Correction: The author mistakenly described the vocal cover of “Holding Out For A Hero” by Frou Frou as a “bland impersonation by Imogen Heap” when it was a bland performance by Imogen Heap.
On a recent trip to Big Sur, I discovered in my buddy Christian’s glove box a token from my past, a long forgotten relic of my childhood. Not a sentimental one, a trigger of fond forgotten memories, no, something much more sinister: The Shrek 2 soundtrack. What I once believed to be the worst collection of music ever made, proved to be, on relistening, the worst collection of music ever made.
The soundtrack of the first Shrek is firmly among the upper echelons of film soundtracks. The album is responsible for blasting Smash Mouth into superstardom with tracks like their Neil Diamond cover, “I’m a Believer,” and the immortal opening anthem, “All Star.” The bar was set high for a follow-up, and yet the sequel ran at full speed in the opposite direction; it is the yin to the other’s yang.
The Shrek 2 soundtrack progresses through three arcs: The most memorable and palatable songs, the forgettable and bland songs, and finally an odd collection of stuff from the cast.
The opening track “Accidentally In Love” bewilders me. For some reason, the directors of this project considered the band “Counting Crows,” of all the soft-rock bands of the early 2000s, and easily one of the dullest, to be an exciting band to start the film with. The production sounds washed out, the lyrics are saccharine and cliché, and the band sounds even more bored than I am. In contrast to Smash Mouth, the change in energy is jarring. One band appeals to a wide audience, and the other only appeals to white people in their 70s who still swear by the radio.
The following track, a cover of “Holding Out For A Hero,” starts promising, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the entire song is a loop of the opening 30 seconds, with a voice that blandly imitates Imogen Heap. The third track, a real enigma, is an emotionless, uninspired cover of David Bowie’s “Changes,” yet David Bowie features on this cover. Why is he a feature on a boring version of his own song? What an odd thing to do.
That’s followed by “As Lovers Go” by Dashboard Confessional. He was a hot commodity for the movie soundtracks of the time, most notably for his song “Vindicated” from Spider-Man 2, but due to what I think might be a tight budget, Shrek 2 decided to use one of the dullest, most impersonal songs in his discography. For being an artist known for having a whiny self-deprecating bite to his music, this song spent too much time in the food processor and can be ingested through a straw.
Fortunately, the soundtrack finds a moment of enjoyment with the inclusion of the disco classic,“Funkytown” by Lipps Inc., closing out the first arc. It then dives its listener back into a field of mediocrity.
Like the opening Counting Crows song, “I’m On My Way” by Richard Price is a textbook example of the radio-fodder softrock of the early 2000s that put rock n roll into its grave. The lyrics are uninspired and repetitive, the tracks composition and production are lazily composed and lack any character at all, and the awful singing performance sounds as if it were delivered by either someone in a coma, or the lead singer of The Fray (pick one, they’re synonymous).
“I Need Some Sleep,” “Ever Fallen In Love,” and “You’re So True,” can conveniently all be described the same way. Bland, lacking in character or sonic diversity, cheap, and meant to drive crowds out of the theater during the credits. Listening to these songs back-to-back is mind numbingly boring and the unrelenting repetition within all the songs makes time seem to last forever. Even the unparalleled beauty of Big Sur, streaming past my window, did nothing to improve my enjoyment of the music, and I fear I may have irreparably associated the two together in my brain, forever cursing me to remember this atrocity when I return to that place. The next two tracks do more to muddy up the tone of this film’s musical decisions.
“Little Drop of Poison” by Tom Waits and “People Ain’t No Good” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds are too good to be mentioned next to those other songs, let alone exist on the same soundtrack. They sound so original, clear and meticulously made, they stand out like a sore thumb. The lyrics are depthful and dark, meditated on and performed with passion. It’s the opposite of this entire record and their inclusion does nothing to ameliorate the album, it simply confuses me and offers a bit of respite for my tired ears. They deserve better.
The final arc is composed of three tracks: “Fairy Godmother Song,” and “Holding Out For a Hero,” passable and placid songs sung by Jennifer Saunders, the voice of the Fairy Godmother, and maybe one of the best songs on the project, a cover of Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” sung by Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas as their characters Donkey and Puss in Boots respectively. While maybe not the best singers, the duo has good chemistry and their performances feel alive, charismatic, humorous and charming. The musical performances feel imbued with effort and any effort at this point is worthy of praise.
Regardless of whether you like the film or if you vibe with the album for nostalgic reasons, put it aside. Even the best songs on this compilation fail to redeem the rest of the ball and chain they are dragging, and I feel like the laziness put into this soundtrack foreshadows the uninspired sequels in the film franchise. Don’t let nostalgia fool you, this CD is best left forgotten at the bottom of the glovebox, or, better yet, taken out back to be shot, burned, spat on and destroyed.