I don’t often review song soundtrack albums on this site. There’s a reason why the words “film score” are in the title. But occasionally a song album is so enjoyable and so integral to the fabric of the score that it needs to be shared.
The new animated film RIO film received rare double CD releases, one for the score and the other for the more typical (and probably better selling) songs. Co-produced by John Powell and the legendary Sérgio Mendes, the song album is an energetic burst of infectious Brazilian rhythms and melodic joy. With so many songwriters and individual track producers involved, the album could have turned out to be a jumbled mess of musical styles. Instead, the songs go down like a refreshing glass of caipirinha.
The songs can be broken into two camps—narrative songs sung onscreen and source cues that lend further atmosphere to the musical palette of the film. The album begins with the combined versions of “Real In Rio” that bookend the film. Co-written by Powell, Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, Mikael Mutti and lyricist Seidah Garrett, the song bursts forth from the natural sounds of the rainforest with swirling Brazilian rhythms and instruments. The song’s melody is interpolated throughout Powell’s score.
Ester Dean and Carlinhos Brown welcome Blu to Brazil with the insinuating “Let Me Take You To Rio.” Powell arranges Mendes’ signature “Mas que Nada” (written in 1963 by Jorge Ben) for Mendes’ wife, Gracinha Leporace, and chorus. will.i.am shows off his slick producing skills with the raucous “Hot Wings (I Wanna Party),” featuring Anne Hathaway’s lovely li-ya‘s soaring over the insistent contemporary beat.
Jermaine Clement brings a wicked glee to “Pretty Bird,” co-written with Powell. Jamie Foxx lends his smooth vocals to the gentle samba grooves of the ballad “Fly Love,” while the radio-friendly pop sounds and feel-good lyrics of Taio Cruz’s “Telling the World” have Oscar written all over them. Siedah Garrett’s R&B vocals hover over the grunts and screeches of the appropriately named “Funky Monkey.”
Mikael Mutti’s “Balanco Carioca” brings a contemporary Brazilian sound to the album. His “Sapo Cai” (co-written with Brown), with its choral Carnival atmosphere, blends subtly into the orchestral underscore in Powell’s wonderful arrangement. Unless you understand Portuguese, you won’t have a clue what they’re singing about. But it sure is joyful.
The album closes with two of Brazil’s national musical treasures. Bebel Gilberto sings Chico Buarque’s “Samba de Orly” and a smooth Powell arrangement for piano and orchestra of Sérgio Mendes’ “Valsa Carioca” ends the musical journey on a lovely note.
I ordered this album prior to seeing the film. When I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the film as I’d hoped, I considered returning it. I’m so glad I didn’t. The songs are far more enjoyable without the frenetic animated clutter of the film. The album is flawlessly produced and I’ve had it in constant rotation with Powell’s score, which subtly and cleverly incorporates melodic fragments from the songs.
The album may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but fans of the film and of Brazilian music should find plenty to enjoy. And becoming familiar with the tracks on this album will only increase your enjoyment of Powell’s marvelous score. This thoroughly enjoyable album makes me want to deck myself out in gold lamé and feathers and shake my booty. I bet it wouldn’t be a pretty sight, but if this album is any indication, it sure as hell would be fun.