Soundtrack

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York Soundtrack

Release Year: 1992

Rating: 7/10

Believe it or not, Christmas is only a week away. Though the holiday is meant to bring cheer and joy, sometimes the days leading up to Christmas are more exciting than the holiday itself. Drinking hot cocoa, listening to Christmas music, seeing pretty lights strung up everywhere, and, of course, Christmas specials. Every year without fail, I watch the first two Home Alone movies. Yes, I can practically quote both movies. It’s a holiday tradition and I love wearing a holiday shirt, sitting next to the tree, and watching Kevin McCallister take down some bumbling criminals. Even though I’ve seen the movies more times than I can count, I never thought about their soundtracks. There’s four in the series: an original score for each movie, a soundtrack for the second, and the last one a re-release of the Home Alone 2 soundtrack. This year, I thought it’d be fun to give the Home Alone 2 soundtrack a spin and see what it’s about.

The soundtrack is mix of traditional holiday songs with some modern (at the time) interpretations. What I like most about the soundtrack is how it has songs taken straight from the movie. You’ll hear Bobby Helm’s rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock,” which is my favorite version solely because of this movie. Played during the scene where Kevin loses his shorts in the pool, I always end the song with him exclaiming “Yikes!” in my mind. The album also features Jonny Mathis singing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas,” which always makes me think of Tim Curry’s smug smile when he learns of Kevin’s credit card fraud. There’s also Alan Jackson’s version of “Holly Jolly Christmas,” which I don’t remember from the movie at all. It’s a pretty standard cover with a lot of country twang; nothing too spectacular.

But for traditionalists, there are also the classical holiday songs, many of which were also included in the movie. There’s “My Christmas Tree,” which you may remember from the beginning of the movie. Personally, I found this song boring without Kevin attacking Buzz in the middle of it. If anything it serves its nostalgic purpose. There’s also “Somewhere In my Memory” sung by Beth Midler, better known as the song that plays throughout the first two films. Again, not really my type of Christmas music. It’s pretty, but also sappy and too slow.

One of the best, but admittedly odd additions is “Cool Jerk” by The Capitols. But that’s not a Christmas song, you say. Home Alone fixes this by mixing in bits from the movie, mainly Uncle Frank singing in the shower. While listening to the song, you’ll hear Uncle Frank say “You’re cooking Frankie!” and of course the hilarious line “Get out of here you little pervert before I slap you silly!” Being one of the best scenes in the movie, there’s no question this is one my favorites on the album. But the best song on the album is TLC’s “Sleigh Ride.” This has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs and I was surprised to learn it was on this soundtrack. Something about it is cool and makes you want to dance. Left Eye’s raps are funny and sick, filled with her offbeat humor and awesome flow.

The album ends with two more sappy, slow holiday songs: “Christmas Star” and “Come All Ye Faithful.” I’ve never been a fan of these big, over the top, drawn out Christmas songs better suited for church. I find them boring and sometimes they’re just sad. They’re pretty, but not something I really want to sit through. The same goes for the more upbeat, but annoying “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.” It’s a beautiful score, but not very fun and jolly, which is how I prefer my holiday music. Plus, hearing a choir shriek “Merry Christmas” at the top of their lungs gets old really fast.

If anything, this soundtrack is a blast of nostalgia. Most of the songs I had a hard time thinking about them outside the movie. There are some genuinely good Christmas tunes here, but I found most to be boring, bland, and too slow. If I saw this soundtrack, I would buy just because I love the movie so much. I mean, I have a Home Alone 2 board game I have yet to play. But it’s not something I would put on while trimming the tree. The original scores for both films are much better being both joyful and beautiful. You want a good Christmas album? Look elsewhere. You want an injection of nostalgia? This is the record to pick up.

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The Crow: City of Angels OST

Release Year: 1996

Rating: 5.5/10

The soundtrack for the first Crow movie is often hailed as one of the best of not only the 90s, but of all time. It had big name artists from the grunge, rock, and alternative world who knew how to recreate the darkness of the film in music. The same can’t be said about its sequel. The movie was nowhere as good or riveting as the original and the soundtrack matches. With a less than stellar line up and songs that are just meh, it can’t even compare to the previous LP.

Part of what made the first soundtrack great were contributions from The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Rage Against the Machine to name a few. If you were hoping for artists of that caliber this time around, then you’ll be disappointed. There are a couple of well known acts, but it’s not enough to save this compilation. Hole’s cover of “Gold Dust Woman” isn’t bad, but as someone who’s not a fan of Hole, it didn’t do much for me. White Zombie’s “I’m Your Boogieman” is one of the standout tracks. Zombie and friends take this lame KC and the Sunshine band song and turn it into something groovy, yet spooky. Rather than waxing about a DJ who gets people dancing, Zombie talks about the Boogieman of your nightmares.

