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'Empire: Original Soundtrack' review: Music isn't the focus

The soundtrack from Season 1 of

The soundtrack from Season 1 of "Empire." Credit: AP / Columbia Records

The problem with "Empire: Original Soundtrack from Season 1" (20th Century Fox/ Columbia) is one most soundtracks have: The focus isn't on the music.

These songs generally have to drive story lines, not album sales, so they may be great in the show, but not as good without all the visual drama for support. It's an issue Jennifer Hudson, who appears on two decent songs here, has dealt with before on the failed musical series "Smash," something that becomes very clear when "Whatever Makes You Happy" suddenly devolves into "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands."

Courtney Love's "Walk Out on Me" is delivered more as the show's on-the-mend character Elle Dallas than herself, which would be fine if the song itself were up to the high standards of her own material.

Yes, "Empire" was an unknown quantity when producers were looking for music for the show, meaning they weren't really landing the cream of the R&B crop. Given its Lee Daniels connection, "Empire" was able to corral plenty of talent, but they're working off of second-rate Timbaland tracks for the most part, aided mainly by Timbaland protégé Jim Beamz.

"Good Enough" will sound like a Justin Timberlake castoff, no matter how good Jussie Smollett is on it. "No Apologies" kinda sounds like a "Saturday Night Live" skit with Yazz pretending to be Kanye West. And even when Mary J. Blige steps in -- with a team including The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, no less -- it still comes up short.

"Shake Down," Blige's duet with Terrence Howard, is hard to take seriously, rhyming "existence" with "persistent" and featuring a chorus of "I'm robbing you for your love." Lord.

The only song that really works on the "Empire" soundtrack is one that existed before the show, Estelle's "Conqueror," reworked here as a sleek duet with Smollett that even outpaces the original.

That said, you know the show will be overflowing with great song submissions for Season Two. Nothing succeeds like success.

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THE GRADE C+

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