Category Archives: 1999

John Mayer – Inside Wants Out

John Mayer
Inside Wants Out
September 24, 1999
Mayer Music, LLC
060/100

Inside Wants Out

1. Back to You // 2. No Such Thing // 3. My Stupid Mouth // 4. Neon // 5. Victoria // 6. Love Soon // 7. Comfortable // 8. Neon 12:47 AM // 9. Quiet // 10.  Not Myself

For a guy who appears to rack up controversy whenever he opens his mouth to an interviewer John Mayer sure is quite the gentle, easy-going and some would say boring ‘singer-songwriter’ artist. If his independently 1999 debut EP Inside Wants Out is representative of his work that is.

This ten track EP, that would’ve been labeled an LP, had it been in the exact same form released fifteen years sooner, finds Mayer’s velvetty tenor backed by his own acoustic guitar (and the occasional other instrument, but mostly his guitar). It makes for the perfect autumn coffeehouse music and though a few of its songs were re-recorded for his full length debut Room For Squares it doesn’t exactly sound like a rough draft of that album.

For better or worse (and I am going with worse) there is no Your Body Is a Wonderland here, or anything else that blatantly goes after MOR-radio. Not that there’s anything on this folksy/jazzy pop EP that doesn’t fit on MOR radio, mind you. But nothing on here quite seem quite as intent on dominating that particular radio format as his first big hit was, either. Guess whe know now why Your Body Is a Wonderland became his first big hit.

His debut EP appears to lack impact almost as deliberately as his most talked-about interviews appear to be there to draw piss from the interviewer taking it from him (although whether either of these things are achieved by design or default remains not entirely clear). Which is one of the two pardoxes of the man that listening to these songs gives off. The other is that unlike his interviews his lyrics are mostly clever and do contain some insight and humour. But then again he does eloquently account for his lack of conversational eloquence on My Stupid Mouth, which retrospectively can only be read as a disclaimer, this self-proclaimed Captain Backfire has apparently been having Michael Richards PR nightmares pre-fame even, as well as a Benneton heart and a David Duke cock.

It is too bad that these stories are more interesting than the actual music on Inside Wants Out. A lot of these songs would (and some eventually did) benefit from a more complete instrumentation. Mayer’s music persona simply isn’t interesting enough to work as some sort of self accompanying troubadour, even if he does have the guitar-playing and songwriting chops to justify calling him a musician; this guy needs to be a rock star with a band backing him up in order to work, and soon he would be.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and this is a far cry fom a horrible way to start, in part thanks to it’s short running time: it’s not around long enough to overstay its welcome, let alone annoy.
It’s only real fault is that it is just not very interesting to listen to, and everyone knows that in Easy Listening music this quality is no death sin. Besides, from here on it would go nowhere but up (well, musically at least.)

Best tracks
No Such Thing
Neon
Comfortable

Recommendations
This is pretty good background music fodder for a playlist put together for reastaurant or a coffee bar containing similarly-minded stuff like Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua. It’s also well fit to read the sunday morning papers to, but that’s about the extent of what situations this is going to work in. Well, besides elevators off course.


Jay-Z – Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter

Jay-Z
Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
December 28, 1999
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
073/100
Jay-Z - Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter

1. Hova Song [Intro] // 2. So Ghetto // 3. Do It Again (Put Your Hands Up) (feat. Beanie Sigel & Amil) // 4. Dope Man // 5. Things That U Do  (feat. Mariah Carey) // 6. It’s Hot (Some Like It Hot) // 7. Snoopy Track (feat. Juvenile) // 8.  S. Carter (feat. Amil) // 9. Pop 4 Roc (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Amil) // 10. Watch Me (feat. Dr. Dre) // 11. Big Pimpin’ (feat. UGK) // 12. There’s Been a Murder // 13. Come and Get Me // 14. NYMP // 15. Hova Song [Outro]

Vol. 3 closes out Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime trilogy by repeating what made Vol. 2 such a monster hit. With icy playboy anthems such as Do It Again and Big Pimpin’ and, with some street tracks like So Ghetto, There’s Been a Murder and Watch Me thrown in for good measure (so that his Reasonable Doubt fanbase won’t walk away). And he does ’em as well as ever.

Some progress has been made, Swizz Beatz gets to produce only one song on the main version of this album in stead of Vol. 2‘s three while Timbaland does four as compared to Hard Knock Life‘s one. These figures are in and by themselves worth the higher grade. (I apologise to Swizz and his fans but respectively himself and their musical tastes aren’t very good.)

Jigga’s weed carriers do exactly as expected. Bleek and Amil can’t rap for shit and Sigel makes one look forward to listening to his album on Do It Again and Pop 4 Roc.

