1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear: Cats


1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear
#56: Cats – Highlights From The Motion Picture Soundtrack (2019)

MATT KELLY eviscerates the innards and pukes up the entrails of the mewling disaster that was the 2019 take on Cats.

Losing over 100 million dollars for Universal and receiving one of the most brutally savage critical dogpiles I’ve seen in my entire life, the 2019 cinematic adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beloved musical is already a legendary Hollywood trainwreck. But most of the criticism had to do with its lack of story and nightmarish visuals – surely without those problems, the soundtrack on its own isn’t that bad?

Well, the first sign of trouble is that this is a cut-down “highlights” disc which leaves out lots of musical numbers from the film – a planned double disc of the whole enchilada was canned when they realized how it was going to be received.

Before the kicking commences I want to say one thing – I’m not even much of a Taylor Swift fan, but her performance of original song ‘Beautiful Ghosts’ is easily the best thing here, a haunting melody beautifully sung that didn’t deserve to be buried under this mountain of dogshit. Sorry, catshit.

Prior to hitting ‘play’ on this, I imagined what horrors they would perpetrate upon Webber’s original work to modernize it. Trap beats? Glitchy hyperpop flourishes? Perhaps Cardi B would swing by during a scene where the cats get rained on for a very special performance of WAP? But when the recording begins with ‘Overture’, one hears the *exact* same Prophet 5 synthesizer tones of the 1983 version.

In general, the music has barely been changed at all, but that calls into question why this exists – if it wasn’t going to be revised or revamped, what’s the point? This also gives the musical a very old-fashioned, out-of-touch vibe, underlined by the decision not to update the lyrics. “Don’t mess with the classics” you might say, but most of these lines come from TS Elliott’s 1939 Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats and numbers like ‘Bustopher Jones’ are full of references even granny will struggle to get these days.

Speaking of ‘Bustopher Jones’, even without the insufferable hahahaha-it-is-funny-because-he-is-fat “comedy” performance he gives the film, James Corden’s supernaturally unfunny delivery of the song will drive anyone around the bend. And he’s not even the worst thing here.

Rebel Wilson disgraces herself with a shoot-me-now turn on ‘The Old Gumbie Cat’, and Danny Collins’ tuneless I’m-a-Cockney-geezer-innit appearance as Mungojerry will have you digging out your eardrums with a screwdriver. The poor vocals are shocking – with all the money and gloss thrown at the project, you think polished singing would at least be achievable.

Somehow we ended up with Laurie Davidson absolutely *ruining* ‘Mr Mistoffelees’ with a lifeless, timid performance that turns what should be a fun and upbeat number into a crawling dirge. Even Jennifer Hudson, who certainly has a voice, comes a cropper with an oversung, hilariously over-dramatic take on ‘Memory’.

Dreadful as this is I actually recommend you see the film – your brain will never forgive you but as What The Fuck Were They Thinking: The Motion Picture, it’s an amazing experience. When it comes to soundtracks though, this one goes in the litterbox.


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Matthew Kelly is the most important person in the music industry – the type of obsessive nerd without whom it would have no reason to produce box sets and nine-hour long documentaries.

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