Thursday, December 20, 2007

Superbad Soundtrack

Perhaps the title isn’t meant to be merely ironic. How could a couple of awkward, inexperienced high-schoolers be Superbad? Lyle Workman’s wholly anachronistic funk soundtrack injects much-needed coolness to the clumsy travails of the young men played by Michael Cera and Jonah Hill in the film that opened in August. But it’s the performances of James Brown’s greatest rhythm section and the juxtaposition of music to film that separates this soundtrack from non-essential counterparts.

On the soundtrack, rhythm guitarist Catfish Collins and his brother Bootsy, the funk architect and co-writer of “Sex Machine,” are joined by Clyde Stubblefield and Jab’o Starks. The Superbad sessions marked the first time these musicians were reunited since 1970. Keyboard virtuoso and ex-Parliament/Funkadelic Bernie Worrell joins the old gang for this album.

Of the 18 tracks on the album, 11 are original compositions performed by the Bootsy-led ensemble; the rest of the tracks are old funk and R&B nuggets. “SuperWhat?,” prominently featuring Bootsy’s wah-wah bass and Shaggy from Scooby-Doo singing style, stands out because it alludes to the characters’ attempts at losing their virginity. The horns in the verse point at mid-´70s Stevie Wonder, and the bridge’s hard, propulsive funk-rock suggests the sound that characterized Funkadelic’s best albums, notably Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On. It’s no coincidence that the musicians freely quote that album since the characters in Superbad are perpetually stuck in the libidinous limbo the album title refers to. “Evan’s Basement Jam,” the oddest original piece, is a striking mélange of sharp, distorted guitar with a jazzy Medeski, Martin & Wood-style clavinet.

Like the main characters in the film, most of the vintage songs in the soundtrack are unapologetically horny. Jean Knight demands to be sexually satisfied in “Do Me” (which is heavily indebted to her previous and biggest hit, “Mr. Big Stuff”), and in “Bustin’ Out (On Funk)” Rick James makes the case that it is better to be stoned while having sex. Unlike the film’s characters’ though, these songs don’t fantasize or merely talk about sex; they are direct statements of desire.

It isn’t the film’s characters that are superbad; it’s the musicians. After all, Jab’o, Catfish, and Bootsy performed on James Brown’s 1970 hit “Super Bad, Pts. 1&2,” proclaiming that to be a sex machine one not need be super bad. If only the characters knew that before pouring liquor in a detergent container.

(Photo credits: Columbia Pictures and Robert Knight)

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