I must say upfront, I am only reviewing the soundtrack to Dreamgirls, since I had the misfortune to be subjected to it on a two-hour drive through belting rain to Bournemouth today. Had it been the movie version, I would almost certainly have thrown myself out of the moving vehicle. As it was, I made do with grimaces and groans.
Given that Dreamgirls is based on the rise of Diana Ross and the Supremes (Beyonce's character is even called Deena, for goodness' sake), I was expecting the songs to be like Baby Love, Stop! In the Name of Love, and - my favourite - You Just Keep Me Hanging On. You know, catchy, tuneful, convincingly emotional.
Which leads me to wonder: what went wrong? If a song is not two bars repeated twenty times, with limited lyrics and no discernible melody, it is faux-show-stopping and caterwauled. Instead of heartfelt words, we get repetitious lines on dull tunes: 'I want to go downtown with you, baby' - how subtle can you get?
Composer Henry Krieger really ought to have listened to some of the best of Motown while composing for inspiration, instead of reaching for the generic hook and the average tune. There's none of the deep feeling in a light tune that made Where Did Our Love Go so popular, and no jaunty melodies as in You Can't Hurry Love.
Even the song which brought the house down on Broadway 25 years ago - And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going - is shown up as a mess, wandering all over the place with occasional emotional climaxes submerged in bumbled words. Jennifer Hudson cannot sing, more to the point: she sure shouts nicely, but any tone or tune is lacking. I've heard Jennifer Holiday's original Broadway recording of this and it knocks Hudson out of the park.
Beyonce's voice is wonderful as ever, rich and full, so it's a shame it's wasted so often. She's lucky the song Listen was written especially for her in the movie: it shows off her talent to its fullest, even if the song is in a much more modern showtune/pop ballad idiom than the rest. Jamie Foxx is undistinguished, but as I haven't seen his Oscar-turn in Ray yet, I'll reserve judgement.
The songs are dross, pieces banged out with the minimum of thought either to convey plot points or attempt to summon up that Motown feeling. They can't, tho': Motown is synonymous with soul, and if Dreamgirls' plastic production, unimaginative songs and generally lacklustre performances lack one thing, it's soul.