Singles Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Epic Soundtrax)
Various Artists

By Bob Bahr

Singles, a Cameron J. Crowe film about the Seattle music scene, was an opportunity for the soundtrack crafters at Epic to make the definitive portrait of the heralded "Seattle sound." Instead, a painting emerges of one very naked rock emperor.

Seattle, it turns out, is like any other major city. It's rock 'n' roll sprawls over several styles, moods and approaches. If any semblance of commonality is detectable on Singles, its a shared tendency to swing from hard rock to delicate ballads, both executed with an in-your-face urgency.

To be sure, there are no hip-hop, dance or reggae cuts on this recording, but few soundtracks range that far anyway. Singles is appropriately cohesive and mood-evoking, if not convincing as a defining album.

Yet we're asked to believe that Seattle is a city of rockers inspired by the heavy/ light formula of Led Zeppelin (whose spirit is summoned by a cover of "Battle of Evermore") and the distortion-bliss of the rainy city's own Jimi Hendrix (ratified by Hendrix's "May This Be Love" from his album "Are You Experienced?"). A city of Seattle's size is obviously much more, with music of all genres pulsing through the smokey clubs. This is the city that rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot hails from, you know.

As a magnification of the Green River legacy, the album is more successful. A legendary grunge band that begat Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone, who begat Pearl Jam, Green River was the start of all this Seattle sound fuss. While no Green River tracks are on Singles, Mudhoney's pleasingly punky "Overblown" is here, as well as Mother Love Bone's powerfully melodramatic "Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns."

Both sides of the Soundgarden coin are illustrated, one featuring the band's leaden, muddy-middled crunching in "Birth Ritual" and the other a showcase of vocalist Chris Connell's heavy acoustic tendencies (there's that LZ paradox again) on the endearing "Seasons." Pearl Jam reaffirms its organic retro status with the winning "Breath" and the losing "State of Love and Trust." If CCR and the Stones have the Black Crowes, then Led Zeppelin and the Dead Kennedys have Pearl lam.

Coming from left field (or close enough, the Midwest) is ex-Replacement Paul Westerberg, with two catchy pop tunes that don't fit but offer oasis-like respite from the fierce guitars. Why is Westerberg here? Probably to sell records, but the jerky, familiar sound of "Dyslexic Heart" and the confectionery chorus in "Waiting for Somebody" are good for giggles rather than grumbles. Of the 13 cuts, Westerberg's are the ones you'll walk around humming.

Perhaps most importantly, this soundtrack brings more attention to the deserving talents of Screaming Trees and Smashing Pumpkins. Circling viciously like sharks in the indie label pool while their brethren scale the charts, Screaming Trees and Smashing Pumpkins are two of Seattle' s brightest lights. Both bands love to use the full palette of texture that the electric guitar offers and both offer up energetic yet melodic songs that are fully a mile down the road from the poppy grunge of Nirvana. Smashing Pumpkins meandering, Hendrixian "Drown" is the perfect closer; Alice in Chains' slab of guitar rage "Would?" is an appropriate album opener.

Given the personalities represented here and the popularity of the scene, Singles is an impressively hip record. Seattle is right to be proud of their own; there are no dogs in this sample. But the ballyhooed groups (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and the absent Nirvana) have nothing on the more melodic and more interesting lesser luminaries on Singles: Smashing Pumpkins, Screaming Trees and their godfathers in Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney. Once again, substance has been passed over for the style. Happily, both are available on Singles.