"A strange new sound that makes boys explore."
— Will and Grace's Eric McCormack singing Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "The Greatest Discovery"
SONIC REDUCER Not one of El's greatest moments of songcraft. A lot of strange, new sounds regularly leak through the CD cat door — just how many albums have the C*nts made? We get more than our share of musically ho-hum benefit recordings, amateurish anti-Bush anthems, and those almost quaintly, obliviously sexist Ultra dance comps. But the fundraising comp the aforementioned track was drawn from, Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars (Rhino), is oddly, exquisitely ... painful. This showcase of film, TV, and theater actors is almost as cringeworthy as contemputf8g that Tom Cruise DJ set rumor floating round Coachella last weekend.
I suspect Unexpected Dreams' cause is a decent one: Music Matters, a Los Angeles Philharmonic music outreach program for school kids. But I can't imagine inflicting this disc on the youngsters that producers Wayne Baruch, Charles F. Gayton, and "vocal coach to the stars" Eric Vetro supposedly intended it for, although Baruch thoughtfully adds in the liner notes that the creators considered including a sticker saying, "Warning: Parents with children may experience drowsiness; do not operate machinery. For those without children ... this may cause children."
Yuck. Don't get me wrong — I can take the corn, cheese, anything you want to poke in your bowtie-and-top-hat aural burrito. But disregard the vanity backslapping commentary and try to suffer through the actual renditions themselves: They make Shatner's silly spoken-word symphonies look visionary; Lindsey Lohan's pop pachyderms, cerebral; J-Lo's albums, stone-genius.
Oh, the vanity, the vanity of actors who think they're singers. Faring best: Scarlett Johansson singing a smoky blues-jazz version of the Gershwins' "Summertime" (in the CD notes, Vetro claims "lightning struck the room" when Johansson lay into the helpless tune), her Island costar Ewan "O Obi-Wan" McGregor wrapping his Moulin Rouge round Sade's "The Sweetest Gift," and Teri "Close encounters with Desperate Housewives poltergeists" Hatcher's relatively unembellished rendition of Lennon and McCartney's "Goodnight." Hatcher and vocalists like John C. Reilly rate lower on the icko-meter simply by sounding like themselves rather than affected high-school glee club achievers — Alias's Jennifer Garner, for instance, sounds like all the variety show choristers I've been happily not missing since those endless, mind-numbing days of school assemblies. In fact, you can imagine a lot of boys and girls discovering that the "strange new" sounds on this album make them want to trash all their parents' well-meaning children's albums and explore some quality Slayer recordings.