From there the songs aren’t bad, but fade into the background especially if you don’t like the artist. Filter’s “Jurassitol” has a cool opening bass line, but otherwise sounds like a mediocre grunge track. PJ Harvey’s “Naked Cousin” is interesting with its hard gritty vocals, but again doesn’t really do much, at least not for me. At least it’s more memorable than Bush’s cover of the Joy Division track “In a Lonely Place.” It starts off pretty good with the subdued, creepy music, but Gavin Bush’s vocals really kill the track. He’s too quiet and raspy for this type of song. He’s obviously trying to recreate the unnerving feel of the original, but misses the mark. While listening to it, I wished it was the actual Joy Division track the entire time.

Then there are the rap songs. I have nothing against rap and I actually like it when it’s good, but here it feels out of place. The previous soundtrack didn’t have any hip hop tracks; the closest it got was the contribution from Rage Against the Machine. The tracks “Tonight is a Special Night” and the closing number “City of Angels” stick out so bad it feels like a different record. The latter song is especially bad because it was written specially for the movie and has the lamest references jammed in there. Just look at this eye-rolling lyric: “I’m gonna revenge myself/like the crow.” Just in case you forgot what movie this was, Above the Law are going to remind you. And the song doesn’t get any better from there. It’s like one of those theme songs that tries to tell the story of the TV show. Maybe if the rap contributions were actually good it wouldn’t be so bad, but we’re stuck with some pretty shitty songs.

When you’re not listening to sloppy rap songs, you’re hearing second rate grunge acts. When the LP was released in 1996, the grunge phenomenon was pretty much over. The composers of this LP didn’t get the memo and gathered up bands who were still pushing out the music. Again, if the songs were actually any good, who cares what genre it falls in. But all these songs blend together making them forgettable. “Spit” by NY Loose (remember them? Neither do I) isn’t terrible, but ends up sounding like a Hole song, Seven Mary Three’s “Shelf Life” gets boring after the first verse, the Toadies’ “Paper Dress” has the same crunchy guitars and disinterested vocals. “Teething” by Deftones isn’t bad, but it’s definitely one of their rougher songs and sounds a bit disjointed.

One the surprising stand out tracks is “Knock Me Out” by Linda Perry and Grace Slick. The song is really slow and somber, but it’s Perry’s smokey vocals that really makes it come alive. She sounds so lovelorn and distraught as she’s singing. Then comes Grace Slick who has so much fire behind her voice. When put together, they have some of the most powerful harmonies. Their singing matched with the depressing music is enough to make you shed tears. It’s a shame that it’s buried on the album and should’ve been up way higher.

This soundtrack is nowhere near as good as the previous one. There are a couple of decent songs, but most of them are dull, mediocre, and sound too similar to one another. The LP feels disjointed at times especially when it comes to the rap tracks. They’re stuck in the middle and the end of the record which has established itself as being primarily alternative rock oriented. This one didn’t have as many heavy hitting musicians, but the previous entry had its share of unknowns as well. The difference is those bands that you didn’t recognize actually had good fucking songs. Here, they’re just okay. You don’t mind hearing them, but you wouldn’t want to hear them again. For the first soundtrack, every song felt like it belonged. Here, most of it felt like filler with a few stand out tracks. It’s best to steer away from this one.

Worst Album of 2015

Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings

Montage of Heck was both one of the best and worst things about 2015. The movie was an intimate look at Kurt Cobain and though it may have fudged some things and didn’t really give fans anything new, it finally felt like we had our essential movie about the late rock star. Then comes the soundtrack that shat over all the good the film did. Fans were disgusted with the content and cried exploitation. Look, Cobain has been exploited since his death and we probably should’ve been outraged a long time ago. But that doesn’t stop the soundtrack from being a poor excuse for raking in money.

Out of everything I listened to this year, this soundtrack was the only one I got absolutely no enjoyment from. I wasn’t even halfway through the album before I got bored and wanted to turn it off. As I pointed out in my review, the biggest problem is without Cobain’s perspective the recordings feel pointless and random. There were times where it sounded like my ears were being tortured with all the weird samples, distorted vocals, and various screams. The album was so bad that as a Nirvana collector I refused to buy it. Yes, I still want it for collecting purposes but I don’t want to pay more than 2 bucks. And since the LP only sold 5,000 copies in its first week I’m sure it’ll pop up in bargain bins soon.

