Home > Reviews > TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE – Harry Gregson-Williams, Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman

TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE – Harry Gregson-Williams, Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman

October 15, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

teamamericaOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

In this post-9/11 world, where the threat of global terrorism looms overhead, where the fate of the people of Iraq hangs in the balance, and where political correctness in relation to sensitive subjects has reached fever pitch, thank God that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are around to bring everything back into perspective. The irreverent duo, who inject more intelligent humor into a single episode of South Park than most comedies can manage in a decade, have turned their satirical attention to the world of the American action movies and George W. Bush’s foreign policy with Team America: World Police.

By using marionettes instead of live actors, Parker and Stone have made Team America into the film many people hoped this year’s live-action Thunderbirds would have been – disregarding this film’s slightly warped sense of humor. Essentially a piss-take of the Jerry Bruckheimer style of film-making, Team America features a band of international heroes who, following a devastating terrorist attack on Paris in which the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are destroyed, hire a Broadway actor named Gary as their new head. Their mission: to infiltrate the terrorist cell and destroy it from within, thereby saving the world from the threat of mass destruction. Not everything goes to plan, however, as jealousy, rivalry, romance and North Korean dictators rear their ugly heads… I’m not sure that this is quite what Gerry and Sylvia Anderson had in mind when they created this kind of animation back in England in the 1960s, but you have to admit, when it’s done right, it’s cool.

The seven original songs on the CD, written by Parker and Stone in collaboration with composer Marc Shaiman are nothing short of genius. No-one is safe. Diane Warren gets the South Park treatment in “Only A Woman”, which rips her overly-serious Armageddon ballad “Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” to shreds. Country stars such as Alan Jackson and Toby Keith feel the bite in “Freedom Isn’t Free”, a deliciously twisted look at a particular mindset which manages to lampoon their vocal delivery, their politics, and their unexpected hit songs “Where Were You” and “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” at the same time. “The End of an Act” takes pot-shots at both 80s macho posturing and Michael Bay, re-creating the stylized sound of Berlin from Top Gun while proclaiming the film-makers utter disdain for the movie Pearl Harbor.

The highly stylized “Montage” examines the often-used technique of setting slow-motion silent footage to a song, with hilarious results (for some reason, this song makes me think of Bruce Hornsby and the Range from Backdraft…); “I’m So Ronery” unexpectedly highlights the vocal talents of North Korean president Kim Jong Il, lamenting that no-one understands the thinking behind his dictatorial decrees; the best, however, is undoubtedly “America, Fuck Yeah!”, an over-the-top, jingoistic, unashamedly profane celebration of the good old US-of-A set to a driving rock beat. McDonalds, Wal-Mart, the Gap, baseball, NFL, rock ‘n’ roll, the internet, slavery, Starbucks, Disneyworld, porno, valium, Reeboks, fake tits, sushi, Taco Bell, rodeos, Bed Bath & Beyond, liberty, waxed lips, the Alamo, Band-Aids, Las Vegas, Christmas, immigrants, Popeye, Democrats, Republicans, sportsmanship, books… the cornerstones on which American society is built!

What’s amazing about them is that, ignoring the hilariously inappropriate lyrics, each song is musically exceptional. Had they been written for a “straight” film and had lyrics which did not mercilessly lampoon themselves, they could easily become hit records in their own right. I hope – no, expect – at least one of Shaiman and Parker’s songs to follow in the footsteps of “Blame Canada” and pick up a Best Song Oscar nomination (although I’m not sure how the Academy would respond to the repeated use of the phrase “Fuck Yeah!” as a way of celebrating musical excellence).

And then, almost as an afterthought, we have Harry Gregson-Williams’s superb original score. Brought in at the very last minute to replace Shaiman (whose original score, for one reason or another didn’t fit with Parker and Stone’s vision), Gregson-Williams was asked to make fun of the organization which gave him his start in film music, and which perpetuates this kind of jingoistic nonsense with a straight face: namely, Media Ventures. Amazingly, Gregson-Williams has managed to craft a perfectly-judged send up of the sound in an incredibly short space of time, and with such taste and compositional intelligence that it still manages to be a great score in its own right.

Gregson-Williams’s score is full of massive patriotic anthems, bold male voice choirs, energetic action cues, sweeping string themes, dense synthesizers, all of which is intentionally written in the same vein as Crimson Tide, Armageddon, The Peacemaker and a dozen others. “Terrorize This” features at least three magnificent melodies (heroic and romantic) which, in other circumstances, could have happily accompanied a straight action movie: only in the context of the Team America juxtaposition does their comedic potential emerge.

“Derka Derk” (the only remaining score contribution of Shaiman’s original effort) cleverly makes musical parallels with the Star Wars cantina band music, subconsciously comparing people from the middle-east to aliens, and highlighting the false preconceptions many Americans have of foreign cultures. Similarly, the “North Korean Melody” messes with familiar Oriental musical clichés, laying a humorous, unintelligible vocal track on top of a stereotypical melody. Who said funny music had to be stupid?

If that were not enough, “Do You Know” features some of Heitor Pereira’s expressive acoustic guitar playing in a lush format, building up to a superb full-orchestral finale; “Thanks…” reworks the patented heroic anthem to great effect, with the added bonus of noble percussion and a cooing choir; “The Pussybert Address” brilliantly returns to Trevor Rabin’s rock-style orchestrations and cranks up the Zimmeresque wall of sound to massive proportions; the superb 10-minute finale “Any Other Line”, which touches base with The Rock, Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down and The Last Samurai along the way, brings all the elements together into one all-encompassing celebration of the things which made Media Ventures great in the early 1990s, and which have ironically made them the butt of so much scorn in recent years. Way back then, when the sound was still fresh, this kind of music created a generation of film score fans. In 2004, Team America reminds you of how you felt the first time you heard it.

Although it is unlikely to win any awards, Team America: World Police represents satirical film-making and film-scoring at its very best. If you can withstand the verbal onslaught of swearing in the songs, and the intentionally politically-incorrect standpoint the album takes, Team America is far and away one of the most satisfying albums of 2004 – musically, intellectually, and in terms of good old-fashioned fun.

Rating: ****½

Track Listing:

  • Everyone Has AIDS (written by Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman, performed by Trey Parker) (1:16)
  • Freedom Isn’t Free (written and performed by Trey Parker) (2:37)
  • America, Fuck Yeah! (written and performed by Trey Parker) (2:07)
  • Derka Derka (Terrorist Theme) (0:48)
  • Only A Woman (written and performed by Trey Parker) (2:56)
  • I’m So Ronery (written and performed by Trey Parker) (1:58)
  • America, Fuck Yeah! (Bummer Remix) (written and performed by Trey Parker) (0:56)
  • The End of an Act (written and performed by Trey Parker) (2:21)
  • Montage (written and performed by Trey Parker) (2:03)
  • North Korean Melody (1:45)
  • Terrorize This (5:33)
  • Do You Know (6:15)
  • Thanks… (2:36)
  • The Pussybert Address (3:14)
  • Any Other Line (10:56)

Running Time: 47 minutes 29 seconds

Atlantic Records 83759-2 (2004)

Music composed by Harry Gregson-Williams. Conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams and Pete Anthony. Additional music by Marc Shaiman, Damon Kaiser, Stephen Barton, Toby Chu and James McKee Smith. Featured musical soloists Heitor Pereira and Martin Tillmann. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson. Edited by Nic Ratner, Richard Whitfield, Joseph Lisanti and Stephanie Lowry. Album produced by Harry Gregson-Williams, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Marc Shaiman and George Drakoulias.

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