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Review by Brad Green:
Back in Casper’s day, ghosts were friendly; for the past few decades they’ve been getting decidedly funky. Ghouls shaking their skeletons to smooth grooves reaped Michael Jackson the biggest album of all time with Thriller, and on this compilation the Jackson 5’s The Boogie Man reminds us that long before he’d turned his own face into a Frankenstein tragedy and earned the himself the Whacko moniker, Jacko had more innocently visited the spooky side of soul. It works, as does most of the spirited (if you’ll excuse a pun at the expense of the mortally challenged) music here, because everyone loves the idea of bogey men who like to get down to a beat.

This is a soundtrack album in the loosest sense of the term, with only a few of the tracks actually appearing in the Eddie Murphy film. It’s one of those movies based on a Disneyland ride, supported with a CD based on both but including a lot of music which doesn’t feature in either. A cynical exercise in cross merchandising? No doubt. But be that as it may, this album’s a winner. 

In another commercial tie-in, the opening track is a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition by teen actor-singer Raven, who has her own Disney Channel series and -- knock me over with a phantom feather – a new record on the way. Still, she has an impressive set of pipes and if she lacks the character to quite make this classic her own, a modern hip-hop arrangement gives the recording some fresh colours.

A number of solid funk workouts and hammy swings with spooky themes follow, from the likes of The Time, The Conti Bros., JACK, The Barenaked Ladies and The Atomic Fireballs. Suzanne Vegas’ Tombstone is dead on subject, and adds musical variety. A great jazzy band performance is recorded with highly stylised compression and a reverb that makes it sound like they’re playing in a crypt. Even more inventive is Calvin Richardson’s I Put A Spell On you. Stripped down yet intricate, Richardson plies his deeply soulful vocal over a cascading, slightly dissonant piano, a staggered beat and ad hoc embellishments that include abbreviated brass bursts and his own background coughs, laughs and hollers. 

No otherworldly movie would be complete without some music from Danny Elfman. Unfortunately, he doesn’t provide the score; he gets a look in with the lame if appropriate Dead Man’s Party from his old cult band Oingo Boingo. It might have once been popular at teen Halloween bashes, but here it sounds dated, gimmicky and is one of the CD’s few misses. The orchestral score was actually penned by Mark Mancina and the one cue represented, The Overture, is so captivating that it cries out for an album in its own right. Finally, this immensely entertaining compilation is topped off with a couple of a cappella outings credited to Singing Busts. Given the barbershop style, I assume this refers to head sculptures possessed by the warbling dead and not Dolly Parton practising ventriloquism. Either way, and somewhat ironically, the harmonies are heavenly. 

Published March 25, 2004

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TITLE: The Haunted Mansion
ID: 337842
ARTISTS: Raven; Barenaked Ladies; Morris Day & The Time; Conti Bros.; JACK; Brian O’Neal and the BusBoys; Oingo Boingo; The Atomic Fireballs; The Jackson 5; Suzanne Vega; Calvin Richardson
SCORE: Mark Mancina

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