Various - Brother Bear Soundtrack

When playing Harry Lime in an adaptation of Graham Greene's The Third Man, Orson Welles made his mysterious character yet more famous with this summation of why war is good for the artistic soul of a nation, "In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock!"

It is at this point that it is worth nothing that Phil Collins currently lives in Switzerland and, having avoided the torture many would like to see forced upon him, he can also consider himself free of ever having produced anything that could be called great art. For no matter how charitable you're feeling, it's a struggle to even apply a description more favourable than, say, mediocre to much of what Collins has done.

Whether with Genesis or solo, Collins' songs mutate into one gloop of strained vocals, thudding drums and everyman lyrics that begrudge all that goes wrong outside the gates of his secluded mansion. Homelessness, the threat of a Labour government, immigration, divorce, aging...Collins has felt threatened by them all and spared no one in telling us how, despite his millions, such things sadden him.

So not exactly an obvious choice, then, for writing soundtracks to Disney films. After all, it's a struggle to imagine Uncle Walt's family values including the faxing of a handwritten note from a man to his second wife telling her that he's leaving her. But, following his recording of a few songs for Tarzan, Disney clearly feel something for this miserable little man and have asked him back to soundtrack their animated feature for 2003, Brother Bear.

Brother Bear follows the adventures of a young man named Kenai who is transformed into a bear and, as with the very underrated The Emperor's New Groove, Kenai discovers the world through a new perspective. From once being a young warrior, Kenai finds that his only friends in the world are now those animals he once hunted, two moose and a young bear cub called Koda, and that his only remaining brother, Denahi, is now tracking him through the forests. Fleeing from Denahi, Koda and Kenai journey across North America to learn many important lessons about the true meaning of brotherhood.

By this point, you should be expecting lots of fairly literal song titles to be springing ready made out of the plot and with tracks listed as Look Through My Eyes, Great Spirits and Transformation, Phil Collins doesn't disappoint. And what with these titles, expect subtle ethnic influences being used to colour the arrangements, similar to what happened with Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's songs on Pocahontas. Some of these touches aren't at all bad, enlivening songs that show Collins' way with a tune hasn't completely deserted him. The best moments, however, tend to be those that move furthest away from what one would expect from Phil Collins. Along with the three instrumental pieces of musical scoring that close the album, co-written with Mark Mancina, the two best songs are Transformation and Welcome, sung by The Bulgarian Women's Choir and The Blind Boys of Alabama with Oren Waters, respectively. Despite these songs being written by Collins, there's an energy to them to get lost inside of whereas, try as he might, those tracks written and performed by Collins puff a lot but do very little.

The main problem with the album is that, from living in Switzerland, Collins has isolated himself from feeding off a community of people creating music. From hearing this soundtrack, it's hard to tell just what Collins is listening to these days. Jazz? Blues? World music? Classical? Could be all of these or none for Brother Bear sounds as though Collins has barely moved on from when he was last having chart success in the UK, which was quite some time ago.

Remember hearing the soundtrack to The Lion King and, frankly, being astonished that Elton John and Tim Rice were responsible for the music on it? Well, barring the wonderful Transformation and Welcome, no such revelations will occur on listening to this but for fans of Phil Collins, this will do perfectly well in the absence of any solo recordings this year.

Things do get better for Disney on CD Times, though. Later this week, we'll be reviewing the ridiculously low-priced boxset of classic songs from a whole bunch of Disney films and, alongside that review, we'll be running a feature listing the Top 10 songs from all Disney's films.



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