21st Century Kids

21st Century Kids
21st Century Kids
Daniel J. Behr Productions

From Northfield comes another project that is, in some ways, stronger than Chaz's--and which, in other ways, does cross the line into offensiveness.

Of course, no one would take issue with the surface messages in the songs on 21st Century Kids. Who could condemn an album about kids all over the world "building community," recycling garbage, and engaging in other worthwhile pursuits? And if some of the lyrics contain lines--like "diversity is complimentary"--that sound like they were written by a fourteen-year-old, one can take comfort in knowing that they in fact were. Lead singer Ashley Behr wrote all the lyrics on this album, and she's backed up by the skillful arrangements of Roger Kubes, as well as an international cast of child singers. (Actually, they're billed as "multicultural," but what exactly that means on an album where one girl is the star and everybody else is backup, and somebody with the same last name as her is the producer, is hard to determine. )

To Behr's credit, the songs each have a distinct musical personality, and several of them are very catchy. "YaBut," a song about all the reasons people find to be unhappy, is especially charming. But whereas Chaz confined his mercantile message to printed matter in the CD tray, this recording actually contains two songs that directly advertise the company Web site--which is, apparently, an international chatline for kids. One of these songs is unbilled, sneaked in after the last track, and one of them, incredibly, begins with the Web site's URL as the first line of the lyric. This kind of cynicism is disheartening to begin with, but when it is linked with exploitation of parents' laudable instinct to expose their kids to worthwhile messages, and shored up by the parading of a junior wunderkind, it becomes something far worse than that.

Most unfortunate of all, perhaps, is the way that music has taken a backseat to message on both of these recordings. It turns what should be fun into something like Shredded Wheat--good for you, if you can choke it down. Good music and lyrics are edifying even in the absence of good messages, whereas extramusical agendas are more effectively prosecuted by interesting music than by inoffensive but unmemorable twaddle. Okay, Mom, I'll eat my Multi-Grain Fiber Flakes--but can I save room for some Shel Silverstein Pops?

Scott Robinson frequently reviews music for Minnesota Parent.

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