The biggest issue with the album is these recordings meant something to Cobain, but they mean very little to listeners. Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings was a poor way to show Cobain’s genius or whatever shit Brett Morgen was spouting. The saddest part about this whole thing was how Cobain had no say over the release. It’s not his fault the record is shitty, but rather the fault of Morgen and his estate for giving it the green light. As many critics pointed out, there isn’t anything new to say about Cobain, so maybe it is time to stop talking about him.

Musical Quickie: This is It – Michael Jackson

ThisisitCDcover

Release Year: 2009

Rating: 6.5/10

There were lots of cash grabs after Jackson’s 2009 death, but this is among the worst. Released around the same time as the film, it’s nothing more than a glorified greatest hits album. You would think since it’s the soundtrack LP to the film, it would feature the live audio that’s heard in the movie. Rather, it’s the studio version of the songs Jackson sings in the movie. I guess this isn’t terrible, but considering there were already other compilation albums with the same songs it makes the release pretty cheap. The only selling point is a color booklet and the inclusion of the track “This is It,” but fans could easily purchase the song online.

There’s also a second disc that has three demos from Thriller and a spoken word poem named “Planet Earth.” While it’s all interesting to listen to it’s not enough to make this release worth your time. Since then, the same demos along with tons of other unreleased material have appeared on the iTunes exclusive The Ultimate Fans Extra Collection. Otherwise, the whole thing is rushed to coincide with the film and doesn’t hold anything new for Jackson fans.

 

The Crow Original Soundtrack

The_Crow_soundtrack_album_coverRelease Year: 1994

Rating: 8/10

On this day The Crow was released in theaters 20 years ago. Since then, it has gained a huge cult following. This moment is bittersweet because it also brings up the loss of the talented Brandon Lee. Aside from that tragic event, the movie is also remembered for its amazing soundtrack. This isn’t a collection of popular artists of the time singing their biggest hits. For this compilation, the makers of the film tracked down some of Crow originator James O Barr’s favorite artists like The Cure, to create new songs specifically for the movie. Listening to the tracks and seeing how they connect to the film show the time and effort put into the project.

The album seems to be broken up in two parts. The first half is filled with dark, brooding, somber tracks while those found on the second half are aggressive, heavy, and fast. There are lots of notable song here, but one that stands out is “Burn” by The Cure. What’s great about the song is not only does it sound like a classic Cure track with the crashing drums and sweet guitar, it directly references the comic book. The line “Don’t look, don’t look” is what the crow tells Eric throughout the comic. The band also references their song “Birdmad Girl” with the line “this trembling, adored, tousled bird-mad girl.” I’m not sure if it was intentional, but it’s cool either way.

Nine Inch Nails show up on the album with a cover of Joy Division‘s “Dead Souls.” I find this to be the better version because Reznor slows things down to make the vibe dark, brooding, and enigmatic. It also allows different elements of the song to be showcased like the tribal drums pounding throughout. Also, the repetition of “They keep calling me” makes it the best hook. “Golgotha Tenement” is another great addition to the soundtrack. This track by the small time band Machines of Loving Grace has a great bass riff. The music in general is killer; it sounds dirty and sinister. It really fits in with the grittiness of the movie. Personally, it always makes me think of the scene where Eric cradles his head against the light bulb when he confronts Funboy.

Rage Against the Machine makes a notable contribution with “Darkness,” while Thrill Kill Kult mix their industrial side with their love of techno music on the explosive and energetic “After the Flesh.” It’s one of their best and most well known tracks. With a riff that sounds like it’s slashing through the song and a terrorizing Groovie Mann, it’s a perfect introduction to the band. Pantera offers up “The Badge,” an ode to the corruption of cops, but it almost sounds out of place due to it’s brash, metal sound. The Violent Femmes get psychedelic on “Color Me Once,” a great track from the band. Even though there are a number of great songs, there are some that don’t stand out like the others.

Time Baby III” by Medicine is a pretty weak song. It’s too soft and isn’t very memorable. Fans of the movie will recognize it only by the simple chorus of “No they don’t have to take it away,” that was featured in the film. The closing track “It Can’t Rain All the Time” is even worse. Taken from a song by Eric Draven’s band, this version is slow, dull, and boring. With the weak vocal delivery and the generic slow music it ends up sounding like a bad ’90s love song. Everything about is too sentimental and corny, which is a shame because it’s supposed to close the LP on a thoughtful and powerful note. The rest of the songs are pretty good, but nothing that really holds your attention.

Overall, the soundtrack gets 8/10. Even though some of the songs are obviously influenced by the grunge era, the collection has aged pretty well. There are some songs that don’t fit in or are just bad, but the good out weigh the bad. The LP showcases amazing tracks from great bands that’ll often relate directly to the source material. Put on this soundtrack to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this film and hey you may as well watch the movie again too.