As for outside help, bringing in Juvenile to do the hook of Snoopy Track wasn’t such a good idea whereas calling over UGK for the Timbaland-produced club smash Big Pimpin’ most definitely was. Back in ’99 producing a club banger that sounds as though the backing track were recorded in the Middle East was actually innovative, and this song is oft imitated but never duplicated. Ignoring the quality of both tracks; the inclusion of either guest shows that Jay was aware of the up and coming dirty south rap-scene, which is one of the showcases of his business sense, which would lead him to Def Jam presidency, Vol. 3, like its two predecessors is built to sell to several hip-hop demographies.

Then there’s the Dr. Dre feature Watch Me, which has the man redoing Jay’s guest verse on the Notorious B.I.G.’s I Love the Dough in lieu of a hook. It’s not entirely clear why since the Doctor doesn’t produce anything here, in stead the Murder Inc.  head honcho Irv Gotti does the instrumental, which is some interesting trivia, because within a couple of years Dre and Irv would be the godfathers of two feuding rap dynasties. The inclusion of Dre is most likely packback for Jay ghostwriting Still D.R.E. The song itself is pretty decent by the way.

There’s Been a Murder has Shawn Corey Carter killing off his rapping alter-ego in order to go back to selling drugs in the streets, which is confusing because, as far as I know, his rap alter-ego is all about selling drugs in the streets, but whatever.

All in all Vol. 3… Life and Times of Shawn Carter is just another Jay-Z album, an expertly made expensive-ass shiny disc with some rough edges in the name of street cred.
It’s better than Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life even though it doesn’t have quite such a highlight as Hard Knock Life (although Big Pimpin‘ comes close) because the album flows better due to better non-singles, especially on the second half, but it’s still nowhere near Reasonable Doubt  quality or even  Vol. 1 quality for that matter.

It may appear that I am bored by this album, but that is not true. It’s better than most of the albums I wrote about lately. It’s just that since this sounds so much like Vol. 2 it’s not much fun to write about.

Let’s hope that with the end of this trilogy there’s some space for something new on Jay’s next album (Short answer; yes, his next album is the Blueprint, unless you count the Roc-a-Fella posse album the Dynasty as a proper Jigga solo-album, which I most certainly do not even if it was indeed marketed as such to boost sales.)

Best tracks
So Ghetto
Watch Me
Big Pimpin’
There’s Been a Murder
Come and Get Me
NYMP

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Memphis Bleek – Coming of Age

Memphis Bleek
Coming of Age
August 3, 1999
Get Low Records/ Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
050/100
Memphis Bleek - Coming of Age

1. Pain In da Ass Intro // 2. Who’s Sleeping (feat. Reb) // 3.  Memphis Bleek is… // 4. What You Think of That (feat. Jay-Z) // 5. Murda 4 Life (feat. Ja Rule) // 6.  You’re All Welcome [Pain Interlude] // 7. Stay Alive in NYC // 8. You a Thug Nigga // 9. N.O.W. (feat. Da Ranjahs) // 10. Everybody // 11. I Won’t Stop (feat. Dark Half) // 12. My Hood to Your Hood (feat. Beanie Sigel) // 13. Why You Wanna Hate For (feat. Noreaga) // 14.  Regular Cat

Memp Bleek may be a lot of things, some of which are listed on the hook of this album’s Swizz Beatz produced monstrosity of a lead single Memphis Bleek Is…, but a good rapper is not one of them, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Jigga, who seems to not be in touch with him anymore these days, copped to only releasing this album so that the world would see just what it would be left with if he ever were to deliver on his threat to retire from rap music. This would certainly explain his lack of involvement with the project, except for his half-assed verse on What You Think of That he is nowhere to found. But perhaps he just had a lot of confidence in Bleek’s abilities.

Nah, that can’t be it. It would seem Jay-Z should know what good rap music sounds like.

Bleek’s problem is that his rapping style isn’t original or special in the least, which is nothing that good production cannot fix up to a certain point, but it’s still a handicap that prevents him from ever being able to release anything in the essential listening category, not unlike Ja Rule who makes an appearance. It is therefor unfortunate for Bleek that the production is mostly lacking. What’s up with that, Jigga? You couldn’t buy your boy some Timberland or DJ Premier tracks?

Still that doesn’t necessarily keep the man from creating radio fodder of varying quality given that the beats bang, knock or click and he can come up with catchy hooks or a gimmick.

Bleek’s hooks are what sink this ship, check the hook of the first single. Not that the Swizzy instrumental is something other rappers could turn into something good, but still this does sound like a really shitty version of NaS Is Like, and it is therefor not surprising he took offense. Also there’s What You Think Of That, which puts a perfectly functional beat to waste by repeating a stupid catchphrase dressed in nothing but generic gangsta’isms.

