Malcolm in the Middle
Malcolm in the Middle is a wonderfully inventive, intelligent, and original television show. It’s a shame that the same can’t be said for the new soundtrack album, which quickly descends into the morass of most television soundtracks • a collection of pop and alt-rock hits and wanna-be hits that have little to nothing to do with the television show.
The soundtrack’s few highlights are (perhaps uncoincidentally) the songs that have the most to do with the actual show. They Might Be Giants (who also compose the show’s incidental music) contribute two songs, “Boss Of Me,” the show•s theme song, and “Older,” a dark, older song about the passage of time. The other big highlight is a fun techno romp from The Dust Brothers entitled “I Just Don•t Care,” made up largely of dialogue samples from the show.
Elsewhere, the record is an odd combination of disappointing tracks from artists that are usually up to better work that what’s here (Eagle-Eye Cherry, Barnaked Ladies), surprisingly better than usual tracks from bands you normally wouldn’t be caught dead listening to (Hanson’s “Smile” is a surprisingly mature pop ditty that doesn’t sound much like them • maybe the little boys are growing up, that’d explain why the last record didn’t sell; Baha Men’s “You All Dat” makes decent use of a sample from “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”), a couple of throwaway past hits (Stroke 9’s bland “Washin’ + Wonderin'”), and a bunch of younger bands either looking for their first hit (The Getaway People, The Push Stars, OPM, Flak, Gordon) or an extension on their 15 minutes (Citizen King•s white boy funky “Bizarro,” Travis’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da•”rip-off •We Are Monkeys•). Decent enough material, but definitely nothing to write home about.
Where the soundtrack takes a decisive turn for the worse is with the inexcusable inclusion of Rednex’s ubiquitously irritating “Cotton Eye Joe” and Screamin•’ Cheetah Wheelies’ lifeless “Right Place, Wrong Time.•” No redemption is available for the inclusion of these tracks; the record would be 100% better without them. Yeah, the TV show uses campy, bad music on occasion (i.e. a recently-rerun episode that prominently featured one of Kenny Rogers’ sappier ballads), but it uses bad music to comedic effect. Out of the context of the show here, these songs are just bad, and moreover, to my knowledge, haven’t actually appeared on the show.
In fact, that’s a complaint I have about most of this record. I watch Malcolm pretty regularly • I•d be shocked if I’ve missed more than three episodes • and outside the theme song, I can’t recall hearing most of this music on the show. How much better it would have been to have an album of They Might Be Giants’ wonderful incidental music, perhaps with a couple of the pop songs that have been used on the show thrown in to bring back humorous memories. Even more puzzling is the “you must conform and obey society” message from “Malcolm” in the liner notes, which stops just short of “stay in school and say no to drugs” in its clichéd platitudes. It’s so contrary to the spirit of the show that I’d prefer to imagine I didn’t see it. Which I’d also prefer to imagine about the majority of this CD. Recommended only for the most stalwart fans of the show and They Might Be Giants completists only, and even the latter should wait until TMBG inevitably release these songs elsewhere (actually, I believe they already have•).