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Rock of Ages: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Review

June 16, 2012 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

1. “Paradise City” – Tom Cruise
2. “Sister Christian/Just Like Paradise/Nothin’ but a Good Time” – Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin
3. “Juke Box Hero/I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” – Diego Boneta, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Julianne Hough
4. “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” – Catherine Zeta-Jones
5. “Waiting for a Girl Like You” – Diego Boneta, Julianne Hough
6. “More Than Words/Heaven” – Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta
7. “Wanted Dead or Alive” – Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough
8. “I Want to Know What Love Is” – Tom Cruise, Malin Akerman
9. “I Wanna Rock” – Diego Boneta
10. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” – Tom Cruise
11. “Harden My Heart” – Julianne Hough, Mary J. Blige
12. “Shadows of the Night/Harden My Heart” – Mary J. Blige, Julianne Hough
13. “Here I Go Again” – Diego Boneta, Paul Giamatti, Julianne Hough, Mary J. Blige, Tom Cruise
14. “Can’t Fight This Feeling” – Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin
15. “Any Way You Want It” – Mary J. Blige, Constantine Maroulis, Julianne Hough
16. “Undercover Love” – Diego Boneta
17. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” – Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Mary J. Blige
18. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” – Julianne Hough, Tom Cruise
19. “We Built This City/We’re Not Gonna Take It” – Russell Brand/Catherine Zeta-Jones
20. “Don’t Stop Believin'” – Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Mary J. Blige

Film musicals in Hollywood are a relative rarity these days and when they do come to pass, they tend to be very divisive. Hollywood musicals, and even Broadway in many cases, has taken a distinctly popular music-oriented turn in order to appeal to a new generation of viewers; most of the musicals to hit theaters have been more rock-oriented affairs like Rent or Repo: the Genetic Opera or actively incorporate well-known Billboard charters like Moulin Rouge did. Whatever the route they take, they always rely on star power, which makes something inherently tricky for them in that they must often rely on people not necessarily known for their singing voices to get the music across.

Into that musical melee wades Rock of Ages, which premieres this weekend. Based on the Chris D’Arienzo stage show, the film uses a throwback of 1980s rock hits in order to bring the musical aspect about and the likes of Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin and Catherine Zeta-Jones to bring those songs to life, with the likes of Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Journey and Poison providing the songs themselves.

Right off the bat…well, there’s no way to get around it. The first song on the album is Tom Cruise performing Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City.” One can assume that the songs are in chronological order (which have been changed somewhat from the original musical), but that is a drastic mistake because this is a very poor first impression to make. This is not to denigrate Tom Cruise’s voice; the man actually has a fairly impressive set of rock pipes and swagger in his voice for a man with absolutely zero training or singing experience (and no, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” in Top Gun doesn’t count). But the man is singing a song that is Axl Rose’s, one of the most powerful male singers in rock history and Cruise falls absolutely flat by comparison. Cruise actually redeems himself in later songs, such as Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive,” Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and especially Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” alongside Malin Akerman. But when your first sung note is cringe-inducing even if only by comparison, it digs an immediate hole that you will struggle to get out of.

After that unfortunate first track though, things settle down nicely. The soundtrack moves into group number mash-ups, the first being Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin working together on a mash-up of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian,” David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise” and Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time.” Hough and Boneta have solid voices on this track and while Hough gets a touch nasally at times, they match up very well together. The song is the right sections of each and combines into an impressive whole. “Juke Box Hero/I Love Rock N’ Roll” isn’t quite as good but still rocks. It is Catherine Zeta-Jones who provides the first true stand-out track though, with “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Zeta-Jones has been great in film musicals before and she adapts very well to the Pat Benatar hit, giving it the right amount of attitude and even just enough growl to make it a great listen without being a pure aping of the original.

It must be said that this soundtrack, like many musicals, isn’t great all the way through. In addition to the first track, there are a few that just don’t hold water; while few would claim that any of these tracks are the equal to their original, two stand out as being particularly skippable and unfortunately for him they both feature Boneta. “I Wanna Rock,” quite honestly, does not in fact rock and comes off as little more than an uninspired karaoke version of the original. Meanwhile, “Undercover Love” just isn’t a good song in the first place. It is the one new song, an R&B pop song and it’s stunningly out of place with the rest of the music; it doesn’t fit Boneta’s voice and it may be purposely cheesy, but it is in no way the good kind of cheesy like some of the covers are.

On the plus side, for each down track there are one or two good tracks. Mary J. Blige lends her smooth sound to “Harden My Heart” with Hough and delivers just the right tone for the song, and the classic Whitesnake song “Here I Go Again” is turned into a group number to good effect. Blige returns in a group version of “Any Way You Want It,” one of a few Journey songs on this album. The many Glee comparisons to this whole soundtrack will be both mean-spirited and yet not inaccurate. The other good tracks include Hough, Boneta, Cruise and Blige on the hair metal ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and Hough and Cruise on “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” both of which are reverential to the original and still well-performed. Blige is also on “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which is good but unfortunately seems a bit cliché thanks to the aforementioned FOX TV show. Still, as the final track on the album it makes a fittingly upbeat and rocking finale.

The 411: All in all, the Rock of Ages soundtrack may not be the best hour you could spend listening to music, but it's not a bad hour either. There are a few highly-problematic songs and some vaguely mediocre ones as well, but that's inevitable when you aim high. With the exception of his attempt to equal Axl Rose, Tom Cruise acquits himself fairly well and the rest of the cast is generally good. The mashups are pieced together well and the music sounds just right. If you already have the Broadway soundtrack and love it, you probably don't want to get this and not everyone will love it, but it's worth checking out if you're the kind of person who doesn't mind a new spin on a little 1980s throwback rock.
Final Score:  6.5   [ Average ]  legend

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Jeremy Thomas
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