Where my niggaz at?
Where my bitches at?
I love these streets, what you think of that?
My whole team rock rocks, we don’t speak to cats
I’ma ball till I fall what you think of that?
What you think of that? What you think of that?
I’m a real ass nigga, what you think of that?
Where my niggaz at?
Where my bitches at?
I love these streets, what you think of that?
My whole team rock rocks, we don’t speak to cats
I’ma ball till I fall what you think of that?
What you think of that? What you think of that?
I’m a real ass nigga, what you think of that?

What think of this is best expressed in the immortal words of the Notorious B.I.G.

Disappear…vamoose…you’re wack to me,
Take them rhymes back to the factory.

Credit where credit is due however, Stay Alive in NYC is pretty decent for an amateur Jay-Z narrative, Is You a Thug Nigga has a pretty good beat and Murda 4 Life is as much a highlight here as it was on Ja Rule’s debut album on which it featured earlier, with its organ-infused Irv Gotti beat. Beanie Sigel and Noreaga also bring the heat with their respective guest appearances. Not that these above average sounding tracks salvage this album, this is still mostly stems and seeds.

For some reason however Coming of Age sold enough copies to warrant a stack of follow-ups, which means that in order to tell the Roc-a-Fella Records story I’ll have to hear another three of these albums. Groan.

Best tracks
Stay Alive in N.Y.C.
Murda 4 Life
Is You a Thug Nigga
My Hood to Your Hood
Why You Wanna Hate For

Recommendations
Don’t go near this one.


Ja Rule – Venni Vetti Vecci

Ja Rule
Venni Vetti Vecci
June 1, 1999
Murder Inc. RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
070/100

1. The March [Prelude] // 2. We Here Now (feat. Black Child) // 3. World’s Most Dangerous (feat. Nemesis) // 4. Let’s Ride //5. Holla Holla //6. Kill ‘Em All (feat. Jay-Z) // 7. I Hate Nigguz [Skit] // 8.Nigguz Theme (feat. Black Child & Case) // 9. Suicide Freestyle (feat. Case) //10. Story To Tell //11.Chris Black [Skit] //12. Count On Your Nigga //13. It’s Murda (feat. DMX & Jay-Z) // 14. E-Dub & Ja (feat. Eric Sermon) // 15. 187 Baptiss Church [Skit] // 16. Murda 4 Life (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 17. Daddy’s Little Baby (feat. Ronald Isley) // 18. Race Against Time // 19. Only Begotten Son // 20. The Murderers (feat. Black Child & Tah Murder)

Nowadays Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins is considered by the general population as a total joke. Unlike his post 2Pac & Biggie contemporaries Jay-Z and DMX he isn’t ever brought up when the best rapper debate comes up, and his considerable string of big hits is considered too campy to ever become vintage. Perhaps the best indicator of his relevance today: his best viewed youtube video’s come mostly with a long ass string of comments about how 50 Cent trainwrecked Ja’s career, which is a bad thing, especially considering that nobody actually gives a fuck about mr. Cent himself in most other contexts anymore. In the years between 1999 and 2004 however Ja Rule was a bona fide superstar, releasing an album each year going platinum each and every time and hitting the charts more often with a smash hit single than you can shake a stick at. You don’t get that many people to hate you unless you get some serious exposure in the media, such is the way of the world people.

The way young Jeffrey got exposure in the first place was by aligning himself with producer Irv Gotti, who was instrumental in bringing both the previously mentioned DMX and Jay-Z to the general public. In 1998 Ja got his lucky break, being featured on the Gotti-produced Jay-Z hit single Can I Get a… When Irv got his on boutique label Murder Inc records, as a reward for his money making for Def jam during the previous couple of years, and needed a flagship artist to properly launch it with, the gravelly voiced whippersnapper was an obvious choice. And so the album Venni Vetti Vecci was born and released in the summer of ’99. The album was a commercial succes, selling a million copies in a month and a million more by 2002.

Critically however  Venni Vetti Vecci and Ja Rule himself were panned by everybody. It was said that Ja didn’t have a style of his own and was merely emulating the late 2Pac and his comrades DMX and Jay-Z with his gruff delivery and his nihilistic lyrics about thugs and life and thug life, his religious imagery (just take a look at that album cover) and his tales of existentialist fear and pimping (as well as other illicit manners of gathering currency).

While it is true that Jeffrey Atkins is not, was not and never will be a man of great original ideas, and does sound like a less lyrically gifted X a bit on his debut (they sound different enough for Ja not to be a biter in this reviewer’s expert opinion, but it’s easy to see where the comparison comes from.), he does outdo X here by giving the audiences a better debut album. The reason for that being possible is that X was handicapped by a serious case of the Swizz Beatz on his debut, while Ja’s beats are mostly provided by the capable hands of his label boss Irv Gotti, and a bunch of Murder Inc records lieutenants who all bring the heat here, and, unlike Swizz, are able to resist the urge of recording themselves jumping up and down on a Casio keyboard and passing those recordings off as beats. And with Ja being a competent, if unimaginative, MC the results are a very acceptable variation of the hard core New York sound of the late ‘90s. Those hiphop heads who are sceptical about the possibility of Ja having recorded a decently credible, high quality, album that doesn’t border on self-parody because of the mental image of him booty bumping with Jennifer Lopez in the video of one of their collabos, should keep in mind that the man hadn’t yet begun his transformation into his generation’s thugg’d-out Barry White.

