ALBUM REVIEW: The Minions 2 Soundtrack isn’t as good (or as bad) as you’ve heard

It’s being lauded as the greatest soundtrack in years, but the tie-in album for Illumination’s latest family blockbuster is a mixed bag at best.

How did we get here? 

That was the question that immediately sprang to mind when the tracklist for the Minions: The Rise of Gru soundtrack was announced back in May. The ambiguous posters that teased towards this announcement read like the lineup of a trendy, overpriced music festival, teaming with acclaimed music industry darlings. It was far from the star-studded list of performers you’d expect to be attached to the soundtrack of an inevitably profitable family movie. Seeing names like Phoebe Bridgers and Caroline Polachek, the only way you’d think “Minions” is if you were theorising that the album was all part of an Illumination executive’s plan to connect with his troubled daughter (it’s still not entirely impossible). 

Upon further inspection, however, the dots start to connect. Jack Antonoff served as the soundtrack’s lead producer and curator, which is fitting on a few fronts. First, and most importantly, he does have a Minion-ish look about him. But he’s also a frequent and beloved collaborator of many popular musicians, and exactly the kind of guy who could easily convince 15-20 highly respected artists to appear on the soundtrack for a widely mocked franchise. 

Antonoff’s usual musical stylings, which often pull heavily from the rock and pop of the past, made his association with this movie even more fitting. The film itself is set in the 1970s, and covers of hit songs from this decade make up a majority of the soundtrack, with the few original songs that do show up sounding very much indebted to the same era. With this creative direction in mind, the existence of this album and the team behind it does feel a bit more understandable, even if the longer you stare at the list of artists here, the more it screams “millennial”.

To a certain extent, the soundtrack’s central concept works. The lead single, ‘Turn Up the Sunshine’, sees Motown legend Diana Ross team up with Tame Impala, resulting in a surprisingly solid start to the album. Kevin Parker fronts an instrumental that has the warmth, grooves and punchy percussion you’d expect to hear on an Avalanches song – that’s absolutely a compliment, given how well past eras of pop are incorporated into that band’s music. Ross and Parker’s voices don’t exactly go together like the Minions and Gru (nor are they all that discernible from each other), but the song is far too endearing to be cynical about.

Unfortunately, it’s not long before things take a turn for the horrendous with St. Vincent’s rendition of ‘Funkytown’. The track’s sheer ugliness is truly unexpected, given that it was only last year when the singer teamed up with Antonoff to deliver some incredibly competent tributes to 70s soul and funk on her album Daddy’s Home. They’re unable to capture that same magic here, however, mostly due to the clunky robot filter that the lead vocals are buried underneath. The needless production gimmicks continue onto Brockhampton’s cover of ‘Hollywood Swinging’ by Kool and the Gang, which, aside from being exceedingly tedious, is marred by its half-baked attempts to recreate the original’s psychedelic qualities through splashes of reversed instrumentation and vocals.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the soundtrack is the overproduction. The fatal flaw of many of these tracks ends up being excessive instrumentation, or unnecessary embellishments through flashy effects. The contributions of Brittany Howard and Thundercat are especially impacted, with both of their tracks sounding far too cluttered to compliment the retro flair these artists already possessed. These issues are likely the product of Antonoff and co.’s efforts to give these covers a sense of distinct character and differentiate them from the originals. But given that the stylistic elements of these original versions have largely been kept intact across the soundtrack, these bells and whistles detract from what made the songs so enjoyable to begin with. 

Thankfully, the album offers up a run of solid songs around its midway point. ‘Heart-wrenching’ is not a phrase one would expect to associate with anything Minions-related, and yet Phoebe Bridgers’s take on The Carpenters’ ‘Goodbye to Love’ is exactly that, thanks in no small part to the refreshingly subdued instrumental. Antonoff (aka Bleachers) finds similar success with his version of John Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma’, as he keeps things relatively stripped-back before they finally let loose for a triumphant chorus. 

Against a handful of highlights, it’s Weyes Blood and Kali Uchis that come out on top. Aside from the two artists’ characteristically great performances, the reason these covers stand out is because they both honour and put a fresh spin on their respective originals. Uchis blissfully glides over a contemporary re-imagining of the bossa nova groove from Antônio Carlos Jobim’s ‘Desafinado’, while Weyes Blood’s countrified update of ‘You’re No Good’, as performed by Linda Ronstadt, is a straightforward but beautifully arranged showcase of her vocal prowess, complete with a dreamy instrumental outro. 

Depending on your feelings about them, you would either be disappointed or relieved to hear that the Minions themselves only feature on one song: a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Cecilia. Whilst their high-pitched voices and nonsensical dialect can certainly be grating, their inclusion on the album is another one of its brighter spots. The moment they start singing is so hilariously surreal yet so brief that it genuinely leaves you wanting more. An album full of Minions covers would probably become tiresome very quickly, but would it be more entertaining than a soundtrack where the song ‘Bang Bang’ is covered twice in near identical fashion? Quite possibly.

The fact that this album isn’t a total disaster is pretty startling. At its best, it’s a testament to the talents of its personnel, especially the instrumentalists that are tasked with, and often succeed in, faithfully recreating aspects of well-known songs. Still, the hype surrounding the soundtrack has felt more than a little overstated, undoubtedly due to the names attached to it. Even with its finest moments considered, you’re still better off just listening to the originals.

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