Could there be an easier gig than soundtrack compiler? From The Waterboy to You've Got Mail, most film-music discs have been reduced to oldies collections that were probably a cinch to assemble, not to mention fun imagine playing DJ for millions. Yet the formula has grown stale faster than you can say ''closing-credit power ballad.'' Thankfully, a few renegade soundtrack producers are shooting higher, commissioning new, untested material and performances and aiming for anthologies that are more than just K-tel compilations for the DVD era.
One of the year's most clever tie-ins, Chef Aid: The South Park Album isn't a soundtrack so much as it is a comedy album. Complete with applause and stage introductions, it's presented as the recording of a ''concert'' to benefit the Chef (the ever-growly Isaac Hayes), with a rainbow coalition of rap, rock, and alt-rock stars paying tribute to him (and, by implication, the cool-cult status of South Park itself). The sensibility of producer Rick Rubin, who pioneered rap-metal in the '80s, runs wild throughout. ''Nowhere to Run,'' featuring the seemingly ungainly tag team of Crystal Method, Ozzy Osbourne, DMX, and Ol' Dirty Bastard, is one of the first tracks to make a rap-techno fusion seem logical. Less satisfying are Puff Daddy's latest attempt to cross over to metal (''Will They Die 4 You'') and, betraying Rubin's love of classic rock, passable but unexciting contributions by rock vets from Joe Strummer to Elton John.
What constantly redeems the album is the dark humor and musical chops of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Their parodies, from Hayes' double-entendre pimp-funk strut ''Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You)'' to croaky renditions of Bad Company and Styx anthems, are funny, loving mockeries. ''Tonight Is Right for Love,'' the Chef's swoony ode to Meredith Baxter-Birney, finds Meat Loaf pitching in to send up his own overheated delivery. Like a comedy album, Chef Aid isn't necessarily a disc you'll return to once you've heard the jokes, but its best moments are funnier than anything released in 1998 except, perhaps, for the Vanilla Ice thrash album. B