Highlights include: the smash hit Holla Holla, where Ja rides the bubbling beat with a perfectly appropriate pogo-stick flow, creating a solid party jam for the ages, the speedy, high octane Let’s Ride, the ominous It’s Murda where our host gets ripped a new asshole twice by respectively the previously mentioned DMX and Jay-Z. The stupidly titled but catchy-as-fuck, organ infused Murda 4 Life, featuring the Roc-a-Fella Records’ second in command Memphis Bleek (a sparring parter Jeffrey can actually handle) the Isley Bother’s sampling and featuring Daddy’s Little Baby, which is a pretty genuine declaration of love aimed at his daughter, and Only Begotten Son which is a pretty genuine declaration of war aimed at his absentee father. (It is only on these latter two tracks that the 2Pac comparison starts to make sense.) But the rest of the album doesn’t lag far behind in quality.

If you, like most heads of my generation, are nostalgic for the ‘90s sound, but habitually won’t touch a Ja Rule album with a ten foot pole because of the glittery R&B songs, by all means give Venni Vetti Vecci a chance, there’s no Ashanti or J-Lo in sight. And chances are pretty fat you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. All the skits are ass (are they ever not?), the guest appearances by Ja’s Murder Inc labelmates Caddilac Tah and Black Child seriously detract from several otherwise good tracks, and you won’t find any relavations, insights or high quality poetry on here, but you will find something raw to bump in the ride and at the house party, plus your purchase of this album will help Jeffrey pay for his legal aid, so he may be able shorten the time in prison he is currently doing for not paying his taxes.

Best Tracks:
Holla Holla, It’s Murda, Murda 4 Life, Daddy’s Little Baby, Only Begotten Son

Recommendations:
Buy this album.


Britney Spears – …Baby One More Time

Britney Spears
…Baby One More Time
Januari 12, 1999
Jive/ Sony Music Entertainment

(Today my friend RuRa88 a.k.a. R.R. reviews Britney Spears’ ’99 debut album …Baby One More Time and introduces a brand new format for straightfromthecrates.com. One for albums the author finds unworthy of a track-by-track, and don’t really have any real highlights. Did I just give away the ending? Oh well… As always whenever I feel the need to open my mouth whatever I say will be in Italics as well as in brackets. So for the extremely dumb among you: Whenever entire sentences are italicized and in bracket, it is I Sir Bonkers. Everyting else is R.R.’s. Enjoy and leave some comments for him below.)

I once made a promise, wrote a review and detested the promise I had made. This is the second version of the review given the first version lacked pun. Right, this is the second time I pressed the play-button of my CD-player thus the title of the review should suffice. I sincerely hope this will be the last time I have to listen to this shiny disc containing formulated Teen Pop from 1999.

Guess which  album found its place in my CD-player? Britney Spears’ album …Baby One More Time. Let me give you an inside to the situation. A few minutes ago I was happy listening to old school Pink Floyd and now this. Do know I am censoring myself to save you from my more coarse vocabulary, arghhh…

Track one starts with teenage insecurity as the title of the album is the first track of the album followed by longing for the boys love à la (You Drive Me) Crazy. The second track at least has a guitar solo. Track three Sometimes focuses on insecurity en unpredictability in a relationship, oh my. Track four gives you time to bounce again since Soda Pop is quite bubbly sounding, leveling the vibes again. (If anyone cares, this track was also on the Pokémon Soundtrack, which was reviewed earlier on straightfromthecrates.com.) She is still waiting for the boy to make a move though, party time indeed. Party time is over with track five named Born To Make You Happy since the boy is gone. Apparently they broke up, aha. Even slower track six kicks in appropriately named From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart and yes the boy is still gone and the first love is very much missed.

Oh why? I will just have to finish the track list for now which is still tolerable given the production of the album itself is slick and it sounds very pleasant. The album is very vocal oriented and Britney does not sound bad at all.

The pace picks up again with track seven called I Will Be There. Reminds me of a typical Celine Dion song, oh well. In the mean time the story of the lyrics continues: I am still here, come to me! (A sign of hope I guess.) Nice guitar again and the backing vocals are really done well. A standout track follows. Yes it’s time for I Will Still Love You with Don Philips. Just for the instrumental side this track is a standout alone on this album but the lyrically it is a continuation of track seven. Nostalgia about love is nice; I get it. Up tempo, a dance beat and track nine kicks in, Deep In My Heart. The love is back, how romantic.

