Wednesday, December 8, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 216: Soundtrack

This next review is a guilty pleasure. One of those albums that if you're 'in the know' you love talking about it, and if you're not 'in the know' you could care less.

And now, the second straight soundtrack review.

Disc 216 is...Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling

Artist: Original cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Year of Release: 2002

What’s Up With The Cover?: Um...not much. It is a cheesy artistic rendition of the show's three big stars (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendan and Alyson Hannigan) and the villain from this particular episode (singer/dancer/actor - but name unimportant).

How I Came To Know It: I have been a devoted fan of the show since the first season, and got Sheila addicted by season three (I'd have had her earlier, but her job forced her to work evenings, and caused her to miss the original airings for a while). By season six, we were both nuts for the show, when this episode came out and blew our socks off. When I saw they released the music on disc, I bought it without hesitation.

How It Stacks Up: As you'll know by now, I have around 23 soundtracks/musicals. This is kind of both. I really like this one, but I'll cool my enthusiasm enough to simply say it is 'top half'.

Rating: 3 stars.

As noted earlier, this is the soundtrack to a single episode of Season Six of the amazing Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV show. The basic plot is that Buffy's younger sister, Dawn, has stolen an artifact and inadvertently caused a demon to be summoned to earth that causes reality to become a musical. The side effect is that every now and then an innocent bystander gets so overtaken by the singing and dancing that they self-combust. Also, the demon is intent on marrying Dawn and taking her back to hell. Of course, our heroes must first recognize something is wrong (as in 'what's all this crazy singing all about?') and then put things to rights.

The plot also conveniently serves to make all the action happen in song and dance routines. As the characters Broadway their way through the scenes, a whole series of secrets kept by various characters are revealed. I won't mention them, but as our Musical Demon Foe sings near the end:

"What a lot of fun
You guys have been real swell
And there's not a one
Who can say this ended well
All those secrets you've been concealing
Say you're happy now
Once more with feeling."

I won't get into what all the secrets are, because if you are a Buffy devotee you already know; if you're not a Buffy devotee you don't care, and if you're just watching it for the first time, you don't want me to say at this critical point in your journey.

OK - enough with the plot, how was the music? Surprisingly good, thanks for asking. It is amazing how catchy a lot of these songs are musically, and they are written by Joss Whedon - just another facet of his genius. While most of them are only interesting in the context of the episode, some have an emotional resonance even when divorced from the narrative.

This is particularly true of Anthony Stewart Head singing "Standing", as he laments whether by protecting Buffy from the pressures of her calling, he is inadvertently stunting her growth. In this case her growth relates to slaying demons and vampires, but believe me it works on other levels as well.

Everyone on the cast has to sing, and some succeed better than others. The aforementioned Athony Stewart Head, who playes Buffy's "watcher" Giles is a standout, which isn't surprising given that he is Murray Head's brother (of "One Night In Bangkok" fame) and a minor folk artist in his previous life. Also excellent is Amber Benson, who plays the witch/girlfriend of Willow in the show has an amazing pop diva voice. Her character bores me in season six, but I can't deny the girl has pipes.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Alyson Hannigan, who might be a brilliant character actress (and comic genius), but is painfully tone deaf. Our star, Sarah Michelle Gellar isn't great either, but she is good enough and while her tone isn't always great, she's generally on key.

The songs all follow a general thread of self-doubt, coupled with the oft-employed theme of "we are stronger together than apart", a common theme of the show. It may be a well worn theme, but Whedon does it well, and these songs are genuinely clever, and as good or better as most of what you'll hear on top 40 radio on any given day.

There are many memorable lines, but they are principally memorable if you liked the show. I'll be indulgent and share one stanza from a section where the evil vampire, Spike, is trying to decide if he's going to help Buffy out. He's evil, but he has a thing for her:

"The torch I bear is scorching me
And Buffy's laughing I've no doubt
I hope she fries
I'm free if that bitch dies
- I better help her out."

If you love the series, this album is a must have. If you don't give a whit for the show, this record will not interest you. In terms of TV, it should have won an Emmy, but in a strange twist never even made it on the ballot. Another reason why the Emmys are the second-most pointless awards show in existence (First being the purview of the Grammys).

This was brave TV of its time, and some talented writing besides. Musically, this CD isn't for everyone, but if enjoying a little Buffy sing-a-long is wrong (and I'm fairly certain that it is) then I don't wanna be right.

Best tracks: I've Got A Theory, Rest In Peace, Standing, Walk Through Fire


Sheila said...

I love this album - I have a ton of the songs off it on my mp3 player. And yes, I always want to sing along!

Chris said...

Complete this sentence:

"Do you know how I know you're [blank]?"

Guilty pleasure, you say. I would posit that you are feeling to much pleasure and not nearly enough guilt.