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MUSIC REVIEWS: 'Simpsons' soundtrack, Suzanne Vega, Rooney

"THE SIMPSONS MOVIE: THE MUSIC," composed by Hans Zimmer (Adrenaline Music)

Of all the directions the soundtrack to "The Simpsons Movie" could have gone, it ultimately follows the safest, and wisest, route: a fully orchestrated score by veteran film composer Hans Zimmer.

Fans of the beloved show may be disappointed that the release isn't craftier, but it could have been worse. For instance, a compilation of songs by bands and singers would have risked upstaging the movie and its characters -- and it should be all about "The Simpsons," not someone like Bono or Justin Timberlake. The soundtrack also could have featured characters singing, and although such a gamble paid off for the "South Park" movie, it would more likely be too distracting.

Instead, we have the Academy Award-winning Zimmer -- whose countless credits include the recent "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" -- polishing the sound. His involvement adds an instant bit of legitimacy to the film, and he launches the soundtrack with a reverential, full-blown arrangement of Danny Elfman's theme for the iconic TV series.

The rest of "The Simpsons Movie: The Music" is seriously cinematic, with tracks taking broad, and frequently whimsical, spins through vivid soundscapes. Grandiose swells are bookended by low-key softness, swaying strings give way to brassy exclamations, a vocal choir chimes in with wordless texture.

There are a few diversions from traditional score music -- a more rocking "Release the Hounds," an electronic dance closer ("Recklessly Impulsive") and a droll "Spider Pig" based on the "Spider-Man" theme song by Bob Harris and Paul Webster. Yet beyond the latter, overt humor is missing apart from song titles that include "Doomsday Is Family Time," "You Doomed Us All ... Again," "Thank You Boob Lady," "Why Does Everything I Whip Leave Me?" and "His Big Fat Butt Could Shield Us All."

Sure, the music could have been more playful and adventurous than what "The Simpsons Movie: The Music" offers. But this stately score seems more suitable, because this isn't just some cartoon, it's "The Simpsons."

Rating (five possible): 3-1/2

"BEAUTY & CRIME," Suzanne Vega (Blue Note)

There's a common feeling in the Big Apple that New York City is the only city in the world -- or at least the only one that matters -- and anything that happens there is just more relevant than anything that happens anywhere else.

For many of those of us who don't live there, the backlash to that attitude is that the city is overrated, and when something like Suzanne Vega's New-York-City-based new release "Beauty & Crime" comes out, it seems like the last thing we need -- even with its occasional (but only occasional) 9/11 references.

Although the Manhattan-based Vega would likely consider this blasphemy, "Beauty & Crime" mostly works apart from its setting.

Naturally that's not the case for the track "New York Is a Woman," where Vega frames a folk-music context with clarinet and sax as she paints the city as a seductive femme fatale who is indifferent to admirers. But otherwise, folks from Augusta, Ga., to Yakima, Wash., will be able to relate to "Beauty & Crime" without even knowing where Ludlow Street is.

Twenty years after the release of her seminal hit "Luka," Vega is still an artist of substance, using her whispery rasp to deliver stories and profiles.

Her folk-rooted sound is fully nuanced on "Beauty & Crime," starting with an opening track, "Zephyr & I," that blows by in gusts driven by propulsive plunk and harmony support from KT Tunstall. There's a jazzy lounge vibe in the cool construction of "Pornographer's Dream," adult pop-rock accessibility in "Frank & Ava" and even a rumbling electronic groove in the liberating "Unbound."

Vega brings it all home at the end with the gentle closer "Anniversary," and apart from the somber poetry-girl shtick of "Edith Wharton's Figurines," she gets there without the lapses into preciousness that plagued her earlier work.

"Beauty & Crime" also benefits from Vega's lyrical intimacy, whether she's singing about a fireman serving at ground zero after 9/11 ("Angel's Doorway") or her love for her daughter ("As You Are Now").

And if you're one of those who can't get enough of New York references, all the better.

Rating: 3-1/2

"CALLING THE WORLD," Rooney (Cherry Tree/Geffen)

Retro-cool Rooney packs the goods on its new "Calling the World," a follow-up to the Los Angeles band's self-titled debut, but the thrill is tempered because there are times when it seems like the group is assembling music rather than performing it.

Beyond its blatant manipulations, Rooney's troubles are compounded by the fact that a sequential listen to "Calling the World" leaves a bad impression as the release flames out in a flurry of filler.

Still, before that disappointing denouement, the quintet puts together an infectious collection of rock that makes broad historical references.

The catchy title track is contemporary power-pop, with lead singer/songwriter Robert Schwartzman making a desperate attempt to track down a lover who ditched him. Humor is also key to "I Should've Been After You," a bombastic mini-musical in which Schwartzman suddenly realizes he's stupidly been going out with all the friends of the woman of his dreams, but not her.

Throwback sounds abound: The buzzing "Don't Come Around Again" has a 1960s feel, and "Are You Afraid?" is something of a Manfred Mann/ELO mash-up. Meanwhile, squeaking riffs, emotional vocals and heavy drums conspire for a danceable/New Wave "When Did Your Heart Go Missing?" and the guilty pleasure "Paralyzed" sharpens its hook with a heavy-metal refrain.

"Calling the World" overplays its contrivances -- with the showy anthem rock of "Tell Me Soon," for example, and the chugging "Love Me or Leave Me" -- yet Schwartzman proves himself quite the crooner in the sparkling construction of "What For" as he belts, "Maybe you should think about it before you go and break her heart ... Ask yourself, 'What for?' "

That would have been a great closing track, but unfortunately Rooney trundles on, doling out the throwaways "All in Your Head" and "Believe in Me" before concluding with the string-laden "Help Me Find My Way," where Schwartzman is over his head with melodrama as he pays tribute to his late father.

At least his heart was in the right place.

Rating: 3-1/2