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The Powerpuff Girls: Heroes & Villains
Shonen Knife, Devo, Bis, and more get into the Powerpuff groove
The Powerpuff Girls: Heroes & Villains
Various Artists
Rhino Records
CDs based on cartoons can be divided into three categories: for kids, for adults, and that funky hybrid that works for both. The latter category, a rarity for the longest time, has only come into its own in the last ten years or so, with the advent of television cartoon programming designed to appeal to kids while playfully tweaking adult sensibilities. My favorite has long been the Animaniacs discs which, like the show itself, appeal to tykes for their form (anvil gags and cheery sing-along interludes) and grown-ups for their content (witty wordplay and sly subversiveness among even the educational lyrics).

The Powerpuff Girls TV show has that same generation-spanning appeal, with its bright, eye-popping visuals and knowing winks to superhero clichés and suburban angst. Which is fine, but can you make something hummable out of it? Unlike Animaniacs, The Powerpuff Girls has no original music, save for the basic drum & bass theme and the frighteningly cute end-credits song. Both of these frame the The Powerpuff Girls: Heroes & Villains CD, which leaves 11 tracks to be filled in as music inspired by the show itself, performed by a variety of artists.

In the liner notes, The Powerpuff Girls creator Craig McCracken says that these are the acts he listens to while coming up with ideas for the show; so in a way, Heroes & Villains is a feedback loop of inspiration. As can be expected from someone who can come up with a turbaned evil-genius monkey and a trio of criminal-wannabe amoebae, the lineup is a bit eclectic, with contributions from Devo, Shonen Knife, Frank Black, and Cornelius.

And wouldn't you know, it works. Devo's "Go Monkey Go" is a little shaky (Mark Mothersbaugh might be spending a little too much time on Rugrats) but how can anyone resist the Shonen Knife confection "Buttercup (I'm a Super Girl)"? Containing lyrics like "Kicking out a bad guy/Beating up a monster/Fighting against evil/I'll rescue this town" sung in their trademark Japanese-inflected, bruised English, you get the feeling Buttercup would listen to this on her Walkman while pummeling a giant alien squid or something.

This is the common thread through Heroes & Villains: while the disc follows a loose narrative (Mojo Jojo attacks Townsville; the girls respond), most of the tracks capture the essence of a character. So "Buttercup" is combative, Komeda's "B.L.O.S.S.O.M." concerns itself with doing right, and "Bubbles" is, well, bubble gum pop. Optiganally Yours's "Walk & Chew Gum," like the mayor, is a bit old-fashioned and kind of loopy. Bis's "Fight the Power" is kind of appropriate for Mojo Jojo, what with the cheerily-sung bits like "I'm your creator/And your enslaver/I can destroy you all," but I was kind of hoping for lyrics that used his particular brand of rambling dialogue. Too much to ask, I suppose.

Like most multi-artist compilations, there will be some songs that aren't your cup of tea--in my case, I really didn't care for Cornelius's "The Fight." But Heroes & Villains is certainly hummable. It's never as laugh-out-loud as some of the show's best moments, but it certainly has the same sense of fun. And hey, that's what it's all about.

A Critical Eye exclusive (September 11, 2000)