The Romance continues with track ten, Thinkin’About You since all is good again. Being together feels good, understood. Britney’s voice sounds very nice on this track. E-Mail My Heart is the name of track eleven. (Does anything date an album more efficiently than it containing a song titled E-Mail My Heart?) The boy is gone again. How to urge for contact: ask for an e-mail in 1999. The end is near though since the twelfth track is groovy and fun because The Beat Goes On. This line says it all: “Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain”. The first lines of The Beat Goes On do what most of the tracks on this album fail to do: they move me. Track twelve is worthy of the repeat button.

Now the largest problem I have with this album is the overall theme of ‘love’. The love theme is almost constantly being repeated with slight changes in context. Thus lyrically I find this album as good as processed food remains squeezed out of the body. Britney Spears herself had no say in the lyrics and just did a good job. Instrumentally the albums sounds slick and pleasant. No loudness, no sibilance, no excessive bass emphasis and not too much emphasis on anything really to annoy me.

If it wasn’t for The Beat Goes On I would have taken out this shiny disc and would have put in something less ‘formulated’. In a few minutes I will do so no matter what. Should I ever feel the urge to press play for this album it would be for track twelve. The extra tracks on my album version don’t interest me.

As for you my dear reader and Sir Bonkers, I shan’t recommend this album to anyone but a cactus since it lacks human ears. Of course feel free to give this shiny disc a listen while I feast my ears and brain to some old David Bowie music…

R.R.


Pokémon: The First Movie (Soundtrack)

Various Artists

Pokémon: The First Movie Soundtrack

11-9-1999

Atlantic Records

(Right, before we get into why the hell this random album gets reviewed an editorial note. I decided to ditch the entire idea of including songwriting- and production credits in these reviews because a) It’s a fucking chore. b) Nobody cares, and in the rare case when somebody does care then there’s <www.discogs.com>, <www.allmusic.com> and probably tons of other sites you can check. and c) It is damn near impossible to find the correct credits for a lot of stuff, including this album, and I want everything to be uniform, for uniformity’s sake, I guess.

Now as for this album. My friend Jackie Brown, who’s a huge Pokémon fan took the time to review this exercise in nostalgia and regardless of whether you purchased this soundtrack, you surely will recognize some of the music since you have seen the movie if you were a kid in 1999, which most people who write and read blogs were. So Enjoy. Obviously if I feel the need to open up my big mouth, whatever I say will be italicized and in brackets)

Pokémon wouldn’t be Pokémon if it didn’t generate an enormous amount of by-products in addition to the anime, games and trading cards. And, since the production themes behind most Hollywood movies try to squeeze some extra cash from their success by selling a soundtrack, you can add those two, and the outcome is the inevitable Pokémon: The First Movie soundtrack.

It says on the CD cover “Music from and inspired by the motion picture”. That’s a very fancy way of saying that there are some songs on this CD that weren’t in the movie at all. With 16 songs, you’d think you’re getting decent value for your money, but one can’t help but feel that some of those are an excuse to include some lesser-known artists on this CD, in an attempt to boost their popularity by allowing them to ride the wave of Pokémon’s success. Read on to see what I mean.

1. Billy Crawford – Pokémon Theme

When Pokémon: The First Movie was released, I had no idea who Billy Crawford was.  Yet I liked him for several years after, simply because of this song. Then I found out what kind of music he usually made, and quickly lost interest.

That’s not to say I think the song itself is particularly good. He pulls it off decently, I’d say, but I still prefer the original theme by far. This version is supposed to be a high-speed, energetic intro that gets the movie underway, which I guess is why they added some rolling and exploding sound effects at the beginning and end. It works to an extent. The guitar solo before the final chorus, however, doesn’t really work at all. It’s a mediocre attempt at restyling the solo from the original theme, which after all those years still makes my spine tingle.

I believe this song was remastered for the CD release, because the bass seems a bit deeper and fuller, though that might just be because the movie that I watched recently was a file with low audio quality. All and all, it gets the job done, but not much more than that, which I guess also goes for the American dub of the movie itself.

(If you think the name Billy Crawford rings a bell, you’re right. He had a rather big hit with his song Trackin’ in 2001, but only in Europe. If this album puts you in the mood for more nostalgia I suggest you go check it out.)

2. M2M – Don’t Say You Love Me

When I was a kid, I saw the clip for this song on TV. It was kind of a promotion for the movie, so it featured either images of Pokémon, or tiny snippets from the movie (I can’t remember which), all throughout. I remember thinking that (my beloved) Pokémon was now apparently so important that it was showing up in other places on TV, such as video clips, and being very pleased with that. After all that hyping, the fact that we don’t get to hear more than a few seconds from this song during the closing credits is kind of disappointing.

