Review of Songs in the Key of Springfield
From the July 1997 issue of SPIN magazine
"Do the Bartman," that lamentable party favor from The Simpsons Sing the Blues, was an early warning that there might be a chink in Matt Groening's shiny, irony armor. Posters, stickers, and T-shirts followed in a cascade of commodity as chilly and nauseating as the wave pool at the Duff Gardens amusement park. But Groening and the show's musical director Alf Clausen have done Springfield proud this time by simply compiling highlights from the show's abundant musical moments. Songs in the Key of Springfield owes much to the lampoony tunes of Spike Jones and the mighty "Weird Al" Yankovic. But only Groening and company could decimate corporate America with a doughnut joke.
The three most complete production numbers -- "Oh, Streetcar!," "Dr. Zaius" (a Stop the Planet of the Apes musical), and the Oklahoma!-inflected "The Monorail Song," all treat Broadway bombast to a Spinal Tap roasting. "The Amendment Song," a right-wing Schoolhouse Rock pastiche, cruelly inverts all the bleeding-heart-ness of '70s edutainment. And just when the joke gets too bloated with Gen-X nostalgia, Bart drops the bomb on the twentysomething crew, exclaiming, "We need another Vietnam to thin out their ranks a little!"
Songs in the Key of Springfield is fortified with multi-culti arrangements of Danny Elfman's bouncy Simpsons theme, including a Down Under version with didgeridoos, an Afro-Cuban jazz translation by Tito Puente and his Latin Jazz Ensemble, and a bizarre interpolation with the theme from Hill Street Blues. Kent Brockman's "Eye on Springfield Theme" and both "Itchy and Scratchy" themes extend the Simpsons' show-within-a-show tactics to new levels of absurdity (soundtrack-within-a- soundtrack-within-a-show?). Among Homer's woefully few vocal contributions, the anti-drinking valediction, "It Was a Very Good Beer," best communicates his humanity, as well as the sorrows of Duff-ness.
It's the nature of TV archivist freaks to grouse over omissions in such collections -- Where's the Thompsons theme? -- but at 39 tracks, this is about as much Springfield as most folks could be expected to take. And unlike the recent boob-tube vanity discs Songs in the Key of X and the ER soundtrack, this album stands on its own. When Groening is finished knifing Bob Mackie, defrocking Amadeus, and generally skewering his native land in every song, there may be nothing holy left in America except for the doughnut. As the song says, "Doughnuts: Is there anything they can't do?"
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