It’s hard to miss orchestral scores in movies: In budget-eaters like Jurassic Park, swelling strings burst out of the theater’s loudspeakers at the appropriately spectacular moments. Pop songs on soundtracks are a little harder to pick out, however, often because they’re only heard for a few seconds. For instance, did you notice dancehall dolt Shabba Ranks’ remake of Sly and the Family Stone’s ”Family Affair” in Addams Family Values? Probably not – the most recognizable song is Tag Team’s ”Addams Family (Whoomp!),” a silly but spirited remake of their ”Whoomp! (There It Is),” played in its entirety during the movie’s closing credits.
In keeping with the Ranks track, the rest of Addams Family Values (Atlas) features contemporary rap and dancehall acts remaking ’70s R&B hits. The best are H-Town’s silky take on the Isley Brothers’ ”It’s Your Thing” and Portrait’s mellow-groove update of William DeVaughn’s ”Be Thankful for What You’ve Got.” The rap tie-in with a movie about oddball white outsiders is a bit of a stretch, but you have to respect any album that remakes swinging, unjustly forgotten soul oldies like Charles Wright’s ”Express Yourself.”
Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, on the other hand, clearly love their boy-band rock & roll and ’70s kitsch, two styles that resurface on the testosterone-fueled soundtrack of Wayne’s World 2 (Reprise). More than on the first album, the sequel album aims for broader demographics. Golden Earring’s ”Radar Love,” the Village People’s ”Y.M.C.A.,” and Joan Jett’s ”I Love Rock ‘N Roll” shoot for the camp-oldies value of the first album’s ”Bohemian Rhapsody.” Newly recorded songs by Urge Overkill (a straight-faced version of the Carpenters’ haunting ”Superstar,” with the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde), the Gin Blossoms and 4 Non-Talents-uh, Blondes-are meant to haul in the younger flannel-shirted crowd, and the old-fart contingent is amply represented by Robert Plant (with a sloppy remake of ”Louie Louie” that reduces it to a football cheer) and Aerosmith. It’s a real motley-crew collection that is actually more open-minded and fun than your typical classic-rock radio station, and the sniffing glue that ties the songs together is Wayne and Garth’s love of AOR -but not to the point of taking it that seriously.
The Clint Eastwood-Kevin Costner vehicle A Perfect World (Reprise) is set in Texas in 1963, which is also roughly the prime time of ”countrypolitan,” the merger of lean and lonely honky-tonk with pop elements like heavenly choirs. The bulk of its compelling soundtrack album is devoted to that subgenre, and songs like Don Gibson’s ”Blue Blue Day” and Marty Robbins’ ”Don’t Worry” are the musical equivalents of the movie’s stark, scorched Texas landscapes. The requisite new cuts-Chris Isaak’s remakes of Johnny Ray’s ”The Little White Cloud That Cried” and Gale Storm’s ”Dark Moon,” both featuring Isaak’s breathy, sullen murmur-perfectly enhance the album’s barren mood.
Based on moments like star Whoopi Goldberg’s sanitized rendition of ”Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” all you’ll gain from the soundtrack of Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (Hollywood) is a renewed appreciation for the meager talents of the tune’s original singer, Diana Ross. And befitting the movie’s religious undertones, Whoopi and cast’s ”The Greatest Medley Ever Told” – a four-minute distillation of snippets from 19 songs, from Motown oldies to classic-rock tunes like ”Proud Mary” – is pure purgatory. Addams Family Values: B; Wayne’s World 2: B; A Perfect World: A-; Sister Act 2: D – DB
Pop/R&B soundtracks may be Hollywood’s latest cash machine, but don’t think the old-fashioned film score is down for the count. On the contrary. CDs of movie music are selling better than ever, and what once was a small collector’s market is broadening to include anyone who wants to be enveloped by a rapturous love theme while dusting the furniture.
The new popularity is coming at a time when film music is going through one of its periodic mutations. In 1977, John Williams’ watershed score for Star Wars pioneered a return to the grand orchestral poot of Hollywood past, and gargantuanism has pretty much held sway since. But there are signs the rules are changing, and you don’t have to look farther than Williams himself. His score for the Steven Spielberg Holocaust drama Schindler’s List (MCA) is stunningly un-Williams-like: restrained, enigmatic, built out of individual musical voices rather than the whole smeary Wagnerian palette. Maybe his night job as conductor for the Boston Pops has finally opened Williams’ ears to different influences; at the very least, this music shares with the concert hall the concept of the soloist. In effect, the composer has put down the baseball bat he usually smacks us with and asked Itzhak Perlman to pick up his bow: The violinist’s heartbreaking passages carry emotions that seem wholly new to a Williams score. Like Spielberg, this composer really, really wants to grow up with this movie. And damned if he doesn’t.
Michael Nyman’s score for The Piano (Virgin), on the other hand, shows a gifted eccentric turning banal. In a film like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Nyman’s roller-coaster rhythms (clearly influenced by Philip Glass) have the power to lift viewers into a gorgeously chilly stratosphere. This time, though, the emphasis on solo piano leaves him sounding like a Windham Hill wannabe. The score actually works better on screen than on disc: If you can get over the visual anachronism of a 19th-century woman riffing like George Winston, the music does reflect the lead character’s passion. More important, actress Holly Hunter tickles the ivories with a rawer conviction in the movie than professional composer-pianist Nyman can muster in the recording studio.
Ironically, you can hear Nyman’s style to better effect in Richard Robbins’ score for The Remains of the Day (Angel). It’s a lucid, melancholy gem that uses Glass-ian repetition for a reason. Burbling ostinatos mirror the unvarying routine at Darlington Hall; quietly ticking percussion counts the fleeing days; soaring string passages speak for all the emotions hiding behind butler Anthony Hopkins’ starched shirtboard. If that sounds programmed, rest assured that Robbins’ ear for a melody isn’t. One listener caveat: Program your CD player to skip past the cheesy tearoom rendition of ”Blue Moon”-the one sour note in an otherwise perfect score. Schindler’s List: A-; The Piano: C+; Remains of the Day: A – TB