Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Muppets Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

The Muppets

Are you green with envy? After all, there’s nothing wrong with being green. Muppet Mania is back! Finally, The Muppets have reemerged in the limelight thanks largely due to Jason Segel and his memorable sad rendition of “The Muppets Show Theme Song” in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Due to the success of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Segel’s passion about The Muppets, Disney approached Segel to revamp, resuscitate and revive an awesome franchise. Along with collaborator Nicholas Stoller, Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords) and director James Bobin, The Muppets have been brought back in great style.

Ever since I can remember, I have watched The Muppets. Although I wasn’t old enough when The Muppet Show premiered I was practically raised on The Muppets because of their films (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhattan, etc.). Even the animated series The Muppet Babies thoroughly entertained me during my childhood. When I got older I worked alongside an Emmy-award winning artist, Scott Shaw!, who worked on many prestigious characters like The Simpsons, The Flintstones, and Scooby Doo, but I was most excited to learn he worked on The Muppet Babies. Upon learning this in his studio I said, “Scott, thanks for making my childhood so awesome. You worked on so many cool shows and comics that profoundly shaped my life.”

Without saying, even more admiration goes to the late, great Jim Henson for creating some of the most iconic characters ever with Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and the rest of The Muppets. Not only did The Muppets have an impact on my life, but the rest of the Jim Henson Company too. Whether it was TV series like Dinosaurs (“Not the mama!”) and Fraggle Rock or films like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, The Jim Henson Company and The Muppets have always had a huge influence on my life.

Like most children of the 1970s and 1980s, The Muppets shaped our childhood humor. When ABC brought back The Muppets to television with The Muppets Tonight in 1996, it was a pleasure watching each episode every week. I vividly remembering seeing the Prince episode and saying, “Now I can finally say I saw a Muppets show that is not a re-run.” During the 1990s, after Jim Henson’s death, the quality of The Muppets waned and was never up to par during their peak days. Prior to The Muppets (2011), the last theatrically released film was Muppets From Space (1999).

Prior to the franchise being brought back, most children had no clue who Miss Piggy or even Kermit the Frog were and I couldn’t believe it. Luckily, the critically acclaimed film The Muppets has changed all that and is now one of my favorite Muppet movies of all time. Thank you, Jason Segel for writing and creating a modern-day masterpiece. From seeing it opening day at the El Capitan Theatre and with each subsequent screening, The Muppets movie has brought me tears of joy. Now I have no problem admitting that because it’s truly an almost perfect film and what Muppet movies should be: good old fashioned wholesome fun for the entire family.

I just realized I have yet to mention the actual Muppets Soundtrack. If I didn’t stop myself now I probably would be discussing who my favorite band member in Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem is (it’s Animal in case anyone is wondering with Janice a very close second). Initially, I thought Jason Segel had a large part with the original songs since he created the memorable songs from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To The Greek with the fictional musicians Aldous Snow and Jackie Q. When I checked the liner notes, the music and lyrics was primarily composed by music supervisor Bret McKenzie, one half of the Grammy-award winning duo Flight of the Conchords (FOTC). Bret McKenzie along with Jeannie Lurie, Paul Roemen, and Ali (Dee) Theodore created some instant Muppet musical classics.

The Muppets Original Soundtrack opens up with Jim Henson’s “The Muppet Show Theme” and let me say this, much like wine, it gets better with age. When I first purchased the soundtrack I probably played the Theme Song four or five times because I was overwhelmed with excitement and didn’t want it to end. Needless to say I felt ridiculous with the repeat button on, but in a good way as in ridiculously happy. The only difference between the original and the new film version is during Statler and Waldorf’s interruption, they interject to say, “I always dreamed we’d be back here/Dreams? Those were nightmares/ Ho ho ho” before the theme song concludes shortly thereafter. From beginning to end I had a gigantic smile.

Like most modern day soundtracks, this album is filled with plenty of film clips, which act like bumpers between and after the 15 songs on the soundtrack. The clips range anywhere from a few seconds to almost 30 seconds, with most falling in the category of the former. Still, each movie quote is quite enjoyable and brings you back to the movie.

Track number three, “Life’s A Happy Song,” is the first original composition and immediately brings a smile to my face with every listen. Honestly, there hasn’t been a time this song has been played that I haven’t had tears of joy. Classically crafted, this delightful song features Jason Segel, Amy Adams and the newest Muppet, Walter, singing lead vocals plus some surprise appearances. Everything is irresistible about this song and there is no way you can’t possess a smile while listening to this terrific tune.

“Everything is great, everything is grand/ I’ve got the whole wide world in the palm of my hand/ Everything is perfect, it’s falling into place/ I can’t seem to wipe this smile off my face” and like the last few words state, neither can I. Whether you call it kid-friendly, a show-tune or whatever, it’s undeniable what Bret McKenzie has created, a new Muppet classic standard. Since I first heard the song in the movie and bought the soundtrack I absolutely can’t stop singing it. “Life’s A Happy Song” captivates the eternal optimist in me and all I can do is sing along.

