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Various Artists: Elton John And Tim Rice's Aida

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In the booklet for Aida, Tim Rice's introduction contains what sounds like a more honest sentiment than anything contained in his lyrics: "The Lion King was successful, so Disney asked us to write something else." That something else turned out to be an interpretation of Verdi's opera Aida, which made its stage debut last fall before reappearing recently in album form. At the height of his powers, it might have made sense for Elton John to make a musical, but he doesn't even write decent Elton John songs any more, much less songs worth interpreting by others. His questionable choice of collaborators throughout this project—Rice not the least of them—doesn't help. Sting and producers Sly & Robbie open the album with "Another Pyramid," and that works well enough, though you probably won't find yourself absentmindedly singing along to such lines as, "According to the Hawk God Horus / our most regal invalid / is not that much longer for us / Build another pyramid." Which points to another problem with the album: Unless you've seen John and Rice's Aida, you're likely to be lost, because nothing here explains what's going on. But given that the music is production-line lite-rock blech, and that the singers include Lenny Kravitz, The Spice Girls, and Shania Twain performing one hyper-inflated, sugary ballad after another, it doesn't matter much. Keeping in mind that this is apparently John and Rice's attempt to outdo Verdi, their Aida is either a beautifully sick, well-concealed joke or even more of a travesty than it first appears to be.