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The Next Best Thing

Madonna is once again trying to step to the forefront of the entertainment industry with the release of her new movie, The Next Best Thing, and its accompanying soundtrack. The CD features two new recordings by the Material Girl as well as other artists also on her Maverick label.

The movie, co-starring Rupert Everett, details best friends-one straight, one gay-who decide to raise their child (a product of a one-night stand) as a family. Yes, the concept may be progressive, but after a slew of these movies (i.e., the trite Object of My Affection) this plot 'twist' is beginning to be a little formulaic.

The soundtrack is much the same way-a collection of warmed-over electronica that, although it's on movie music's 'innovative' frontier, feels calculated and commercial. Take a breathy, haunting female vocalist, pair it with an overproduced electronic soundscape and you have 8 of the soundtrack's 11 songs.

Many of the songs are dynamic, but most of them feel cluttered. There's so much going on simultaneously that there's nothing engaging enough to focus on. Some of the tracks even contain samples that sound like they were lifted from old Atari games. As if to be more trendy, the CD not only contains a new Christina Aguilera song (the sub-par "Don't Make Me Love You") but an unwelcome smattering of "world-beat" flavor. Ivory Coast/ Irish duo Metisse open the soundtrack with the multilingual but mindless "Boom Boom Ba," and Franco-Spanish singer Manu Chao provides "Bongo Bong." British DJs/producers compose the majority of the soundtrack, so it's little surprise that most of these songs sound like rejects from the Euro club scene that might turn up in a pseudo-edgy boutique.

To be fair, it's understandable why these songs made it into a movie. Small snippets could really energize a transition or capture the somber feeling of a scene. They are perfect for the short-attention span-a lot going on-but too scattered to be meaningful. For about 30 seconds, each song is pretty good, but after that they become unbearable. It was a struggle to get through the CD-and it's less than 50 minutes long.

Brief highlights include Moby's "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?", which proves the old saying that less is more (even for DJs), and Madonna's "Time Stood Still." Placed almost at the end of the CD, it is incredibly refreshing to finally hear real musical instruments. The lush string section is a welcome respite from the synthesizers and samples. Also worth noting are the two electronic reworkings of songs-Olive's "I'm Not in Love" and Madonna's current single "American Pie." Olive's track doesn't mutilate the song, but rather fuses the lyrics with an appropriate background. On the other hand, the metallic and "space-age" sounds and the inane echoes of Rupert Everett destroy any meaning within the heartfelt Don McLean classic. There's no emotion to Madonna's vocals-it seems that her motivation wasn't to re-communicate the song, but to create controversy. While Madonna's musical riskiness has at times been commendable, "American Pie", like the rest of the CD, sounds contrived and empty.

-By Beth Iams


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