The first "Austin Powers" soundtrack was, like the film, a joyous celebration of life in the past lane. With Mike Myers in the driver's seat, the 17-song joyride -- loaded with cuts from the actor's record collection -- featured vintage acts (the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66), offbeat power pop (the Wondermints, Edwyn Collins) and inspired '60s covers by contemporary indie acts (the Lightning Seeds doing the Turtles' "You Showed Me").
Myers appears to be nowhere near the "Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me" soundtrack. Most likely, the suits at Maverick saw a blockbuster in the making and hijacked the skimpy 12-song CD, populating it with platinum-selling acts performing covers or affecting a '60s front -- hardly groovy, baby! The disc opens with Madonna's "Beautiful Stranger," a pleasant if unmemorable attempt at re-creating the warm feel of '60s pop with loopy Doors-style organ riffs. Unfortunately, the rest of the instrumentation seems cold and clinical, like the bastard progeny of a sampler and a Macintosh computer. Madonna is genuine enough as she swings through another new genre, but she has trouble with unaffected romanticism. When she sings, "To know you is to love you," she sounds for all the world like she's singing "blow" instead of "know." Phil Spector is probably not amused.
R.E.M.'s version of Tommy James' excellent 1970 smash "Draggin' the Line" is another thing entirely. Like their semi-hit cover of the obscure Clique song "Superman," "Draggin'" is faithful to the original and shines. Lenny Kravitz, on the other hand, distorts his voice and sings over the melody of "American Woman," robbing the power of the Guess Who's classic rock standby. Scary Spice, aka Melanie G, sings like Eartha Kitt with throat cancer and absolutely murders Cameo's "Word Up." Unbelievably, not this or any other of these abominations is as awful as Scott Weiland and Big Blue Missile's version of one of the Zombies greatest songs, ruined by a constricted vocal suggesting that it's the "Time of the Season" for Metamucil. The version is so wrong that I'd bet money that the former Stone Temple Pilot heard the song for the first time when his lawyer dropped it on his manager's desk.
Sadly, Austin Powers' own group, the excellent Ming Tea (which also includes ex-Bangle Susanna Hoffs and popsmith Matthew Sweet), is absent. Dr. Evil, however, drops a hilarious rapped cover of Bill Withers' "Just the Two of Us." If Myers did have any remote influence on the soundtrack's compilation, he probably suggested the Flaming Lips, whose buoyant "Buggin'" captures the spirit of bubbly '60s stars like the Association without sounding the least bit revivalist. (OK, maybe the least bit, but that's it.) Doubtless Myers would also push for Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello, who grace the album with a gorgeous version of Bacharach's "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." Put on that track, turn off the lights and turn on the lava lamp, and you have the perfect setting for a shagadelic evening.