There’s an old adage that goes “Leave ‘em wanting more,” and although that may not be a specifically Broadway or TV adage, it’s been adopted for the “Smash” soundtrack album, which solves the problem of whether to fill the disc up with pop covers or musical-comedy originals by not offering enough of either.
Another five-letter S-word would seem to apply: s-k-i-m-p.
For the first eight numbers on “The Music of Smash,” you get the “Glee” side of the series, with Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, and other cast members running through contemporary hits by the likes of Christina Aguilera, Carrie Underwood, and Florence + the Machine. The final five slots are given over to the show-within-a-show tunes composed in an old-school style by celebrated “Hairspray” composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
On iTunes, cherry-pickers can find 37 songs from the TV show (out of almost 50 that have been on the air in Season 1). So when the CD wraps up after just 13 songs and 40 minutes, you’re bound to feel underserved, whether the show's split musical identity has you on Team Top 40 or Team Great White Way.
McPhee’s version of “Beautiful” made the cut, of course, and the Linda Perry ballad still holds up nicely even after its overuse in a scorched-earth ad campaign. Hilty gets her own turn at a believe-in-yourself ballad with a cover of Jessie J’s “Who You Are.” The believe-in-yourself positivity keeps on coming as McPhee and Leslie Odom tackle “Stand,” a secular crossover song written by gospel star Donnie McClurkin.
Can you handle that much self-affirmation? If Stuart Smalley were still around, this would be his favorite album.
Some of the other pop choices don’t stand up so well, starting with McPhee’s “Touch Me,” a rote dance-floor anthem that’s among producer/writer Ryan Tedder’s least memorable songs. Underwood’s “Crazy Dreams” carries the soundtrack’s aspirational advocacy to even more treacly levels, unfortunately for Hilton. Nick Jonas pops up with Michael Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet,” which isn’t great but at least isn’t another song about crazy dreamers. A McPhee version of “Brighter Than the Sun” oddly strips away the song’s tropical flavor, which is the only thing that made Colbie Caillat’s original rendition irresistible in the first place.
After some of those weak choices, the onset of the Shaiman/Wittman material is going to sound pretty darned accomplished. But fans may well argue that the soundtrack producers haven’t necessarily picked the five best "bombshell" tunes to throw in here. (Maybe they're being saved for a future album release of their own, if renewals and ratings merit.)
“Let Me Be Your Star” is here, of course, but the more clever show tunes get short shrift. You get Hilty’s fatale workout “Let’s Be Bad,” but not the arguably more fun “I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Whistle” or “Don’t Say Yes Till I Finish Talking.” Those omissions might be understandable, given the album's de-emphasis of comedy, but the absence of a stand-alone emoter like the pilot’s “Never Give the Heart” is more curious.
Perhaps the CD’s brevity is just a sign of the send-them-to-iTunes-to-buy-singles-in-bulk times. But it’s more of a liability here, when the show already has two distinct musical demographics to serve, than it would be on a show with a more singular personality like “Glee.”
(Note: a deluxe version of the soundtrack is available only at Target and does include five extra tracks – none of them Wittman/Shaiman originals – including Anjelica Huston’s “September Song” and Bernadette Peters reprising her most famous “Gypsy” number. Everything’s coming up 5% off, Target cardholders!)