Record Review: 'Simpsons' music may suffer in translation

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Various artists 'The Simpsons: Testify' (Shout! Factory)

Hardcore "Simpsons" fans have had to endure a proliferation of watered-down product this summer with the release of "The Simpsons Movie." Not since the early '90s explosion of Bart merchandise has the show been this pervasive. Well, except for that late-'90s and early-2000s surge of collectors items and video games.



OK, come to think of it, Matt Groening's cartoon juggernaut has always mixed its quick-witted humor with unbridled commercial-
ism.

But even as Burger King ads air and kids younger than the show itself wear "Simpsons" T-shirts, a collection of songs from the show has been released that only a devoted fan really will appreciate.

"The Simpsons: Testify" is packed with music clips from seasons 10-18, from the bouncy title theme to spoofs like "My Fair Laddy."

Actually, the songs are mostly lampoons, crafted with remarkable wit and honest love for the originals. Cletus, the Slack-Jawed Yokel, and his kin get recast as the Von Trapp Family, with lines like, "I have eight teeth going on seven teeth" to the tune of "I Am 16 Going on 17." Groundskeeper Willie parodies Eliza Doolittle but shoots a bit less ambitiously when he croons, "All I want is a place somewhere," ending the song there. Only with cajoling does he wish for more in, "Wouldn't it be adequate?"

The disc is a testament to the composing and arranging talent of Alf Clausen, who mimics styles with ease: contemporary Broadway with Smithers' musical about Barbie, "Sold Separately"; '60s camp superheroes with Bart and Lisa as "Stretch Dude and Clobber Girl"; and jingoistic hot country, "America (I Love This Country)."

Also included are some of Clausen's brilliant send-ups of well-known songs such as "O Holy Night" ("O Pruny Night"), "Love Shack" ("Glove Slap") and "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" ("Poppa, Can You Hear Me?). Pop stars such as the B-52's, David Byrne, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Jackson Browne and the Baha Men show up in various degrees of goofiness. Comedian Ricky Gervais' pathetic and rambling ode to Marge Simpson tops all in that respect.

But considering that these tracks are all ripped from the episodes, some of their greater context and humor is lost. Half the laughs come from how these songs pop up in context of story lines, rather than from their lyrics and music alone. In fact, some of the clips are so short, there's almost no way to get all the humor unless you have watched that episode.

For "Simpsons" fans, for whom seeing the episodes many times over is a given, this disc has much to offer. It gives diehards these songs in digital format and allows them to hear lines clearer than is possible through TV. The hilarious "Ode to Branson" gains from the transfer to disc, as do most of the ballads with intricate wordplay (though the lyrics still should have been included in the liner notes). But for the casual viewer of the show, it's probably better to stick to DVDs.

The premiere episode of season 19 of "The Simpsons" airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on Fox.


Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750.


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