Released hot on the heels of January's Kidz Bop 23, 2013's Kidz Bop Party Hits! eschews its predecessor's fresh take on current pop hits and provides a set of previously issued recordings. While all Kidz Bop outings are notoriously upbeat and energetic, this 13-track compilation is even more so, offering up a set list of typically propulsive Kidz Bop renditions of minor-centric club hits (any racy language has been removed and replaced with something a bit more virtuous) like Beyoncé's "Single Ladies," the Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get it Started," OutKast's "Hey Ya," and Shop Boyz' "Party Like a Rockstar."
James Christopher Monger, Rovi
If you consider The Muppets the best movie of 2011, we must first congratulate you on being right, and then insist that you grab this soundtrack to make your case to skeptics. It resuscitates a few old Muppets classics (the theme song to the TV show, Kermit the Frog's heart-tugging "Rainbow Connection," and Sesame Street's timelessly cool "Mah Na Mah Na") and throws in some obligatory pop hits (including Cee Lo Green's masterpiece, which here bears its G-rated title, though it could also have been called "Pluck You" given it's clucked wordlessly by a group of chickens). But the handful of original tunes penned by Bret McKenzie, who co-wrote the music for HBO's Flight of the Conchords, are the real draw. McKenzie was an inspired choice for this assignment, as his amazing ability to satirize musical tropes with a fan's affection rather than a cynic's disdain gave the movie all the beats it needed—show-stopping dance numbers, efficient character portraits, and soulful epiphanies—while also giving the audience multiple levels on which to enjoy them. You can laugh at the wordplay or wink at the conventions, but you might also get genuine chills whenever Animal starts pounding the drums.
Tim Quirk, Google Play
Newsies is Disney's 1992 return to that rarest form of film, the live-action musical. With original music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, the music tells the story of the 1899 New York City newsboy rebellion against newspaper kings William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. The film was dead on arrival and played in some lucky local cinemas for two weeks. This was sad news, considering that it could have been the beginning of a whole new musical generation. The music of Newsies has since gained a following and has a timeless appeal, joining the roots of a great Broadway musical while attempting to fit the songs to their era. Despite the 1990s production, we are expected to believe the songs might have been sung by newsboys in the 1890s. We don't, of course -- the songs are too elaborate and pop driven (it is also likely that a newsboy who was more melodic than a hum or whistle would have been put in his place if the newsies are as rough as this film would have us believe). It works as a timeless piece, though, because it is a mixture of then and now -- while the arrangements are cheerfully old-fashioned, you can almost picture Nsync filling in for the vocalists who are comprised of trained singers and actors, including the great Welsh actor Christian Bale (American Psycho). Bale plays Jack Kelly, the leader of the rebellion, and was confident enough to lend his own vocals. It was a smart move, as he brings the ballad "Santa Fe" to stunning highs. It is not the only high on this album, which is charged with circus level excitement throughout. It is astounding that, in a film consumed with grand musical ambition, not one of the songs was selected for an Academy Award nomination. The touching call for justice "Seize the Day," "Carrying the Banner," the Newsie theme, the joyous "High Times, Hard Times," sung by Ann-Margret, the demanding proclamation "The World Will Know," and the absolutely terrific "King of New York" are each worthy of repeated listening. The film itself is worthy of a second chance.
Peter Fawthrop, Rovi