Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"Cars" soundtrack REVIEW

Pixar's 7th animation film was released 4 days ago, and already the numbers are piling up, to the tune of 60.1 million Cars' first weekend. With this latest venture, Pixar returned the musical score over to--once again--Randy Newman, who'd been replaced with Thomas Newman on Finding Nemo and rising star Michael Giacchino on The Incredibles.

The return of Mr. Newman wasn't as triumphant as the grizzled old singer/composer probably would have liked; he contributed a little over 20 minutes of score to a song-dominated soundtrack (a first for Pixar). Still, his limited exposure still could have been powerful! 20 minutes is enough time to pull together a solid theme, re-state it a couple of times, and continue to work off of the same melodic ideas that made his Bugs Life and Monsters Inc soundtracks so enjoyable.

But Randy Newman strayed from all that.

In keeping with the many country themes and ideas (both in the story and in the rock songs), Newman resorts to guitars, fiddles, soft drums, and run-of-the-mill country twang through most of his cues. "McQueen and Sally" is a little better than the straight country-bumpkin of "Bessie," and certainly outpaces the confused "Dirt is Different."

With all of the run-and-jump race-car action in the trailers and on film, I would have expected more heart-pumping action music on the CD. But there is little to offer, outside of "Opening Races" and the final "The Big Race," both of which nicely morph the grand-stage NASCAR setting (with accompanying rock styles) with sweeping melodies that carry their cues. "Tractor Tripping" is about as useless as The Chords song "Sh-boom" (and half as catchy), while "McQueen's Lost" is about as confused as McQueen, himself.

Hank Williams sings "My Heart Would Know" in the middle of the soundtrack, and its a nice little ditty; country, of course; but that should have been where the twang ended; unfortunately, Newman sees fit to interspere it throughout the rest of the score, plopping in a guitar strum or oversized twang! at misplaced intervals.

Certainly the last 4 cues are the best of the original score, beginning with the soft, moody, yet Bugs Life-beautiful "Goodbye." "Pre-Race Pageantry" is similarly like an extended cut of one of the Bugs Life tracks, but it is a welcome thematic relief on this hobbled musical mess! "The Piston Cup" is a downbeat version of "The Big Race," with the latter really pumping up the loudness and musical ammo that "Piston Cup" briefly hinted at. "Big Race" also contains the score's only theme: a six-note brass motif that is energetic and triumphant. The only problem is that Newman seems so excited about the little theme that he keeps re-using it in this 3 minute blip, with little or no variation, until the charisma is pretty much lost. Still, it's the upside to this downer of a country disc...er....I mean original soundtrack.

I never thought I'd ever say this, but on a score where the songs are by the likes of Sheryl Crow, Rascal Flatts (if you aren't already tired of "Life is a Highway"), and Hank Williams, the rock ballads outperform Randy Newman's musical selections.

RATING: songs - *** original score - **

-Sam Van Eerden


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