Nightmare Revisited – CD Review

You ever stop and think what would happen to Goths and stores like Hot Topic if Johnny Depp, The Crow, or The Nightmare Before Christmas never existed? I’m picturing some Bizarro version of It’s a Wonderful Life, except every time Trent Reznor screamed, Clarence would get a new cut. Thankfully, (or not, depending on your point of view), we do not live in such a world. We live in a world where pale Goth girls openly speak of their wilted rose collection and are obsessed over by yours truly. (I them, not vice-versa, as I’ve yet to meet a Goth girl that didn’t find me wholly boring and tedious). Still, it seems not a Halloween season passes without Disney cranking out yet another version of Tim Burton’s stop motion classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Every year we morbid Geeks are presented with yet another “Super-Enhanced-Digital-Directors-Extra-Special Edition” of the film on DVD. Hell, even stuffy ‘ol Disneyland isn’t immune to Jack Skeleton’s appeal as the entire park gets covered with black and white stripped creatures as the Haunted Mansion turns into Jack’s personal abode. And, with each passing year, a new Nightmare album hits stores with promises of fresh takes on songs every good Geek worth their Absinthe knows by heart.

This year is not different, but is it any good?Well, that all depends on personal taste, as Nightmare Revisited is all over the map in terms of musical genres. I will state that the album opens with a decidedly insane and bombastic Overture from DeVotchKa, a group quickly rising in mainstream popularity. (I’m just snobby enough to brag that I knew them back in the day, when they played small burlesque joints). If any band out there can better capture the dark whimsy of the denizens of Halloween Town than DeVotchKa, step up! (Sit down Danny Elfman; you’ve long ago received your lifetime achievement award). After the folks from Denver, CO with the Eastern European flair had me dancing like a drunken Muppet, I was ready to dive headlong into Jack Skeleton’s insane and lovable world. With the Opening, Danny Elfman was there to help. A rather simple and pedestrian opening, it was nonetheless nice to finally hear Danny Elfman read the opening narration.

Then comes Marilyn Manson…

Now, if you think I’m going to rip on the guy, you’d be wrong. I am actually a fan of Manson, sure, he tries a little too hard at times, but I get what he’s doing and I am cool with it. No, what bothers me the most about his rendition of This is Halloween is the fact that I’ve heard it before. As in a year ago. When Disney released the 2-CD version of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Come on guys, you found someone new to cover every other track, why did you port over Marilyn Manson’s version? As to liking it, you’re either a Manson fan or you’re not. His cover of This is Halloween isn’t going to sway doubters. Jack’s Lament by All American Rejects slows things down a bit. While I enjoyed the subtle melody found in the song, I didn’t feel like the Rejects properly conjured the melancholy within Jack’s Lament. Icelandic Quartet, Amiina, provides a quirky and haunting combo piece with their cover of Doctor Finkelstein / In the Forest. It makes this rather morbid Geek smile knowing classical strings and the staple of 1950s Sci-Fi, the Theremin, are making a come back.

In fact, I am starting to wish this were a score cover album only.

The perky What’s This, covered wonderfully by Fallout Boy in the previous release, feels downright boring when covered by Flyleaf. The vocals from this Christian Alternative band are strong enough, but lacks any of the life this song demands. This song doesn’t make me feel like Jack’s awakening. Although I do appreciate the irony that a Christian group is on the same CD as a member of the Church of Satan (Mason). Ah Disney, your power of persuasion knows no limits. The Town Meeting Song gets the Polyphonic Spree treatment. I should say now, I can’t stand this group. I first saw them years ago when they opened for David Bowie; they annoyed me then and they annoy me know. They just strike me as a perfectly constructed hippie version of Rush. While I respect their take on the Town Meeting segment, I just can’t enjoy it. Thankfully, we get another beautiful string piece from Vitamin String Quartet as they cover the Jack and Sally Montage. Perhaps the violin and cello family of instruments are simply meant for Tim Burton’s dark holiday tale, perhaps my own personal bias is showing; but you simply can’t deny that it works every single time. Like the scene in the film, the Jack and Sally Montage has a playful hide and seek quality to that makes you smile.

