NBC's musical-within-a-musical TV series Smash was often called "Glee for grown-ups," and while the comparison rang true in many ways, Smash made a name for itself with mostly original songs instead of borderline-kitschy versions of established hits. This was a brave move, but as The Music of Smash shows, it didn't always pay off. Having the cast members perform songs about their lives outside of Bombshell, the Marilyn Monroe musical that they're trying to get off the ground -- as well as songs from that show -- means double the opportunity for different kinds of songs. The results feel like a mishmash of Broadway and pop styles from over the decades: the songs about the cast, which largely focus on the hopes and dreams of rival Marilyn wannabes Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy (Megan Hilty), have a contemporary feel that ranges from earnest, Rent-like songs such as "Stand" and "Who You Are" to the Lady Gaga-esque dance-pop of "Touch Me" and Top 40 fodder "Brighter Than the Sun." This radio-friendly feel isn't a surprise, considering that Smash hired a slew of hitmakers like Ryan Tedder and Carrie Underwood to pen these songs. However, more than a few are pleasant but bland; it's telling that one of the standout moments is McPhee's version of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," which has become something of a modern standard. Bombshell's songs, which were written by Grammy and Tony Award-winning composer Marc Shaiman, are more memorable and allow the cast to have some fun and explore their own dreams as well as Marilyn's. "Let Me Be Your Star" swoons and soars like a Disney princess theme song, while the sentimentality that lingered around the more contemporary-sounding songs comes to the fore (in a good way) on "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." A Chicago-style brassiness dominates "The 20th Century Fox Mambo" and "Let's Be Bad," both of which sound the most like genuine show tunes. Fans who purchase this won't be disappointed, but The Music of Smash's varied styles and song quality often feel like the show is trying to have something for everyone -- but truly pleasing no one in the end.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares