Producer William Orbit’s tendency to flat-line the music overtakes his high-profile new project, Madonna’s remake of Don McLean’s death-of-rock chronicle ”American Pie.” What seemed an inspired, left-field idea winds up a decidedly flavorless slice of dessert: With its ”flat as an American highway” mood, the update doesn’t shamelessly evoke nostalgia, but it doesn’t evoke much of anything else, either. That track – and a wan new Madonna ballad, ”Time Stood Still,” also coproduced with Orbit – are the centerpieces of the soundtrack to The Next Best Thing, Maddy’s latest attempt to become a movie star.
Orbit didn’t contribute to the other tracks on this various-artists collection, but his influence, if not his actual hand, is evident throughout. British singer Mandalay’s ”This Life” is an eerily precise impersonation of later-period Madonna, down to its affected phrasing and sound-bleep trinkets; the band Olive’s creamy remake of 10cc’s ”I’m Not in Love” and producer Metisse’s techno-lounge ”Boom Boom Ba” have the Orbit-style poptronica ambiance down cold. Stir in previously released tracks by Beth Orton and Moby, and the result is a cohesive and appealing soundtrack that wants you to think you’ve stumbled upon the hippest chill-out room in the world. The typically unrelenting, in-our-faces hook of a new Christina Aguilera number, ”Don’t Make Me Love You,” only makes one appreciate the relative subtleties of drowse-and-bass.