various artists,
(Sony, 2003)

It's often difficult to separate a movie's soundtrack from the movie itself, especially if that movie is a musical. In the case of Chicago, it's more than a musical -- it's candy for your eyes and ears. Now, remove all the visual aspects -- does this album stand on its own? Yes and kinda no. When it's good, it's DAMN good. But, there are some weak elements to this soundtrack that keep it from being a great one.

Renee Zellweger does an adequate job as celebrity-seeking Roxie Hart. She's got ambition even if there's not much talent. Roxie wants to be famous; how or why is not the issue. Zellweger's voice is good but not great, but it suits the character. "Funny Honey" and "Roxie" are her best songs.

While Richard Gere's performance in the movie as shyster lawyer Billy Flynn is amazing, his voice just isn't that good. In his intro song, "All I Care About," his nasally tenor voice makes him sound like a wimpy shoe salesman instead of a "silver-tongued prince of the courtroom." The same could be said for "Razzle Dazzle." The only song that perfectly suits Gere's vocal style is "We Both Reached for the Gun" in which he's puppeting Zellweger's character.

The stars of this soundtrack are the supporting characters. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly and the back-up singers are absolutely fabulous. Zeta-Jones (along with a beautiful instrumental lead-in) kicks off the album with "Overture/And All That Jazz." Zeta-Jones's voice captures the sultry bad-girl gibe of Velma Kelly. Queen Latifah's solo as Mama Morton in "When You're Good to Mama" is dead-on with big, beautiful flair. Another great song that wasn't included in the theatrical release is the Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah duet "Class," probably omitted for its R-rated content. Reilly's rendition of "Mister Cellophane" is fantastic. He captures the subtlety of a nobody getting the spotlight and injects flair.

Arguably, "Cell Block Tango" is the best song on the album. (OK, it ties with "Overture/All That Jazz.") This is an example of the soundtrack surpassing the movie. As great as the movie was, it didn't capture the remorseless dark sarcastic humor of "Cell Block Tango." Well, that's the purity of music -- no visuals to distract. Zeta-Jones and five other ladies absolutely kill on this song.

Besides the songs, there are also two great scores by Danny Elfman followed by two R&B/hip-hop versions of original songs. Elfman has got to run out of talent eventually, doesn't he? The final two songs have been reviled by many other critics, but they're not that bad. Queen Latifah, L'il Kim and Macy Gray take on "Cell Block Tango/He Had It Coming," but they take too many liberties with the lyrics and make it too different from the original by infusing it with a serious message about women fighting back. "Love is a Crime" by Anastacia is OK in a late-'80s Taylor Dayne kinda way, but it will be dated all too soon.

The Chicago movie soundtrack carries its own weight as a great album with only minor flaws. There's no need to feel encumbered by the movie. Trust me, you'll still be humming some of these tunes long after the movie images have left your head.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 8 March 2003

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