Longtime readers of this blog know of my fondness for the 1980 version of FAME. Far from perfect, the film nonetheless holds a seminal place in my heart. My anticipation for the new film (set to open this Friday) was high, though I’ve been trying to keep my expectations in check. If the new soundtrack is any indication, I better lower those expectations even further.
Michael Gore‘s 1980 Oscar-winning score may not be a work of art as film scores go, but it gave the original film a musical consistency that is missing from the redux version. The musical styles of the various tracks are so wildly divergent that the soundtrack never coalesces into a singular whole. Raney Shockne has the most producer credits, but a multitude of songwriters and producers give the new soundtrack an eclectic feel that may work well in the film, but suffers on CD. The best tracks pump up the volume and the groove with the Bollywood feel of “You’ll Find a Way,” the high-energy “Can’t Hide From Love,” and the infectious groove of “Black & Gold.”
The only two holdovers from Gore’s original Oscar-winning score are the gorgeous ballad “Out Here On My Own” and the Oscar-winning “Fame.” Naturi Naughton substitutes for Irene Cara this time around. Shockne gives “Fame” a contemporary arrangement that updates the tune without losing the flavor of the original. Unfortunately, even with the welcome addition of a string backup, “Out Here On My Own” suffers from American Idol-itis. The song has been pitched a bit high for Naughton and would have exuded more emotional punch in a lower key without all her vocal calisthenics.
Asher Book handles the primary male solos on three ballad tracks. His bland vocals can’t rise above the pablum that is John Stephens and Will Adams’ “Ordinary People,” and Book sounds completely out of his element in the Gershwins’ “Someone To Watch Over Me.” Alon Levitan’s “Try” at least gives the youngster a better melody, a memorable hook, and a backup string quartet for depth.
Damon Elliot’s “This Is My Life” may function as this year’s lunchroom production number, but it’s missing the Shady Sadie of the original “Hot Lunch Jam.” Ethnic percussion grooves abound in Shockne’s “Street Hustlin’,” and I can’t explain or justify the inclusion of Shockne’s heavily-processed arrangements of “I Put a Spell On You” and “You Made Me Love You,” at least not without hearing them in context of the film. Megan Mullally’s seemingly-out-of-place cabaret version of “You Took Advantage of Me” may surprise audiences with her musical theatre background prior to her Emmy-winning turn on Will & Grace, but it smacks of karaoke.
The film apparently closes, like the original, with graduation. In the 1980 film, “I Sing the Body Electric” took its inspiration from Walt Whitman. This time around, Matthew James Murphy’s lack of craft in lyric writing (Hold your dream/Don’t ever let it go/Be yourself/And let the world take notice) is surpassed only by his weak melody and even less memorable hook.
With an hour’s worth of music already on the CD, I’m not sure how much screen time will be given over to Mark Isham‘s score. I can only hope it will bring an emotional pull and a musical cohesiveness to the film.
All in all, the new FAME soundtrack is heavily overproduced and lacks personality. The album is obviously not geared toward film score fans, much less 40-something-year-old writers. Younger listeners may find more to appreciate than I did. Either way, hopefully the songs play out better within the context of the film than they do on disc.