Anyway, what can I say about this song? The lyrics are pretty good, the message is clear, the guitars are catchy and I like the melody… but the vocals are just a little bit annoying, and overall this song has too much of a “smoothed-out” late ’90s/early 2000s pop feel to it. And it ends with a fadeout. I hate fadeouts.

Besides, have we heard much from M2M after this? It doesn’t surprise me much that we haven’t. And there’s plenty more artists like that on this CD…

3. Ashley Ballard with So Plush – It Was You

Case in point: Ashley Ballard with So Plush. I didn’t know who Ashley Ballard was when this CD was released, and I still don’t. A look into the history of So Plush reveals that their debut single, which featured Ja Rule, was moderately succesful. Whatever.

To their credit, though, the singing voices on this song are pretty good. The lyrics are nice, although a bit simple and devoid of meaning sometimes (“It was you who stuck with me when the skies were blue”? Yeah, right). But for every good thing about this song, you could think of at least two bad things. Like how it goes on too long, and the effort to add a little excitement through the use of a bridge doesn’t really do much against that. Speaking of that bridge, what’s up with that silly “rap” voice there? I know that in the nineties you had to have a rapper somewhere in your song to be considered cool, but this one doesn’t even sing a whole verse, he just seems to repeat “So Plush”. It’s just way out of place here, and the same goes for those silly sound effects they riddled this song with to cover up it’s boringness.

(Actually, the voice during the bridge belongs to producer Rodney “Dark Child” Jerkins who produced this song, which is why his protégés So Plush are on here, and why he shouts out himself, So Plush and Ashley Ballard. This guy has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to the Spice Girls and generally says his own name on the songs he produces, although I seem to recall he managed to keep his mouth shut on MJ’s Invincible album. Now back to the review.)

All things considered, I can’t help but feel like this song is an unimaginative, rushed 13-in-a-dozen R&B job.

4. Christina Aguilera – We’re A Miracle

Now here’s a song that tries to do everything the previous song seemed to be trying, and actually pulls it off marvelously. Christina Aguilera’s powerful voice carries the listener firmly throughout this very emotional ballad, joined by smooth backing vocals, strings that are timed exactly right, and awesome piano accompaniment. Near the end, there’s a dramatic modulation followed by something I can only describe as a display of extreme vocal skill, the combination of which almost brings tears to the eyes.

There’s just so many good ingredients in this song, and they all come together wonderfully. This song deeply engraved X-tina in my mind as a great singer, which she still is, even if some of her work is nowhere near this level. But now that I’m a bit older, I realize that whoever made the arrangement for this song is a total badass as well.

This has to be either my favourite or second favourite song from this soundtrack. Dramatic lyrics, dramatic arrangement, perfectly executed, full marks. It’s one of the songs that consoles me in hard times even now, and for a song that we only got to hear a tiny part of during the closing credits of the movie (even though I believe it would’ve fit in great in the actual movie), that’s saying something.

5. Britney Spears – Soda Pop

Ummm… what?! Okay, so we have Britney Spears and some vaguely Jamaican-sounding guy whose name isn’t even listed (apparently he wasn’t important enough, even though he sings about as much as Britney), backed up by a sunny beat and an – admittedly – catchy guitar loop, singing about… soda pop? It seems better suited to a soft drink commercial than to the Pokémon: The First Movie soundtrack.

It’s a nice enough tune, in principle, but frankly Britney’s singing just ruins it, and there’s also a bridge in the middle that just feels out of place. Then near the end, they suddenly start singing about getting on the floor and going on all night long… uhhh, yeah. This song wasn’t featured in the movie, and I have no idea what it’s doing on this soundtrack. Definitely the weirdest song (but not the worst, sadly) of them all.

(I find it pretty hilarious they sequenced arch-nemeses Britney and X-tina’s contributions to this compilation back to back.)

6. *NSYNC – Somewhere Someday

*Sigh*… alright, from this point onward there’s going to be five, count them, five mediocre songs to work through before we get to the next catchy tune. This being the first, it’s not all bad; even though the boys’ singing voices generally aren’t great, they manage to sound the lyrics sound sincere.

Said lyrics aren’t awful, and you have to at least give this song a bit of credit for trying so hard to convey a sweet message. That said, though, the actual execution is lacking. For one, the arrangement could and should have been way better. If you only heard the intro, you would swear this song was performed by a group named *NSYNTH. Also, whoever was responsible for mastering this clearly wasn’t paying attention to the bass – it’s way too heavy, which means the beat sounds too loud compared to the rest. It kind of ruins the little unisono bits, which would otherwise have been nice, and it just makes the song in general sound too ‘fat’. I’m sure the idea was to produce a full, deep R&B sound, and I don’t mean to be racist, but it sounds like it was made by white people who didn’t know what they were doing.
So, there we go. Even though I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of popular music when I bought this soundrack, *NSYNC were popular enough even for me to know that they sucked.

