Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Review: The Book of Mormon Soundtrack
By now you all know what "The Book of Mormon" is, where it comes from and what it is about. I will not waste any time on exposition suffice to type a single obligatory statement: for the sake of this review I am referring to the hit broadway musical "The Book of Mormon" and not the volume of scripture used by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of the same name.
Shortly after my trip to New York, still on a naughty-puppet high from seeing Avenue Q, I rushed to Amazon.com to take advantage of the TBOM soundtrack for $2.99 (with digital booklet). That price has since returned to a more customary $10.99 so my apologies to all of you who missed out.
TBOM has received critical praise, boat-loads of awards and accolades far and wide. It has been heralded as "revolutionary" and, especially where I'm from, created no small uproar for it's "lewd" "crass" "offensive" "vulgar" "disgusting" lyrics.
I am here, an unapologetic Mormon man, siding with the former. TBOM is extraordinary. I remember one reviewer saying that if anyone stands to be offended, it's the Ugandans.
While the lyrics are blatantly explicit, the fact remains that the songs are entertaining and at time heartwarming. I literally got goosebumps listening to "I Believe," the Act III opus that finds the at-times-downtrodden Elder Price triumphantly proclaiming his faith as he marches alone into the camp of a tyrannical warlord.
It wasn't the only time. I laughed-out-loud listening to "Baptize Me," as awkward Elder Cunningham and a female Ugandan prepare for the defining moment of any missionaries experience abroad: the first baptism. The humor comes from the lyrics taking on a double-entendre as the two get excited for their "first time" and Cunningham explains that he will "hold her like this" and "lower her down" and then screams triumphantly "I baptized you GOOD."
It's hilarious, ESPECIALLY if you've actually been a missionary. The awdward, sex-starved, two-year famine where recreation of any kind is a sinful waste of time and the slightest mis-thought sends you through a shame spiral where you question your own self worth. My companions and I would do a "Dança do Batismo" or "Baptism Dance" after every such ceremony once we were alone in our apartments.
And that, in essence, is the pure genius of TBOM. It is undeniably crude and vulgar but it is also excruciatingly spot-on in its portrayal of Mormon culture and Mormon missionary life. From "Hello" which portrays the mundane torture of Missionary Training Center exercises to "Turn It Off" which pokes fun at the cognitive dissonance that so many Mormons, struggling with their own weaknesses, feel but have been raised to never voice.
The creators take some creative license in some minute details but they are fully within their right as story tellers and the small comedic deviations do not detract from the overall level of accuracy that even a team of lifetime Mormons would have trouble reproducing with the amount of doctrinal variation from one tithe-payer to another.
The score has its weak points. I didn't care too much for "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" and "Joseph Smith American Moses" is just an avenue for the Southpark Creators to spray vulgarity at you. In a different vein "Man Up" is just an annoying song, skip it entirely. At times it seems like Trey Parker and Matt Stone are trying a little too hard to swim against the stream and stretch the line between crisp social commentary and cheap laughs a little too far.
For the curious among you who are slightly faint of heart, stick to "Hello," "Baptize Me" "You and Me" "Turn it Off" "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" "I Believe" and "I Am Africa." You'll get the occasional expletive but nothing more than the typical modern Pop album and with a good sampling of the production as a whole.
That said, nothing in this album comes close to approaching the level of offense of some modern Rap albums that seem to make their money off of degradation of women. These are dirty jokes for laughs, the kind that your uncle tells at Christmas, drawing a slap on the shoulder from your mother even though she's hiding back a smile.
In the end, we have a creatively ingenious effort that occasionally misses but mostly hits the bullseye over and over again. TBOM pulls an often-misunderstood religion out of obscurity under the guise of poking fun, but instead presents it in a heartwarming, uplifting, and outright hilarious light.
Oh yeah, and the digital booklet is fantastic.
Download this: "Baptize Me" "I Believe"
*note, this grade applies ONLY to the music and not the overall stage production of TBOM as staging, acting, and inter-musical dialogue create a more enhanced experience