Comedian H. Jon Benjamin’s latest experimental album—this time under the official name “Jon Benjamin – Jazz Daredevil” —is only marginally more legitimate than his first. 2015’s Well I Should Have*(*Learned How to Play Piano) saw Benjamin playing inexperienced piano alongside established jazz artists. The gimmick for The Soundtrack Collection is equally evident in its title. During these nine tracks and 18 minutes, Benjamin will reinterpret various well-known movie themes, often putting them through synthesizers that sound as though they are strangling the original composition.
However, it’s hard to get too annoyed by the larks that are these albums because Benjamin announces in different ways that each album is a non-serious affair. At the start of The Soundtrack Collection, Benjamin begins performing “Danger Zone,” only to be interrupted by Kenny Loggins (or “Kenny Loggins”), who begs him to stop. Benjamin then confers with his producer, and then considers that they could just leave this conversation as “track one.” They announce that “track one” is in the can! This conversational beginning lets us know not to take this seriously. My review will be just as serious.
After “Danger Zone,” the rest of the album features complete songs, although some of them may have benefited from interruptions from Benjamin explaining his motivations. “Also Sprach Zarathustra” is included and begins in reasonably standard fashion before twisting into a high-pitched synth interpretation halfway through. It’s a touch humorous and feels like sticking a pin into the gaseous balloon that this piece has become since its inclusion in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
That self-conscious ribbing and knocking down of these songs is evident throughout. It doesn’t feel entirely coincidental, considering that many of these songs come from movies or shows that are relatively cheesy and a bit overly beloved by nostalgic people (mostly men) of a very particular age. Beverly Hills Cop, Miami Vice, and Chariots of Fire are referenced here along with the cheesetastic Boomer phenomenon Love Story and the bro-ey boogeyman film Deliverance. Through his enthusiasm that is greater than his skill, Benjamin illustrates the love of these movies and themes while at the same time poking fun at their notoriety. The Love Story theme, in particular, becomes especially overwrought as it goes on, which is fitting for a very overwrought film.
There are a few songs here that don’t really deliver an interesting interpretation of the music in any way, unfortunately. “Theme from Halloween” in particular sounds more like a headache than anything else. “Axel F” also falls apart even as the off-key notes sprinkled throughout deflate the bro-tastic cool of the ‘80s juggernaut. As humorous as it may be in conception, it’s too much to actually listen to for two minutes.
“In the Moog,” a modern synth remix of jazzy classic “In the Mood,” is a bit fun and indicative of what this album could have been if more effort had been put into creative compositions and remixes rather than ironic humor. Ultimately, the size of the album indicates how much it’s worth listening to. Eighteen minutes is about half the length of a standard LP, and this is about half the quality of a more thoroughly thought-out piece of music.