Pokémon: The First Movie Soundtrack
(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.
Brother My Brother, We’re A Miracle, Vacation.
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?
In the late 1990s.
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.
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.)