Out There

Heroes & Villains: Music Inspired by The Powerpuff Girls
Various Artists
(Rhino Records)

Thanks to Craig McCracken, creator of The Powerpuff Girls, and Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh and Bob Casale, Heroes & Villains is less a soundtrack than another episode of The Cartoon Network's hit series. The disc begins with the show's theme song, and ends with another version of the song (performed by Bis, who also contribute another track on the disc, "Fight the Power.") All of the series regulars--including The Powerpuff Girls (Blossom, Bubbles, Buttercup) themselves, and evil monkey villain Mojo Jojo--show up between tracks, laying out the plot that's nudged along by the lyrics to each song. Everyone gets their own theme song ("Go Monkey Go," "Buttercup (I'm a Super Girl)," ""B.L.O.S.S.O.M.," "Bubbles," "Don't Look Down (Professor's Song)") and every band is perfect for whatever part it is supposed to play.

That said, it's not like you can't follow the action even if you're not a fan of the show: Mojo Jojo attacks the city of Townsville, the mayor calls in the girls, they bounce back to save the day after seemingly being defeated. Think Batman (the series, mind you) influenced by Japanimation rather than '60s Pop Art. The trick of a concept such as this is finding a cast that will play along while producing songs that you can sing along with, putting the show and the album ahead of themselves. And Mothersbaugh and Casale have rounded up a stellar lineup; the disc features contributions from The Apples in Stereo, Frank Black, and Shonen Knife, as well as Devo and Bis. The best part is, everyone delivers, from Optiganally Yours' wet-and-Weill "Walk & Chew Gum" to Black's "Pray for the Girls" (easily his best effort in years) to Cornelius' cut-and-paste "The Fight." Each track is as bright and lively as the cartoon that spawned it--which is saying quite a bit.

Not surprisingly, given the title's allusion to the Beach Boys, the disc belongs to the pet sounds of the Elephant 6 contingent: The Apples, The Bill Doss (also known as Olivia Tremor Control's Bill Doss), Dressy Bessy. The Apples' "Signal in the Sky (Let's Go)," with its rubber-band guitar and awkward drum beats, is either three decades overdue or 30 years ahead of its time, but it sticks in your head like water after getting out of a swimming pool. Doss, especially, is the winner , his piano-and-drum-machine "Friends Win" so tweely self-confident that even lyrics like "The gangrene gang is rotting...While the bogeyman's trying to turn Townsville into an ultimate permanent disco" don't sound so silly. At least, that's what I've been trying to tell myself when someone sees me singing along at red lights.

Zac Crain