(Hearing this one leaves one flabbergasted that Justin Timberlake’s career survived the 1990’s. But then a lot of good artists started off in terrible “bands”. Whether JT is a good artist is up for debate, but all in due time.)

7. B*Witched – Get Happy

It’s hard to be too harsh on this song, but purely from a musical point of view, it has to be one of the worst on the entire CD. The intro is good, the beat and bassline are fine; the lyrics are cheerful and happy but largely meaningless, the singing sucks, the little pre-chorus parts are silly and the bridge is awful and ruins the whole flow of the song. That’s pretty much all I have to say about it. Oh, and it ends with a fadeout.

The idea behind this song is forgivable, though, and if kids in 1999 got happier after listening to this song, more power to it.

8. Emma Bunton p/k/a Baby Spice – (Hey You) Free Up Your Mind

Okay, forget what I said about the previous song. This is musically the worst song of the soundtrack. There must be an admirable message behind it, but I’m afraid it’s lost in the sheer horribleness of the music. The whole song drips with the “hey, let’s be totally cool and take elements from punk rock and hip-hop and combine them into a smooth poppy sound with pop vocals” that made late 90s pop so awful.

A look at Emma Bunton’s career learns that she didn’t leave the Spice Girls until after this song, releasing her debut album in 2001, meaning that this is her first solo song ever realeased, and frankly, that’s not very difficult to tell. It explains why they needed that ugly “previously known as Baby Spice” in there, since no one probably knew who Emma Bunton was at the time.

I’m guessing she didn’t have access to the production team that took the Spice Girls to great heights. Seriously, the only good thing about this song is that it lasts only 3:24.

9. 98° – Fly With Me

Although it’s a bit devoid of lyrical content or interesting melodies, this song is actually not so bad at all. The bassline supports the song well and doesn’t get boring, and I quite like the singing. I had never heard of 98° before or after this, but their voices are nice and warm, and they utilize them well in this song.

Overall though, it has too much of a generic R&B feel, and it lacks something… tempo, catchiness, something. It just doesn’t quite do it for me. It’s a shame no one seems to know what this group have been up to, I would’ve liked to hear them do some accappella songs.

10. Mandah – Lullaby

After a lot of songs that weren’t featured in the movie, at least this song reminds us that the album we’re listening is the Pokémon: The First Movie soundtrack, since it includes a few samples of Jigglypuff’s voice. Ironically, though, this song itself wasn’t featured in the movie.

Now, the idea here is nice, but this song is an example of how a bad arrangement can really drag a song down. Mandah (you’re probably wondering who that is, but apparently she later went by the name Willa Ford) has a great voice, and is a good singer, but the bubbly (literally) beat and very warm backing vocals make this song feel a bit cluttered. When they start adding pizzacato strings as well, it just becomes a bit too much. This song would’ve benefited from a simpler arrangement. It’s not something I would listen to before going to sleep.

11. Vitamin C – Vacation

Ah, now there’s something great! The intro to Pikachu’s Vacation, the 20-minute short that was screened before the feature film, is upbeat, catchy and tropical, and it just fits perfectly. Vitamin C, a group that I must confess I’d never heard of before (and never have since), really live up to their name: this entire song just sounds like summer and oranges, what with the up-tempo beat, eager background choirs, drum solos, a surprise sample (that I won’t spoil), scratching, and awesome surf riffs. The lead singer’s smooth voice and the break (which is timed exactly right and doesn’t last too long) add in to make sure this song is both energetic and mellow. I consider it a classic, and still listen to it when the weather is sunny, or when I’m going on a vaction, or feel that I need a vacation…

By the way, the short’s original Japanese version (which is called Pikachu’s Summer Vacation – I wonder why they changed the title?) has a different intro, of course. It’s a really cute, upbeat Japanese song called Natsuyasumi Fan Club, which also fits in very well. I suggest you check it out – the Japanese short is pretty easy to find.

12. Billie – Makin’ My Way (Any Way That I Can)

Where do they keep coming up with all these obscure singers? Billie Piper’s name doesn’t exactly ring a bell in the world of music, but apparently she later went on to become somewhat succesful as an actress, having played in several movies as well as in Doctor Who.

To be honest, it’s not that hard to see why she ditched her singing career for one in acting. While this song isn’t as annoyingly bad as some of the others on this CD, it’s just very bland and doesn’t have anything that makes it memorable. At least the arrangement is modest and not so heavy and in-your-face as some other R&B ballads we’ve heard, but at the same time it just feels as if not a whole lot of heart and soul was put into it. I would almost go so far as to call it lacklustre.

