20 Years On Shrek's Soundtrack Remains Faultless

20 Years On Shrek's Soundtrack Remains Faultless

Move over Scorsese, take a hike Tarantino – few can match this uplifting cinematic score…

Honestly, time flies.

It feels like yesterday – or maybe last week – that we first sat down to watch Shrek, the opening instalment in one of modern animation’s most lucrative franchises. Instantly iconic, it retains a huge influence on pop culture – scarcely a day goes by without Clash spotting a Shrek-related meme on social media.

Easily quotable – “the Muffin man!” – its mixture of snappy characterisation, wicked one liners, and superb physical comedy make for a flawless cinematic experience. 20 years on from its American cinematic release, Shrek hasn’t aged a single day.

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One area that helps Shrek outstrip its peers, however, is its nigh-on perfect soundtrack. Eschewing the grand, big name original scores that dominated Disney flicks in the 90s – think Elton John’s iconic song cycle for The Lion King – Shrek’s irreverent tone was set by its use of all-out pop bangers, recontextualizing golden oldies alongside some carefully chosen deep cuts to illustrate the shifting tones within the story itself.

The standout moments are almost so well known that we scarcely mention them without re-treading old ground. But think Joan Jett’s ‘Bad Reputation’ soundtracking a wicked fight scene, Eels’ depressive ode ‘My Beloved Monster’ given a literal translation, or even Rufus Wainwright’s truly gorgeous take on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ used to soundtrack fairy tale heartbreak (although it’s actually John Cale in the film itself).

Note: this is well before ‘Hallelujah’ became an X Factor inspired karaoke trope – back then, “the secret chord” was pretty much exactly that.

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At times, Shrek’s soundtrack taps into the unlimited joy only childhood can really possess. A Smash Mouth re-working of The Monkees’ delirious ‘I’m A Believer’ ends in a riotous Eddie Murphy vocal performance – “I! Bee-lieve!” – with the full cast making walk-on appearances. Truly, it’s the stuff of dreams.

Thankfully, the public agreed. At the turn of the Millennium compilation albums could still do big business, while sales of compact discs would regularly surge into the millions. Part of a golden crop of high profile film scores, Shrek’s sheer over-powering glee pushed it into the mainstream, the soundtrack album becoming a must-have for any long car journey – hell, most parents secretly (or not so secretly) enjoyed it, too.

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As a result, Shrek rocketed up the charts. In the US alone it sold 2.5 million copies in the first few years of release, becoming a bona fide phenomenon in its own right. The UK followed suit, with the soundtrack travelling the globe alongside the universal success of the film itself. Often, soundtrack albums become a means to milk the central brand a little further, alongside sticker books, say, or toys. The Shrek soundtrack occupied its own realm, though – an excuse to revisit the emotional dips and curves of the film, while investing in some of the sparkling songwriting used to illustrate its addictive storyline.

Looking back, the sheer variety of curveballs on the soundtrack are eye-opening. Would a modern high-profile animation truly pluck a song from Scottish evergreens The Proclaimers for a key scene? We doubt it, but Shrek did, helping to reignite the duo’s global profile in the process. That the Brothers Reid have since spent their royalties on Hibs tickets and progressive political causes is testimony both to their character and the lingering impact of the franchise itself.

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It’s an impact that wasn’t quite recognised at the time, however. Nominated for a BAFTA, it lost out to the rather more glitzy, if less straight-forwardly entertaining, score for Moulin Rouge. Nominated for a Grammy, it lost out to the admittedly great soundtrack album for O Brother Where Art Thou? – a record that spawned Mumford & Sons, however.

20 years to the day since Shrek first hit American cinemas, it feels only appropriate to anoint its soundtrack album as the era’s finest. Packed with optimism, laced with euphoria, it also finds time for the odd moment of heartbreak – but it all ends happily ever after.

Y’see, it’s like an onion…

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