|Various Artists - "Mona Lisa Smile" Soundtrack|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Dan MacIntosh|
|Friday, 21 November 2003|
This album may feature a star-studded cavalcade of musical superstars, but producer Trevor Horn is the true creative heart beating within it. Horn, who might be best known for his big and bright productions during the image-dominated ‘80s (exemplified by Frankie Goes To Hollywood), has cast himself here as a sort of latter-day big band leader for this collection of mostly vintage song standards. It’s not Ella and Sarah and such, the cream of the vocal crop, but it’s not bad, either.
This is primarily an album of divas, so anybody expecting to discover the next Frank Sinatra will likely come away disappointed. Tori Amos gets the most disc time here, with two selections, probably because she also appeared on screen as a wedding singer. Her first song is “You Belong To Me,” which is lightly jazzy, with horns and strings: the whole works. Her second contribution, “Murder He Says,” allows Amos to engage in a swinging big band workout. Other big name divas on the album credits, if you’re looking for that sort of thing, include Celine Dion for “Bewitched,” where she sounds little-girlish, and “Smile” by Barbara Streisand, which is the only non-Trevor Horn-produced vocal track here. Disappointingly, Babs ruins this usually encouraging song by dragging it down with a slower-than-slow arrangement.
Babs and Celine are truly A-list vocalists, but a few lesser-known gals also shine here. Lisa Stansfield, on “I’ve Got The World On A String,” is a particular standout. Her track has one of those big, Capitol Records, Nelson Riddle (think Frank Sinatra) arrangements. Mandy Moore – a diva-in-waiting? – is also notable on “Secret Love,” which features a trickling harp that lends it an almost magical feeling. It simply has an enjoyable Judy Garland quality to it. Macy Gray’s “Santa Baby” also provides good fun, since she has the perfect “come hither” purr in her voice for this sexually charged hothouse. Elton John’s “The Heart of Every Girl,” by the way, sounds at least a few decades past this picture’s time period, but it’s still a winning and upbeat pop treat.
In a few cases, it’s hard to differentiate these new performances from their original versions. For instance, Seal should have gone under the name Nat King Seal for his take on “Mona Lisa.” In other places, some of these singers are obviously out of their musical element. When Alison Krauss, for example, sings, “What’ll I Do,” she’s simply overwhelmed by all of its strings and horns. She’s much better suited to mountain strings, instead of these big city strings.
As producer, Horn also gets to include a few songs under his own name. “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” features clipped vocals – not unlike those of the Oompa Loompas in “Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory” – which fill it with a slightly menacing quality. His name is also attached to “Sh Boom (Life Could Be A Dream),” which is led by kittenish female vocals.
Th “Mona Lisa Smile” soundtrack isn’t a true work of art, such as is the original Mona Lisa painting, but it serves its purpose well as a fun retroactive look back in time.