Produced by Justin Timberlake with Max Martin and Shellback
RCA Records, September 23, 2016, 35 minutes, $13.99
I’m not entirely sure what the marketing strategy is behind how the music for Trolls has been released in advance of the film’s November 4 premiere. The apparent lead single, Can’t Stop the Feeling!, was released way back on May 6, and now the soundtrack has been released near the end of September. If it’s an effort to build interest and awareness in the film, I don’t think they’re doing a good job in succeeding. Certainly not when the soundtrack is not all that impressive.
Now I will admit that Can’t Stop the Feeling! is an infectious song in a good way. It did reach the top of the Billboard Top 100 and continues to be played regularly on the airwaves, both radio and streaming. But the vast majority of folks probably don’t know that it is a song from Trolls. I think because it was released so early and with so little additional promotional material to accompany it, most assume it’s intended to lead to a new Justin Timberlake album that has yet to come out.
One could technically say that the Trolls soundtrack might qualify as a new Timberlake album as he serves as a producer. And his touch is all over the place, and I don’t mean that he sings every song. He actually sings in just over half the songs, though two of them are broken up into film versions and radio versions. What I mean by his touch being all over the place is how the music is arranged, and how it sounds definitely has his signature. The use of the tempos, when to shift the tone, how the rhythm flows from start to finish. At times this is a good thing because at least he has great understanding of what will stir interest in listeners.
Only the Trolls soundtrack seems to have an identity crisis. It doesn’t seem to know if it should be a film soundtrack or a collection of songs Timberlake likes that are covered by some friends of his. In addition to Can’t Stop the Feeling!, I counted four other songs that I believe were made specifically for the film. So that’s five original songs in an album with thirteen tracks. This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue since most soundtracks for animated films only have about five or six songs in them anyway. But the other tracks on those albums were the film’s score. The score is nowhere to be found on the Trolls soundtrack, which means the additional songs make the film come off sounding like a jukebox musical.
When utilized well, jukebox musicals can be a lot of fun. But more often then not, they’re merely a collection of songs thrown togethr without really being beneficial to the storytelling. Sometimes they don’t even flow together all that well, kind of like what happened in Strange Magic. And this only further creates bewilderment regarding the album’s early release.
With no context as to why these songs are thrown in and how they fit with the storytelling, it comes off merely as a selection of songs mixed together. Granted it sounds like a couple of them have had their lyrics tweaked to better fit the film, which is certainly the case for a mash up that includes Move Your Feet and changes it to Move Your Hair. But because the music is essentially by itself for now, it doesn’t make it all that interesting to want to listen to.
Take the use of True Colors. If you’ve seen one of the more recent trailers, you can get a pretty good idea of how the song seems to be utilized in the storytelling. But if you haven’t seen the trailer, it may not click as to why it’s on the soundtrack. I haven’t really figured out where the Earth, Fire and Wind song September fits into the narrative and I only have a vague idea of how the Lionel Richie song Hello might be used. By themselves, they’re nice songs, don’t get me wrong, and Timberlake does mix them in a way that I nod my head to the beat at times. But this is supposed to be the soundtrack of a musical film and, like Strange Magic, they just seem to be added in there because they would sound good for a scene or two, not helping in the actual storytelling.
I personally think this odd mix of songs is going to end up creating a problem with the film’s enjoyment if you listen to the album now before seeing the film sometime later. I think it would’ve been a lot more interesting if Timberlake was able to develop a full slate of original songs for the film that added to the narrative. Most of the original songs don’t feel like they have any relation to Trolls, as a matter of fact.
I liked the song Get Back Up Again as it was the closest to really play up any form of storytelling, showcasing the unwavering optimism of Princess Poppy as well as the singing talents of Anna Kendrick. The other songs lacked context, particularly Hair Up, which is just Timberlake, Gwen Stefani and Ron Funches saying the same couple of lines over and over again to a specific tempo. Just because some of these songs talk about hair doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about Trolls without knowing where and how it fits into the storytelling.
It’s tough to properly rate the album given that it’s supposed to be a soundtrack, but doesn’t really reveal enough of how it fits in with the storytelling. This is certainly so when listening to the soundtrack about a month before the actual film comes out. The original songs are not enough and the covered songs come off more like a mix of favorites. Timberlake tries to piece together an album that would be attractive to listen to, but aside from Can’t Stop the Feeling! it’s just not interesting enough on its own to warrant checking out. It adds to the strange marketing strategy DreamWorks is using in trying to promote Trolls by releasing the music early. I would imagine the soundtrack might come off better in context when the film is released, but until then you’re better served skipping this one for now.