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Sonic Death Monkey is seen every Saturday
by Michael Collins

Welcome to the very first Sonic Death Monkey column for soundtrack reviews. The column name comes from Hi Fidelity's Barry and one of the bands he was in. In future edtions of the column we'll look at the latest soundtracks as well as a few classic ones that should be in your CD collection next to all those DVDs. In this debut column we look at the soundtracks to Bad Boys 2 and Finding Nemo.

For the music of the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence buddy film Bad Boys II, it should be no surprise that hip hop and R&B dominate the track listing. The big guns lead the way with P.Diddy, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg making contributions. Even Notorious B.I.G. is dragged out of his coffin for this one. They are there to make the sale, but what about the rest?

This compilation soundtrack is full of pumped beats which for this casual hip hop fan is far more satisfying that any film that has that fooí Martin Lawrence. True, this soundtrack does have dialogue excerpts that include Lawrence talking, but itís kept to a minimum and doesnít ruin anything else.

Collaborations are common in hip hop and this soundtrack features a few note worthy ones. P.Diddy / Lenny Kravitz / Pharrell Williams/ Loon get it dirty and so funky that the James Brown sample fits in perfectly. The 50 Cent/Notorious B.I.G. is a noteworthy addition. Not because itís good or anything, but because yet again we have a dead start continuing their career as if nothing has happened.

P. Diddy pops up again with Fat Joe and Dre for Girl, Iím A Bad Boy, which despite the title, actually bumps the gangsta bravado and the delivered rhymes have a little more honest feel to them.

Before we start to think that all hip hop is getting all reflective though, 50 Cent and B.I.G. turn up to turn the attitude with Realest Niggas. Apart from revealing a distressing use of grammar the track lays the Ďtude on thick. Freeway with their track Flipside go over similar territory.

Snoop Dogg is also of the same school, but heís a guilty pleasure for me. Thereís something about his style and a sense of humour just below the surface that has won me over. Heís also been in a couple of cool films and heís involved in the hilarious Crank Yankers and so that has him in my Cool Books - page one, chapter one. On the soundtrack he hooks up with up and comer, Loon, to make a solid effort about Gangsta attitude being rather silly, but itís not one of Snoopís best.

When the hip hop has a rest things turn to the close cousin of modern R&B and even Justin Timberlake rather inexplicably turns up. Gotta have something to appeal to the teen crowd, I guess. His contribution is smooth, but ultimately forgettable.

Mary J Blige and Beyonce wave the R&B flag as well with nice, laid back funky grooves. Itís R&B at itís most artificial, but a fan of this genre will again take something from these tracks.

By the time we get to the rather worryingly title Pretty Girl Bullshit by Marion Winans and Foxy Brown things are getting rather tired. PGB seems to be about Winans going on about how much he dislikes people like Foxy Brown. That could be wishful thinking though - on my part.

The sound is as slick and as calculated as the film, but with the major difference that the film has Martin Lawerence as a major contributor whereas in the soundtrack he only makes fleeting appearances. Thatís reason enough to same your money on the movie or DVD and to pick up the CD instead. That doesnít mean itís a great compilation, yet it should satisfy commercial hip hop/R&B fans and will keep a block or frat party going for at least another hour or so.

Something that couldnít be more different to the safe hits selection of the compilation album that is the Bad Boys 2 soundtrack is Thomas Newmanís effort for the film Finding Nemo.

The Finding Nemo soundtrack album features short pieces written by composer Thomas Newman with a Robbie Williams swing track tacked on the end. The music ranges from the graceful and elegant to the colourful and dramatic.

Music certainly runs in Thomas Newmanís family. His father Alfred composed music for over 200 hundred films including The Seven Year Itch, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and How To Marry A Millionaire. Thomas is also the cousin of Pixar favourite Randy Newman, and there are a number of other composers in the family with film scores to their credit. Thomas worked on American Beauty, Three Kings, Road To Perdition and many more films. This time Thomas takes over from his cousin Randy to work with Pixarís Finding Nemo.

With the film being such a grand and fun adventure, the music matches the mood wonderfully with large orchestral arrangements, reflecting the excitement and then there are gentle pieces to match the emotional resonance present in the film.

Since the sea - and therefore the film - is full of delicate little features the album is full of delicate little selections. Thomas Newmanís work on American Beauty is recalled. The sparse arrangements in the score are things of a true beauty that are almost hypnotic. It is almost ethereal. The sparse piano is joined by a beguiling harp to dazzle the listener.

Finding Nemo also had itís scary moments and for these scenes Newman uses slow brooding pieces which then explode in sound - surprising the listener. Some pieces are fast and full of drama, yet the music of these more dramatic pieces have codas that suggest optimism.

While romance is not really a strong theme in the film, love nevertheless does make its presence felt. And so there are some wonderfully tender pieces. The lush strings-led arrangements are a real pleasure to the ears.

Strong and distinctive characters need strong themes to match them. My personal favourite is The Turtle Lope as it almost summons surf guitar to suit the beach comber slacker-esque turtles which highlight the film.

Breaking up the pattern is Robbie Williamsí rendition of the swing standard Beyond The Sea. The song is an undisputed classic and the arrangement is lush and smooth, but Robbieís singing isnít really up to the task. The song is meant to be sung with seemingly little effort, but Williams sounds far too strained. Itís a great song, but youíll find others doing superior versions.

Since the songs are mostly short pieces (the single CD includes forty tracks) the album is one that will most likely lead you to play in the background and taken in as a whole. Apart from the Williams track, the album seems to go by without you noticing many highlights. There is nothing there really grabbing and demanding your attention - it just sets a mood and carries it on thought out the album. Closer listens do reveal the assuredness and skill of Newmanís undeniable talent and originality as a composer and arranger - Especially in the more quiet, sparse pieces. Yet really this album is more likely to be played quietly in the background.

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originally posted: 09/14/03 22:10:10
last updated: 07/24/04 06:20:50
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