Screen Jams: ‘Almost Alice’

Becky Bain | March 2, 2010 11:55 am

Screen Jams is our recurring look at the most buzzworthy new music featured in movies, TV shows, and video games—pretty much any form of entertainment you can enjoy with your eyes.

When Lewis Carroll’s vivid and colorful Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland is the source material, you’d assume creative minds would be spinning with new ways to tell the story’s sense of fantasy, whimsy and delirium. We won’t know whether Tim Burton’s cinematic reimagining of Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole accomplishes this task until the film is released in theatres this Friday, but the movie’s inspired-by soundtrack, Almost Alice falls short of evoking Alice’s strange and twisted journey. There are a few tracks that win us over, but ultimately, we’re the ones mad at a hatter that such a promising opportunity was wasted on generic rock-lite tunes and throwaway Wonderland references.

As we previously noted, the soundtrack’s opener, Avril Lavigne’s “Alice,” is an emotive, ethereal track… until she begins to shrilly scream-sing the chorus to bits—the shouting makes it very difficult to enjoy this otherwise pretty song on repeat listens. We’re pretty sure Paramore’s Hayley Williams could have belted this song out no problem, but alas, she’s already got enough angsty soundtracks under her studded belt.

We would have preferred a more experimental, oddball song to open up the soundtrack to such a nonsensical story—not this inspirational rock ballad. Still, the melodic “Alice” is a nice change of pace from Avril’s obnoxious phase on The Best Damn Thing, which was getting as old as her pink extensions (which have since been replaced with a set of more somber black highlights).

Avril Lavigne – “Alice”

We were bitched out in the comments for criticizing the poetic genius of 3OH!3’s lyrics in “Follow Me Down,” after several more listens, we’re not retracting our statement – if you can find the deeper significance in “Follow me, follow me, fa la la la la la,” then you probably consider Ke$ha to be this generation’s Virginia Woolf. Lazy rhyme schemes aside, the song does have one of the catchier hooks on the album, and the band (supported by Brit singer Neon Hitch) sounds like they’re having fun. So, like we said before, jam out to the song, but ignore everything Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte are saying. (They basically zoned out while writing the song, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to do the same.)

Elsewhere on the collection of tunes is Kerli, a pint-sized singer from Estonia who is often compared to Lady Gaga, which is understandable given their shared taste in phantasmagoric fashion and experimental pop hooks. Kerli is also featured on the appropriately-titled Tokio Hotel track “Strange,” so we’re pretty sure this is supposed to be the album where the singer bursts into the mainstream. “Tea Party,” however, presents her more like a Gaga with training wheels—the fluffy pop track takes few risks, whereas we think Gaga’s tea party would turn out more like Tom Petty’s darkly comic and vicious “Don’t Come Around Here Anymore” vid—that is, a tea party with some actual bite to it.

Things get a bit more stimulating with the album’s rock tracks. While Metro Station makes us yawn with the formula-abiding rock-synth “Where’s My Angel,” Plain White T’s manage to sound haunting in “Welcome to Mystery,” which sounds subtly inspired by composer Danny Elfman’s past work in previous Burton movies.

The most unique track on the album is The All-American Rejects’ “The Poison,” which turns and swirls from a solemn guitar-driven ballad to an uptempo rock song with circus-inspired melodies. The lyrics also nod to the story of Alice in Wonderland—”we fall down a hole, that’s the one place in this world where we both know”—wthout being completely obvious. It’s certainly the most exciting track on the album and the only one that fits the Wonderland theme, and could also survive apart from this compilation.

The All-American Rejects – “The Poison”

The Cure’s Robert Smith puts a cartoonish spin on “Very Good Advice,” a song originally penned for Disney’s 1951 animated feature. Smith’s version is so odd—could that be an equally bizarre theremin on the track?—we can’t imagine it making sense anywhere else (besides maybe playing throughout Disneyland theme parks). Smith gives a vocal performance so goofy and over-dramatic that we’re not entirely sure he’s taking this seriously. To sum it up, it’s bizarre, but at least it’s interesting.

Other rockers who should have known better didn’t fare as well despite having a classic story from which to draw their inspiration. Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos’ deep bass vocals are prominently featured on “The Lobster Quadrille,” a cover of a song written for a 1999 TV mini-series of Alice (with lyrics by Lewis Carroll). The song starts off slow and simple, but never finds itself going anywhere exciting.

Same with Mark Hoppus and Pete Wentz’s moody “In Transit,” which is simply unmemorable. It’s a disappointment, since we’re typically big fans of Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy, and we expected their contribution to come off more than just a throwaway emo song from 2005.

Almost Alice concludes with a competent cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, although it doesn’t add anything new to the original.

Ultimately, the problem with Almost Alice is that most of the songs would find it difficult to exist off of this soundtrack. The entire album comes off as a school project where everyone has been formed into groups to write a song featuring some aspect of Alice in Wonderland. What you get is a bunch of songs where highlighting the theme is prioritized over making great music.

We’re curiouser and curiouser why more Alice songs weren’t covered here—where’s “Painting the Roses Red,” “In A World of My Own,” “Golden Afternoon” and “The Un-birthday Song”? Hey, if you’re gonna go, go all the way.

DOWNLOAD: All-American Rejects’ “The Poison” and Plain White T’s “Welcome to Mystery.” Then go listen to DJ Pogo’s trippy remix of the Disney classic’s score.

Here’s the full track listing… and if you’re a mega-fan of any/all of these acts and don’t approve of our fair criticisms, you can join Alice in doing this.

1. “Alice” performed by Avril Lavigne 2. “The Poison” performed by The All-American Rejects 3. “The Technicolor Phase” performed by Owl City 4. “Her Name Is Alice” performed by Shinedown 5. “Painting Flowers” performed by All Time Low 6. “Where’s My Angel” performed by Metro Station 7. “Strange” performed by Tokio Hotel and Kerli 8. “Follow Me Down” performed by 3OH!3 featuring Neon Hitch 9. “Very Good Advice” performed by Robert Smith 10. “Welcome to Mystery” performed by Plain White T’s 11. “In Transit” performed by Mark Hoppus with Pete Wentz 12. “Tea Party” performed by Kerli 13. “The Lobster Quadrille” performed by Franz Ferdinand 14. “Running Out of Time” performed by Motion City Soundtrack 15. “Fell Down a Hole” performed by Wolfmother 16. “White Rabbit” performed by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals