Album Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Coming Out Of Their Shells

At the height of their popularity, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were everywhere -- on the big screen with the live-action movies, on the small screen with the classic cartoon series, on home video game consoles worldwide and on the colorful pages of comic books.  As kids growing up through the 80s and 90s, we just couldn't get enough of our "heroes in a half-shell," and it didn't take long for food conglomerates to get their eager hands in on the action.  Companies shoehorned the Turtles into their products any way they could, from the Ninja Turtles cereal (more or less Chex with Turtle-shaped marshmallows to turn the milk green) to Hostess's Ninja Turtle Pudding Pies (a sugary, puke-colored crust encasing a load of vanilla pudding) to Chef Boyardee's Turtle Pasta (which tasted like any other concoction released by the carb-loving cuisinier).  But all of these barely-edible creations paled in comparison to the plot devised by Pizza Hut in 1990.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Coming Out Of Their Shells was Pizza Hut's brainchild, a full-blown rock-'n-roll spectacle sponsored by the pie giant, giving them free reign to spread their logo all over stages from coast to coast.  The show debuted at Radio City Music Hall on August 17, 1990, to an audience of loyal Turtle-ites completely unaware of the atrociousness that was about to unfold before their naive little eyes.  The superficial plot of the program rivaled the corniness of any of the cartoon episodes' -- Shredder debuts the De-Harmonic Convergence Converter, a machine engineered to rid the world of music forever, and it's up to the boys in green (Leo plucking a one-string bass; Don fingering a keyboard; Ralph multi-tasking as drummer / saxophonist / singer; Mikey on guitar and lead vocals) to put a stop to the dastardly deeds of their adversaries utilizing some of the worst "power rock" since W.A.S.P. left its sting on the 80s hair metal genre.

The best thing about the Coming Out Of Their Shells album is that it saves the listener an hour of useless exposition featuring the terrible costumes and production errors from the live-action show, condensing ten of the event's tracks into a breezy 37-minute subterranean musical journey.  "Coming Out Of Our Shells" opens the record, a hushed acoustic tune sung by Raphael describing the Turtles' ascent into rock stardom.  He assures us that "singin' in the sewers is a wonderful sound," but perhaps not as wonderful as he claims, since this remains the only song AWOL from YouTube.  "Sing About It" expresses the opinion that, "whether you're happy or sad," through "good times or bad," you just gotta "sing, sing, sing about it."  Michelangelo steps up for "Tubin'", which brings a Beach Boys-esque twist to surfing below the city streets, in a swirling ocean of turd water, no doubt.  Splinter gets his chance to shine with "Skipping Stones" but just ends up sounding constipated, emitting a dreadful impersonation of Joe Elliott from Def Leppard.  "Pizza Power" stands as the album's best entry, an energetic ditty about the fearsome foursome's obsession with the "flying saucer food delight" first discovered by the Turtles while they were "growing up in a glass bowl with chameleons, lizards and tadpoles."  This one became the theme for most of the tour's advertisements and was also featured as the title song of the Turtles In Time arcade game.

Track 6, "Walk Straight", is a not-so-subtle anti-drug song, exclaiming that there's "no need to mutate."  Remember, kids, "when they ask you if you're joinin' in, just keep on walkin' and never begin."  The meaning behind "No Treaties" continues to puzzle, though, as 20 years later, I still don't understand what the hell Raphael is rapping about.  My only guess is that, in the case of the Turtles finally making Shredder bow his knee in defeat, they'd refuse to allow him to walk away peacefully.  Sort of an odd message to be sending to children -- if you come out the winner, kick the sucker while he's down.  "Cowabunga" maintains the hip-hop influence felt in "Walk Straight," Mike picking a strange time to introduce his brothers and their roles within the band so late in the album.  This is basically an extension of the segment of the cartoon theme song describing the unique personality traits of each Turtle.  Mikey reveals that he scribed the lyrics and Ralph wrote the music, so at least we know exactly who to blame for this fizzling mess.  "April Ballad" always gave me an opportunity to test out my fast-forward button (remember those?).  April is given an opportunity to exemplify her faith in the Turtles through the magic of song, but she's no Cyndi Lauper.  The final track, "Count On Us", plays as a companion piece to "April Ballad," book-ending this exhausting trek as the guys engage in their final confrontation with Shredder and his minions.

The Verdict: Coming Out Of Their Shells was an interesting concept, but in the end, the execution left much to be desired.  The element of overcoming insurmountable odds with the power of music was better displayed in the 1989 time-travel fantasy film Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, but that didn't stop the tour from becoming a financial success.  At least the producers of the album decided to exclude the show's two weakest songs from the record ("Follow Your Heart", sung by Michelangelo and Shredder's god-awful "I Hate Music").  Any way you slice it, Coming Out Of Their Shells is a forgettable entry in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise that deserves to be launched through a portal into Dimension X, never to be heard by the human race again.

Rating:  Out Of

View the entire Coming Out Of Their Shells show (if you dare)

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