Various Artists – Minions: The Rise Of Gru (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

As besuited teenagers descend upon the movie theatres to ironically (or not) partake in the Minion-centric festivities associated with the fifth movie in the Despicable Me franchise, a surprisingly star-studded soundtrack has been released in tandem. Executive produced by Jack Antonoff – who clearly never takes a break – and featuring a lineup of some of the most beloved indie darlings and music nerd favourites covering hits from the 70s, when the movie is set, many people online have been joking that a soundtrack for a Minions movie “didn’t have to go this hard.” Truthfully, the soundtrack is quite a mixed bag. While Antonoff brings his recent 70s infatuation to the table to some success, it’s clear that he spread himself too thin at times and some of the performers follow suit as they quickly grab the bag of cash like one of the overalls-clad yellow nuisances might. Still, there are some surprisingly funky and genuinely emotional moments when the right combinations are hit.

The project kicks off with its only original song, and incredibly enough, it’s a collaboration between Diana Ross and Tame Impala. Despite a somewhat irritating high-pitched baby voice delivering the hook, Ross still sounds incredible at 78 and steps up to the band’s funky and psychedelic mix. The song easily could have fallen into the same kind of kids-movie oppressive positivity anthem as a “Happy” or a “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” but the genuine musicality at play here makes it a lot more fun and adds replay value – plus, Ross hits a pretty incredible riff in the chorus. The covers begin with Brittany Howard’s take on “Shining Star,” which stands out as one of the most straightforward and by-the-numbers renditions of the bunch, but we all know at this point that Howard always gives her all to a soulful, gritty performance regardless. Sometimes with classics like this, you don’t want to mess around with it too much, lest you run into a problem like the next track – St. Vincent’s “Funkytown.” Antonoff and his frequent collaborator evidently decided that a Minions soundtrack was the perfect time to stretch their 70s experimentalism to its absolute limits, and they stretched it too far. With out-of-place orchestral stabs and a robotic, metallic filter on St. Vincent’s voice that’s mixed louder than her own engaging tone for some reason, it just makes the whole track sound like it has out of key harmonies. The longest track on the album, it feels like it’s twice as long as it really is by the end. BROCKHAMPTON swing by to collect a cheque on “Hollywood Swinging,” almost sounding like they’re making fun of the whole process with silly voices and screaming mixed into the back behind some verses devoid of their usual energy.

For every BROCKHAMPTON, we get a couple striking vocal performances as well. Kali Uchis is right at home singing “Desafinado,” as Antonoff nails the swirling bossa nova sound with a couple of engaging sax embellishments, but the song that stopped me in my tracks and had me almost tearing up while listening to a Minions soundtrack is Phoebe Bridgers’ take on The Carpenters’ “Goodbye to Love.” As Bridgers sounds absolutely devastated, Antonoff’s tasteful piano brings the same kind of energy he did to Lorde’s “Liability.” The slow build as Bridgers begins harmonizing with herself into the instrumental build as the guitars echo her mournful melody and the percussion crashes in at the end makes this one a surprisingly moving experience from front to back. A couple more great artists are oddly matched with songs at this point in the album, as Thundercat brings his so-so singing voice and what feels like a level of complexity that Antonoff was too busy to mix properly to “Fly Like An Eagle” and Caroline Polachek brings a more reserved, breathy approach to the gravitas of “Bang Bang” – though it’s a song that’s almost impossible to ruin and her “Bam Bam” interpolation brings a nice creative touch.

It wouldn’t be an Antonoff-curated soundtrack without a track from Bleachers themselves, and they offer a spin on John Lennon’s “Instant Karma!” that finds Jack seemingly in a space where he’s taking the soundtrack opportunity to act like a goofball in the studio as well with some conversational backing vocals and turning his stumbling, swaggering vocal delivery all the way up. This of course works for the “we all shine on” part that everyone knows, but it’s a bit of a blown-out mess until we get there. We get a couple more highlights in Weyes Blood’s take on “You’re No Good,” being a perfect choice to take on this country-pop lane as she really leans into the jazzy vocal slides of the original, and Gary Clark Jr. elevating one of the lesser-known songs on the project, The Ides of March’s “Vehicle,” with his rather unfair level of talent. You know Clark Jr. was very involved and put in the time with this one, because this is the first moment on the soundtrack where we get so many interlocking parts and it still sounds incredible – the drum fills and his famous guitar solos add quite a bit.

Before the random mixture of songs usually tacked onto the end of a film soundtrack, we get two more covers that don’t quite measure up to standards. Tierra Whack offers an uncomfortably Auto-Tuned take on the classic that is Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman,” and for how much of a prodigy H.E.R. is, she can be so boring at times – and she brings a truly dead-eyed approach to “Dance to The Music” despite the instruments going wild behind her. The ending run of tracks includes an instrumental from Earth, Wind and Fire’s Verdine White, two pieces from the film’s score, and of course, as is tradition, a cover by the Minions themselves, this time turning “Cecilia” into a chorus of nonsense. The most interesting bit of the extras is the inclusion of Jackson Wang interspersing some Mandarin into “Born to Be Alive,” and Hong Kong star G.E.M. offering another helping of “Bang Bang” in her own language as well.

Despite all of the inconsistency here, as far as kids’ movie soundtracks go, this one’s pretty respectable. Due to the talent on display across the board and some great curation from Jack Antonoff – even when it seems to be one of his less passionate projects – there’ll be at least a couple tracks for anyone here.

Favourite Tracks: Goodbye to Love, Vehicle, Turn Up The Sunshine, Desafinado

Least Favourite Track: Funkytown

Score: 6/10

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