEMORABLE LYRIC ”Standin’ on the star of Marilyn Monroe, I’ve got a dream and a map of some stars’ homes… On the avenue of the stars/ What nobody knows/ I’m gonna take it so far” (”Avenue of Stars”)
DOWNLOAD THIS Speaking of shocking covers, Hewitt recorded Billy Idol’s ”Dancing With Myself” for Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber, her recent Oxygen TV movie. (For giggles, get it here.)