The next song is “Pictures In My Head,” which has Kermit singing lead vocals before being joined by Fozzie, Gonzo, Swedish Chef, and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (Janice, Zoot, Sgt. Floyd Pepper and Animal). This sad song starts off slow with Kermit remembering the fond times he had with The Muppets before progressing to a harder rock sound. Dr. Teeth joins in the vocals, “This staccato tune is posolutely most transparently bringin’ me down, 1, 2 and a half…” and then the Electric Mayhem joins in with their instrumentation. After Dr. Teeth’s comments, all the aforementioned Muppets join in and sing this adorable song.

Two of the next three songs are classics with Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” and Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City.” The other song is an alternative version of Paul William’s Muppet classic “Rainbow Connection.” This version featured after “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” is the Moopets’ version and contains entirely different lyrics set to the music of “Rainbow Connection.” It makes references to the current casino Fozzie Bear works at with his new band Fozzie and The Moopets. The song is pretty entertaining to say the least and will make you laugh. In the movie, a very cool drummer makes a cameo as The Moopets’ version of Animal (Hint: One of his band’s songs is on the soundtrack as well).

When I first heard the song “Me Party,” which is sung by Amy Adams and Miss Piggy, it immediately feels like a Flight of the Conchords’ song. Just the silliness and overall fun feel fits perfectly here. Amy Adams showcases her beautiful voice once again (much like Julie Andrews) and I can’t state this enough, Amy Adams amazing voice is a gift we don’t hear enough. The next original song is the rap “Let’s Talk About Me” with Chris Cooper on lead vocals. Much like “Me Party,” I immediately could tell this had a FOTC feel to it and this is an extended version not heard/seen in the film. This cut has additional lyrics and vocals from Nathan Pacheco during the Flashback Bridge of the song. The songs rhyming scheme and style are reminiscent of the FOTC’s “Hiphopopotamus Vs. Rhymenoceros.”

Besides, “Life’s A Happy Song,” my other favorite song is “Man or Muppet,” which is a duet between Jason Segel and Walter. The arrangement on this song with the piano and dueling vocals is superb. I thoroughly enjoy the chorus “Am I a Man or am I a Muppet? (Am I a Muppet)/ If I’m a Muppet then I’m a very manly Muppet (Very Manly Muppet)/ Am I a Muppet? (Muppet?) or am I a Man? (Man?)/ If I’m a Man that makes me a Muppet of a Man (A Muppet of a Man).” For those who have seen the film, this song is unbelievably cool and even more entertaining within the context of the movie.

The next two musical tracks are covers songs. The first one is Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” performed by The Muppet Barbershop Quartet comprised of Rowlf, Beaker, Link Hogthrob and Sam the Eagle. Now I believe Nirvana has been played to death, but this rendition is too funny to pass up. Beaker definitely makes this song memorable. After a brief Kermit intro, Cee Lo Green and Bruno Mar’s Grammy award-winning song “Forget You” is covered by Camilla and The Chickens. Although laughable, this song somehow keeps your attention for its entire length even though it’s only chicken’s clucking the lyrics. Only The Muppets could get away with this.

Originally performed in The Muppet Movie by Kermit, “Rainbow Connection” is a song that has become synonymous with The Muppets and The Jim Henson Company. This popular song penned by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher has become a Muppet staple. With a banjo by his side, Kermit the Frog and The Muppets bring tears to your eyes and it’s hard not to possess a big smile after hearing this sweet, soulful song.

Andrew Bird’s “The Whistling Caruso” follows and is a song entirely composed of whistling for over a minute. “Life’s A Happy Song Finale” follows and has Miss Piggy, Kermit and The Muppets taking over lead vocals with Jason Segel, Amy Adams and Walter providing backing vocals. For the most part, it’s almost identical to the first “Life’s A Happy Song.” However, The Muppets’ cast breaks the fourth wall notifying viewers the movie is almost over and reminds listeners that they “keep giving the world the third greatest gift (laughter).” Even the character Tex Richman (played by Chris Cooper) sings, “Will you please stop singing, you’ve already sung this song” and you can’t help but laugh even further. The Muppets truly have given the world the third greatest gift, laughter, repeatedly over the past several decades and hopefully we don’t forget that.

Spoiler alert, the second to last track, which is an audio clip from the film gives away part of the film and is worth skipping if you haven’t seen the film. The soundtrack concludes with Piero Umilani’s “Man Na Mah Na” sung by Mahna Mahna and The Two Snowths and is the perfect book end to this great motion picture soundtrack.

NOTE: For anyone interested in The Green Album, it’s an entirely different Muppets album that was released in 2011. The Green Album is full of Muppet song covers by various artists like Ok Go, Weezer, Hayley Williams of Paramore, The Fray, Alkaline Trio, My Morning Jacket, Amy Lee, Sondre Lerche, The Airborne Toxic Event, Brandon Saller of Atreyu, Billy Martin, Andrew Bird, Matt Nathanson and Rachel Yamagata. This album includes the new “Muppet Show Theme Song” by Ok Go along with covers of “Rainbow Connection,” “Being Green,” etc. Both albums are definitely worth owning if you consider yourself a big Muppets fan. Go discover and/or rediscover the wonderful Muppets with these two awesome albums.

--Mr. Brownstone

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