Monday, November 13, 2006

Poor Jack

This weekend, I picked up the new The Nightmare Before Christmas: Special Edition soundtrack. In a vain effort to actually provide content for this blog, I will attempt to put into words how I feel about it.

The first disc is, as far as I can tell, exactly the same as the original album. It's possible that there was some remixing and remastering, as the disc sounds a little more crisp than it originally did. Composer Danny Elfman was in the prime of his career when he scored Nightmare. He was fresh off of his two Batman scores, Edward Scissorhands, and Sommersby (a personal favorite of mine), and he was about to score what many consider to be his best work--Black Beauty. What we have here is Elfman doing what he did best--gothic, goofy scoring to a Tim Burton film. He's revisited this style occasionally--Sleepy Hollow and Men in Black, primarily--but this is truly the end cap to Phase One of his career. And a fitting one at that.

If you don't know the songs, your head has probably been buried in the sand for the last thirteen years. "This Is Halloween" is pure revelry, and it's one of the best songs representing a holiday that is generally given the short shrift musically. Hot Topic punks everywhere (many of whom were still crawling on all fours when the film was originally released) cut themselves to the beautifully sad "Sally's Song." Nightmare is, perhaps, the best musical of the last twenty years.

The second disc is a whole other animal. The album producers hired a full arsenal of popular musicians to record their own versions of Elfman's classic songs. The results are truly mixed. Marilyn Manson takes "This Is Halloween" to a new level by infusing it with his own bleak style. He doesn't add anything particularly noteworthy to the song, but there are points in the song in which the drums are rousing. Fiona Apple grunts "Sally's Song," and I had high hopes for this cover version. It's not bad, but the song is definitely suited better by a voice in a higher range, like original artist (and Home Alone mother) Catherine O'Hara. I've never heard of She Wants Revenge, but you can't say that they didn't make "Kidnap the Sandy Claws" their own. They turned the tune into a rave dance, complete with techno beat. It's intriguing, and I like the singer's voice (which has David-Bowie-esque qualities). However, at over five minutes, it outwears its welcome by a verse or two. The rest of the album is full of uninspired pop-punk covers by the likes of Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco. They're pretty bland and forgettable.

Unfortunately, all of these tracks suffer one fatal flaw--they can be compared to their amazing originals. All of the covers--but especially the punk ones--suffer from holding too closely to the original material. With the exception of She Wants Revenge, nobody really leaves their imprint on the song. The disc is hardly a cover album. It's more like a "Listen to the song again but this time with an electric guitar" album.

The rest of the second disc is full of Danny Elfman's original song demos. With the exception of "This Is Halloween" (which appeared on his Music For A Darkened Theater, Vol. 2), none of these tracks have been available in legal, non-bootleg form. Danny Elfman himself does all of the voices. There is a significant, operatic portion of "Making Christmas" that doesn't make its way into the film. It's nice to have them for archival purposes, but there's hardly anything of note. You'd be better served with the film versions of the tracks.

If you want a better "cover" album of songs from musicals, I have two suggestions. The first is Wig in A Box, which is full of Hedwig and the Angry Inch covers, turns most of the songs on their heads. Featuring Ben Folds, Rufus Wainwright, Cyndi Lauper, and Stephen Colbert, it's not always successful but at least it takes chances. The other recommended album is the original soundtrack to the South Park movie. It includes the original songs and then songs "inspired by" the soundtrack. DVDA, Violent Femmes, and RuPaul (among others). They use songs like "Uncle Fucka" and "I Can Change" as building blocks and write their own music around them.

If you're a die-hard fan of any of the cover bands, I guess I could recommend picking up the album. Otherwise, I'd stick with the single-disc original. It's cheaper now.

Click here to go to the official MySpace and hear four of the five covers.

Disc 1

1 Overture
2 Opening
3 This Is Halloween
4 Jack's Lament
5 Dr. Finklestein/In The Forest
6 What's This?
7 Town Meeting Song
8 Jack and Sally Montage
9 Jack's Obsession
10 Kidnap the Sandy Claws
11 Making Christmas
12 Nabbed
13 Oogie Boogie's Song
14 Sally's Song
15 Christmas Eve Montage
16 Poor Jack
17 To the Rescue
18 Finale/Reprise
19 Closing
20 End Title

Disc 2

1 This Is Halloween (Marilyn Manson)
2 Sally's Song (Fiona Apple)
3 What's This? (Fall Out Boy)
4 Kidnap the Sandy Claws (She Wants Revenge)
5 This Is Halloween (Panic! At the Disco)
6 Making Christmas (Demo)
7 Oogie Boogie's Song (Demo)
8 Kidnap the Sandy Claws (Demo)
9 This Is Halloween (Demo)
10 Town Meeting Song (BEST BUY EXCLUSIVE Demo)
11 What's This (BEST BUY EXCLUSIVE Demo)


Wes said...

This is a great CD review -- and you're so right about these covers being like the originals with an electric guitar. The exception kicks freaking ass, though -- listening to "Kidnap the Sandy Claws", I almost feel like I'm on the floor back at the local goth club. What's up with me not being able to download the track like with most Myspace band pages, though? Lame!

This "Create Your Own Nightmare Character" thing is also lame. Totally owned by the South Park version. :)

JessAstroBase said...

Yeah I think youre right about your review, except about Fiona Apple's cover. I totally loved it, that song should be slow and sad. The rest were awful! And I really like She Wants Revenge and was excited to see what they could do...but maybe another band could've done better, like The Polyphonic Spree. And Manson..well his cover was just like...okay that was lame. he didnt change voices or anything.

But you're right too, maybe if we didn't have the original danny elfman songs these would be okay, but Elfman is just amazing and those tracks are Classics now, so they just fall short.

Hey did you catch Nightmare Before Xmas in 3d? that was pretty fun. I never got to see it in theaters as a kid, but this time around, knowing the movie so well i kept half expecting myself to start singing along. I sat there with a smile on my face, with my dorky 3d glasses over my regular glasses loving every second of it!

Spoodles said...

Thanks for the feedback, guys. I didn't see the 3D version, but I wanted to. (I saw the original in theaters for my birthday and loved it. Best birthday ever.)

I'm okay with the fact that Manson didn't change voices. That would come off forced, I think. What I wasn't thrilled with was that it sounded exactly like what "Marilyn Manson singing 'This is Halloween'" sounded like in my head. No surprises.