Saturday, 11 March 2017

CD Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017) - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

"How could anyone be gloomy and depressed?
We'll make you shout 'encore!'"

The live action remake of Beauty and the Beast will be arriving in cinemas on 17th March but should you be so inclined, you can listen to the film's soundtrack here on YouTube, other digital platforms or buy the album from wherever it is that records are sold near you. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's music and lyrics will be intensely familiar to fans of the original Disney film but after director Bill Condon decided not to include any of the songs that were written for the musical with Tim Rice, Menken composed a number of new songs for this film which ought to pique the interest of any right-thinking musicals fan.

None of the old-school classic feel of the music has been lost in this recording, which was a great relief to me, and its new twists on these old songs are certainly interesting. I really enjoyed Josh Gad and Luke Evans' freshly comic take on 'Gaston' and though Emma Watson is no out-and-out singer, she gives a sweetly decent account of herself. Emma Thompson has perhaps a trickier job in tackling the iconic legacy of Angela Lansbury's Mrs Potts, her accent choice is somewhat distracting but once you're accustomed to it, the lushness of the orchestrations make the title track spine-tingling and 'Be My Guest' is immense fun as Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Ian McKellen chip in too.

Of the new songs, 'Days in the Sun' is my favourite, a tender lullaby that grows into a wistful lament for the lives of the staff as were. Menken intertwines gorgeous vocal lines and gives Audra McDonald's thrilling soprano the opportunity to unfurl majestically (she also gets a shine to shine in the aria inserted into the overture). 'How Does A Moment Last Forever' is an exquisite instant Disney classic, sung first by Kevin Kline and then by Watson in her standout musical moment. And Dan Stevens emerges as a surprisingly strong singer in the Beast's song 'Evermore' which lyrically suggests an intriguing emotional reconfiguration of the film's romantic dynamic. 


And of course, no Disney soundtrack is complete without mainstream popstars tackling at least some of the songs and here, the new Beauty and the Beast outdoes itself. Céline Dion is famous singing the original pop version of the title track with Peabo Bryson but here she is brought back to sing How Does A Moment Last Forever and it is simply the perfect match. Employing the kind of restraint that brings out the real beauty in her voice, she simply soars here, no more so than in the passage of vocalise (from about 1.38) where she wordlessly echoes the piano motif and angels descend from heaven (or something...I'm a fan, I can't help it!). 

It's a gorgeous subtlety that is sadly lacking on the remake of the title track by Ariana Grande and John Legend which indulges her in pointless adlibs before the first line has even been sung. The arrangement sounds horrendously cheap and they feel mismatched tbqh, much as I do like his soulful commitment. John Groban gives us his version of 'Evermore' with no surprises to round out the standard edition, where the deluxe set offers demos of the five new pieces and Menken's score on a second disc for the complete experience. It might be a little soon to call this a classic addition to the Disney canon but I wouldn't bet against it!