13. Angela Vía – Catch Me If You Can

YES! This song, which was also featured in the short Pikachu’s Vacation, and by complete coincidence shares its name with a 2002 movie, is real refreshing to listen to after the previous one. It gets off to a bit of a slow start, and there’s room for improvement as far as the beat is concerned, but the structure of the song (not kidding – there’s a bridge in there that actually adds to the song) and the great lead vocals, alternating with the obligatory rapper that strangely doesn’t seem out of place here, do a good job of keeping the listener entertained to the end. Angela Vía (who?) even treats us to some vocal acrobatics. Oh, and infinite bonus points to the songwriter for actually including the word “Pokémon” in the lyrics.

14. Aaron Carter – (Have Some) Fun With The Funk

This has got to be the song with the worst human beatbox I’ve ever heard. On the other hand, I must say the drums and guitar are pretty catchy. That’s about all there is to it, though. The intro sets us up for disappointment, as all the verses, bridges and what have you are extremely boring and spoil any flow that might have been there. The chorus is the only thing that keeps you listening, but it doesn’t do enough to make this an overall good song. Nick Carter’s younger brother (who, amazingly, at the time of writing this is still only 23) doesn’t particularly stand out as a great vocalist, and one suspects his musical career getting underway had more to do with marketing opportunities than with his actual skill. I’m not familiar with his recent work, but I suspect it hasn’t gotten much better. At least this song, which unlike the name suggests, doesn’t feature much that could be called funk, never really takes off.

(Does anyone else remember Aaron Carter’s hit single Candy?, No? good!)

15. Midnight Sons – If Only Tears Could Bring You Back

If you’re in a melancholic mood (which I am right now), this is a pretty nice song to listen to. It’s not quite intense to draw tears, but it doesn’t hurt your ears either.  Now, Midnight Sons (which, I suppose, is something like the poor man’s *NSYNC) doesn’t excel at singing (come to think of it, that can probably be said of most boy bands). This is only really noticeable in the lead singer; a lot of digital editing is used to polish it up nicely in the backing vocals.

As far as middle-of-the-road pop ballads go, though, this one is actually quite decently arranged. Nothing spectacular, but they aren’t doing a whole lot wrong, although I personally feel the heavy drums near the end are a bit overdone.

The lyrics are a bit hard to understand sometimes, but you have to give them bonus points for sweetness.

16. Blessid Union of Souls – Brother My Brother

This has to be, absolutely, without a doubt, my favourite song on this entire CD. I love everything about this song. It’s got great acoustic guitar throughout, strings in the intro and chorus that still give me goosebumps sometimes, and some of the simplest and best lyrics in any “peace not war” song I’ve ever heard. The only tiny point of criticism I could think of is that maybe the song would’ve been better off without most of the backing vocals.

For me, this song will always be tied to the scene it accompanies in the movie, the scene where Mewtwo’s army of cloned Pokémon fight against their originals. Some people argue that the music they use in the Japanese version, which is, apparently, a gentle instrumental tune, fits way better. Maybe they are right. I don’t know, I’ve never seen the Japanese version. But I think if any song fits that scene perfectly, it’s this. Call it nostalgia, blame my sentiment because I saw the dubbed version of the movie as a 10-year-old, but I think that scene is one of the absolute highlights of the otherwise not so great American score.

They truly saved the best for last on this soundtrack, and thank goodness they did.

Best tracks

Brother My Brother, We’re A Miracle, Vacation.

Conclusions

All in all, this soundtrack manages too capture the spirit of the movie pretty well. Some of the songs are actually good enough that you’d listen to them if they weren’t on a Pokémon movie soundtrack. Unfortunately there’s also plenty of boring filler songs, and the relatively large number of songs that weren’t in the movie is a bit distracting from the movie’s feel. There’s not too much variation, musically: it’s mostly pop and poppy ballads, with some sterilized rock and hip-hop influences thrown in. Then again, what else did you expect from a CD marketed to an audience of American kids in the late 1990s?

American.

Kids.

In the late 1990s.

Exactly.

So, there you go. It’s not the best album ever made. It’s not even the best Pokémon album ever made. But as the movie soundtrack, it does its job and you have to listen to it if only for the nostalgia value.

Recommendations

If you didn’t buy this when it came out, there really is no point in looking for it now. It’s a by-product of the multi-billion-dollar craze that Pokémon hasn’t been anymore for many years. I doubt that even the most specialized music stores would have it (unless maybe they were specialized in soundtracks from 1990s kids’ movies).

However, it’s all over the internet, so if you haven’t listened to it, you should go and do so. Maybe you will remember being a kid and watching the movie, and if this soundtrack brings back some of those memories, it does its job, and that’s all it needs to do.

(Well, there ya have it. Leave some comments for Jackie below.)