Review Summary: 30% cute - 70% annoying and creepy.
I confess – I like the Chipmunks. I was a fan of the cartoon as a kid, and as I grew up, the anthropomorphic siblings did not lose their appeal for me. So as the world was pouring venom on Alvin and the Chipmunks
, the movie, I was enjoying it for what it was: one of the best, most endearing and intelligent, and less formulaic kiddie movies of late. It also had some nice tunes scattered throughout, so when I came across the soundtrack I decided to give it a go. Boy, was I in for a letdown.
Now, for those of you not familiar with the Chipmunks, imagine, if you will: three anthropomorphic, fuzzy, 9-year-old forest creatures who can sing. For their voices, picture the effect you get when you gently press “fast forward” on a tape recorder with the tape playing inside. You know that Babel of fast-paced, squeaky voices you get coming out of the speakers? That’s the Chipmunks singing, except not quite as fast, and in tune. For all effects, a younger, less hyperkinetic, but just as mischievous version of Chip’n’Dale.
From the above description, I bet a Chipmunks album is sounding disastrous. But it’s not. The effect is actually endearing, and the animated trio have been entertaining generations of small children for decades. Now, the movie and its soundtrack seek to captivate today’s youth, like the cartoon did with their older siblings and parents. But it fails…big time.
Some of you may be familiar with the method used by Chipmunks creator Ross Bagdasarian to create the voices of his cartoon trio. What he did was hire “normal” studio singers, record their voices, then use the exact process I described above: speed up the tapes, so that voices which were low, deep and singing very slowly became squeaky, high-pitched and sang in time with the music. In the movie, they did it differently. The movie versions of the songs feature the actual actors singing, and while only one of them is a rockstar – Jesse McCartney, who voices the effeminate Theodore – all three of them actually play it quite straight. The method used to “heliumize” their voices must have been different, too, but it’s also quite effective. The weak point, then, are the songs themselves.
You see, with his method, Bagdasarian managed to have at least one big hit among the kiddie crowd: the endearing and infectious Chipmunk Song
, also known as Christmas Don’t Be Late
. You know it – it’s the one about “a plane that loops the loop” and a hula-hoop and asking Christmas to “hurry fast”. For this new incarnation of AATC
, the Hollywood execs must be praying that they can achieve the same level of success. However, I can’t see it happening anytime soon.
Whether in a bid for instant success or as a “tribute” to the series, the fact is that the producers made the right choice, and stuck to the source material. The Chipmunk Song
is one of the 16 songs included in the Alvin and The Chipmunks
soundtrack. Or rather, it’s three of them. The song appears in no less than three different versions, including the movie version, the classic version, and the “New Version” (otherwise known as the “rock version”). All three are standouts: the classic version is nostalgic and fun and the movie version brings a very waltzy arrangement and a hilarious outro (with a very game Jason Lee toning down three very excitable Chipmunks). However, the real gem here is the “new version”, a bouncy slab of Simple Plan power-pop with an awesome solo to top it off.
However, The Chipmunk Song (New Version)
is not the only standout here. In fact, the album could be split into two halves. The first has the Chipmunks lending their cutesy voices to rock and pop standards. This is the half that includes the “New Version”, as well as renditions of Funkytown
and Bad Day
, both present in the movie. All the songs in this “standards” half are great, with particular mention to Bad Day
, which just might be the best song on here. Both it and Follow Me
are guitar-driven radio-pop tracks, and whereas the first one is entirely sung by Alvin, Simon and Theodore, the second one has them interacting with the “real” lead singer, something that did not happen in the movie, and that works only mildly well. Funkytown
, while perhaps a tad obscure for the six-year-old crowd, is also well suited to the Chipmunks’ style, because the voices in the original version were already processed and high-pitched.
All in all, then, this album might have worked well as a seven- or eight-track EP, with the aforementioned songs, plus the modern and bonus, “classic” versions of The Chipmunk Song
and Witch Doctor
. The problem, then, is the “original” Chipmunks compositions.
You see, in the movie, the ‘Munks are supposed to be this hugely successful recording band, and they actually release and promote their debut album (I told you the movie was intelligent!). Therefore, the producers have deemed it appropriate to “pad out” this soundtrack record with the “filler” songs on Alvin and Co’s album. And guess what they are? That’s right – filler. The lot of them are nothing but drab, sub-par pop-rap/r’n’b outings, with the Chipmunks squaring off against processed beats and soulful female backing vocals. Some of these are bearable (Get You Goin’
, How We Roll
), but mostly they’re just annoying. And wait ‘til you see what they’ve done to Witch Doctor
! They turned the silly, yet endearing, original – which some of you may have become familiarized with thanks to the cover made by German pseudo-band Cartoons - into just another over-processed slab of mediocre nu-r’n’b.
And did I mention some of the lyrics are creepy? Come Get It
has a chorus of clearly adult females wooing about how they “want the Chipmunks” and advising their girl-friends to get with a Chipmunk if they “want a real man”, to which the singin’ rodents playfully reply, in their squeaky voices: “can we get you off?”. Now, this is just inappropriate! Isn’t this supposed to be a PG album? And aren’t the Chipmunks supposed to be, y’know, children
!? And yet they’re gleefully singing their hearts out over these lyrics…really, I know most people don’t even register a song’s lyrics, but parents
, of all people, should pay more attention to what their kids are being subject to. I mean, what’s the point of banishing videogames and then feeding this to your kids!? It teaches them a lot more than just how to chop a guy in half…and it’ll raise a whole lot of uncomfortable questions/snig'gers/remarks.
But before this turns into a rant, let me get back to what’s important…the music. Yeah, it’s crap. It sound like it was concocted by a sixth-tier Jay-Z and sung by his hand puppet pals, Mr. Jerk and Mr. Off. In short – it’s bad.
Just so you understand the extreme “boredom levels” most of the music on this album can induce, I’ve only listened to it all the way through twice – once after downloading it, and once to appraise it for the review. The rating, firmly etched in my mind from the first go-round, did not change.
And yet, this album is worth a spin (or a play on Winamp, whatever), if only because of its poppy standard versions. Nowadays, I tend to skip about, listen to the songs I like better and condemn all the rest to oblivion. You should, too.
The Chipmunk Song
The Chipmunk Song (New Version)