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by Natasha Theobald

This week Sonic Death Monkey will explore a couple of great soundtracks for holiday or any other time good times. From the spooky delights of "The Haunted Mansion" to the love and laughter of Christmas found in "Love Actually," there is something to excite and inspire holiday cheer in even the grinchiest among us.

Standing in the soundtrack section of my local retailer, I paused, searching for something to review. I have not seen "The Haunted Mansion," but, when I flipped the disc over and saw names from Barenaked Ladies to Morris Day, from Oingo Boingo to The Jackson 5, I thought this was probably worth a listen. Plus, my interest was piqued by titles like "Grim, Grinning Ghosts," and the old favorite "Monster Mash." What I did not expect, however, was to be instantly enthralled, caught up in the high energy and playfulness.

This soundtrack is full of strong, danceable beats, the type of songs you almost can't avoid moving to. There are things which might make you laugh, or at least giggle (if that's not too girlie), and things so charming, you can't help but be won over. The songs are blessedly short for the kiddies, so the energy never wavers with overlong titles. Unexpectedly, for a disc aimed at kids, the sounds are mostly electronic dance beats with funky, club-worthy mixes. The more sophisticated sounds, though, are accompaniment to kid-friendly lyrics, and, despite the occasional less scary, more provocative moan, things are left to the intended audience, no less a pleasure for anyone over ten. Finally, if such a thing might grab you, there is a collectable card included with the disc. I got Eddie Murphy (maybe everyone gets him, who knows?).

Highlights include two versions of "Grim, Grinning Ghosts," one from the film and one from Barenaked Ladies. It is fast-moving and fun, lyrically and musically. There are two selections from Brian O'Neal and the BusBoys, featuring great vocals and a surprisingly sexy take on "Monster Mash." Who knew "He did the mash..." could be so evocative? Morris Day does "Somebody's Watching Me" in grand, Morris Day style. What more can be said? The overture score by Mark Mancina is enticing, drawing the listener with promises of things to come. It manages to be suspenseful and light-hearted, the perfect blend for the young and, perhaps, easily frightened.

There are a couple of jazz influenced tunes, one from Suzanne Vega, who manages to be jazzy and upbeat. Another comes courtesy of Calvin Richardson with "I Put a Spell on You," which offers a jazz vocal over frenetic piano and a dance beat. Raven puts a new spin on Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," which boldly pays off. My personal favorite, though, was "Man with the Hex" from The Atomic Fireballs. It starts with a military-style marching call then flies into a swing tune about voodoo, featuring great horns and a great tempo. Buy this for a kid you know so you can listen, too. The exuberance is enticing and fulfilling.

For something no less playful but a bit more adult-oriented, you can find a copy of the soundtrack for "Love Actually." After hearing and loving it, I am ashamed to admit that I almost didn't buy it. Having not watched American Idol, the name Kelly Clarkson brought visions of belting-it-out Celine Dion style to my ill-informed mind. I was wrong. More on that later. I decided to buy, though, for the promise of an interesting mix including Maroon 5, Norah Jones, and Joni Mitchell, among others.

Listen to this music. If you are in love, you will smile, laugh, cry, and want to get close. If you aren't in love, you'll want to be - not in a lonely, sad way but in an exuberant, inspired way. This compilation is full of romance, soul, heart, and heartbreak. There are good songs for dancing mixed with soulful ballads. The approach is not saccharine. The music, as the movie, sees love from all sides, from all angles - the good and the not so good, the sweet and the bittersweet. The theme of the film, that love is all around, is about making connections with other people, finding kindred spirits to share your time. It is about recognizing the love you already have from the people who have found a place in your life.

Some of the songs on the soundtrack may make you moan, as they received a great deal of radio play at one time or another, when they were first released. Thankfully, everything old seems new again. The spirit of this disc makes familiar songs feel fresh, invigorated. Of course, some of the oldies are more than welcome. The Pointer Sisters may be a maybe, but Joni Mitchell is probably a yes.

In the notes, director Richard Curtis discusses the importance of the music to the movie. He feels the film would not, in fact, work without the music. Having seen it both ways, he is the best one to assert it, claiming "...this soundtrack in your hands isn't a few songs stuck together; it's the life and soul of the film." So, this is not another soundtrack chock full of songs "inspired" by the movie. Hearing it, you will remember moments that you loved from the film and have a few laughs rekindled, as well.

Highlights include Kelly Clarkson's surprisingly soulful "The Trouble with Love Is." Dido's "Here with Me" is included, which may take you back to "Roswell" instead. Maroon 5 sparks things a bit with catchy tunes and heartrending lyrics. Wyclef Jean, with Shanissa, gives a witty, buoyant performance with "Take Me as I Am." And, Joni Mitchell revisits "Both Sides Now" to great emotional effect.

Lynden David Hall dares to tackle The Beatles with a gospel-like re-imagining of "All You Need Is Love." Further layers of emotion are found with Texas, ("Loving you is the right thing to do") "I'll See It Through," and Sugarbabes manage to be moody and sensual until a more predictable chorus intervenes with "Too Lost in You." The bonus songs by Otis Redding, Billy Mack (Bill Nighy), and Olivia Olson are all Christmas offerings, spreading joy and, in one case, laughter at the sheer audacity (see the film).

Michael's computer has fallen ill, so I will be back next week with more, or so goes the plan. Until then.

link directly to this feature at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=865
originally posted: 12/07/03 15:49:17
last updated: 05/05/05 17:31:19
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