[6 December 2009]
The soundtrack to Glee—and the cast members themselves, so it appears—are all about one thing: volume. These kids aren’t here to milk emotion or find a new nuance within classics and contemporary pop songs; they are here to sing the living shit out of them. Not that this should come as any surprise. Hell, the title of the album gives away the melismatic vocal style and bombastic production that hams up the song cycle. It’s all about hitting those glory notes and making a show (when powerful vocalist Lea Michele belts the line “Well I’ve had my heart beaten down, but I always come back for more!” it’s irrelevant that she doesn’t sound like she’s ever had a boyfriend, because she lets those atmospheric notes spill out effortlessly), and it does that very well, despite how painful that may sound. And don’t get me wrong; this is a painful experience. Very, very, very painful, but so painful it becomes good. It’s very masochistic, but once you come to these terms you don’t yourself groaning so much when the cast almost butchers Queen’s “Somebody to Love” (don’t they get Freddie’s message? Does it really matter? Nope).
There are plenty of missteps, sure, but there are also plenty of highlights, with their “Don’t Stop Believing” cover being the zenith of showy karaoke theatrics. Backed by various vocal parts, a keyboard line lifted from the ‘80s, and Lea Michele pounding out note after note, the cast find their corniness working in their favor extremely well. Steve Perry isn’t meant to be taking seriously, and like Perry, the members of the cast take that generic template and find new life within the confinement of it. It’s enough to make you bust out in song and dance despite how much you may hate yourself for it.
Unfortunately, the Gleeks aren’t immune to self-importance, and when they try to do something of more substance—like, say, Jazmine Sullivan or Jill Scott—the cast find themselves completely embarrassing. It’s a nice idea to think that a bunch of kids from various racial and economic (in the show at least) backgrounds can get together and try to cover the musical spectrum (cheesy pop, classic rock, soulful R&B, early punk) in order to prove music is really the great uniting factor in an imaginary world that has come to place pop culture on par with high culture but when put in practice it comes off as completely flat, as “Dancing With Myself” proves line after line. And don’t even bother with the “Gold Digger” cover, which, if it was intended to be a parody, works extremely well, but it’s a given that the joke is on the cast this time.
In the end, there’s nothing completely surprising or revolutionary about anything on the soundtrack. It has its one nice, almost transcendental moment and a few more good times composed of entire camp. With soundtracks becoming more and more vital to the atmosphere of a film (Where the Wild Things Are, Pirate Radio, Fantastic Mr. Fox) it’s at least interesting to see how a show that relies so heavy on music incorporates that element into a singular entity that isn’t intended to be separated from its visual partner. It’s a shame the first go-round of songs doesn’t lend enough text (sub or con) in order to give these songs a new reading into the lives of each character. Oh well, at least the second edition is being bookmarked with a cover of “My Life Would Suck Without You” and in a way, the same sentiment can almost be said about the show Glee itself.