Yea, this album is all about the music, not the songs.

Sparklehorse does his best to bring childhood wonder to Jack’s Obsession, but falls slightly short. Still, the harmonies are pleasing even if the cover as a whole doesn’t play. Although I would rather listen to an entire cover album from the Polyphonic Spree than one more minute of Korn’s horrendous cover of Kidnap the Sandy Claws! Damn Disney, I understand if you wanted someone “hard and creepy” to cover this blissfully wicked song, but couldn’t you’ve asked Manson to kick in on this cover? Or, better yet, hire the Kids of Whiney High, as they would hold the tone better than Korn doing their best to copy Slipknot. Thankfully, the song is over quickly and the first vocal standout cover hits your ears. Rise Against and their cover of Making Christmas is chaotic and exciting. Rise Against captures the insanity of Halloween characters doing their best to plan Christmas. With fast beats, decent guitar riffs, and audible vocals this is a fun track to crank up!

Not all the musical covers are perfection.

Napped, as covered by the Yoshida Brothers, is a well-meaning folly. I can see where they wanted to take this piece; I just couldn’t get along with the ride. Their use of classical Japanese instruments along with modern synthesizers just misses the mark. Still, the piece is rather long and you may find a segment or two to your liking. That isn’t to say a departure from traditional symphony instruments doesn’t work. Case in point, Rodrigo y Gabriella’s cover of the Oogie Boogie’s Song made me downright giddy. The fast Spanish guitar work generated images of an insane Oogie Boogie downing cerveza and rolling the bones under a cold Mexican night! This joy is quickly brought down with Amy Lee’s cover of Sally’s Song. Having recently talked about my Top-5 teenage moping songs of all time, I wonder why I left off this haunting song. I don’t think anyone could cover this short tale of heartache and not feel the emotional emptiness. While not as dark as Fiona Apple’s cover in the previous Nightmare album, Amy Lee still gives a strong performance. In fact, her vocal range adds something lacking in Fiona’s previous cover. Now if only Disney would wise up and let Dolly Parton cover this song. You may laugh, but I know genius when I see it and that would be genius.

Then comes the funk.

Never thought I would ever say that with anything even remotely connected to a Tim Burton production. Still, here I am. RJD2’s version of the Christmas Eve Montage is fantastically fitting in the strange world that is Halloween Town. It shouldn’t work, it really shouldn’t, and yet here I am bobbing my head to his beats. (Then again, it could just be Oregon pride showing for the home state boy). Poor Jack as covered by Plain White T’s does it’s best to help bring up the backend of this album, and they do it well. A rather simple composition, Plain White T’s avoid over complicating the piece, and allows their voices deliver the goods. Sadly, the pace is quickly lost with Datarock’s cover of To The Rescue. Again, it just felt like too much stuffed into a piece that is already busy and complicated. Jack’s rescue of Santa should generate tension and excitement. Datarock’s cover just makes me want to chew on glow sticks. The same goes for the Finale / Reprise from Shiny Toy Guns. While the vocal harmonies do help at the end of the piece, the over the top horror music and beat at the opening damage the work as a whole.

Danny returns to wrap the whole thing up.

Elfman returns to deliver the Closing that exists in the soundtrack and picture book. Again, nothing great or terrible in his performance, just a nice sense of closer from a storytelling viewpoint. The album itself ends with two final works. The End Title from The Album Leaf. A simple piece, it does nothing to really add or detract from the album as a whole. Finally, we get a “bonus” Oogie Boogie track from Tiger Army. If Disney was fine with sticking an older Manson cover in the album, I wish they’d done the same with Danny Elfman’s “demo cover” of the Oogie Boogie song, since Tiger Army already sounds like a pedestrian Oingo Boingo cover band.

Is it worth your purchase?

Well, that all depends on if you own the previous 2-CD release. Chances are very high that you do, especially if you took the time to read this rather long review of a collection of cover songs. You’re probably a Nightmare Before Christmas completist like me, so you’ll feel a need to own the album. Still, if you can fight that urge, you’re better off purchasing the individual tracks on iTunes or Amazon. Save your money for next years release on DVD.

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