Unlike that other recent blockbuster trilogy, the Shrek series has always made the music a more vital part of the storytelling. The subversion of the faerie tale is the theme, and the corresponding soundtracks find ways to do this trick as well. I personally found a lot of joy in hearing my then 5-year old niece hum along to Tom Waits, Nick Cave and singing her little heart out to The Buzzcock's "Ever Fallen In Love" (even if it was a watered-down Pete Yorn version,) from Shrek 2. That's some quality subversion.
This time, though, much like the movie, they play it safe. The only blips on the radar here are really The Ramones, and I guess the two songs from Eels, who, along with Eddie Murphy (as Donkey,) are the only artists who appear on all three soundtracks. Shrek, apparently, is at that phase in his life where he's settled down (he's about to be father, for goodness sakes,) and feels more comfortable tuning his radio to the classic rock station. So we get Snow White (SNL's Amy Poehler) singing Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" and when Fiona tries girl power on for size, it's set to Heart's "Barracuda," only covered by Fergie in a style one could only call 'Karoake.' It worked in Charlies Angels, so why shouldn't it work for Shrek's Angels?
Classic rock makes another odd appearance when Paul McCartney & Wings' "Live and Let Die" is played to back a funeral. Sure, death is in the title, but the song's strong association with James Bond makes for a confusing reference. Just prior, though, when the John Cleese-voiced Frog King croaks (insert chuckle here,) it's to composer Saint-Saens "Danse Macabre," which is the 'dance of death.' I'm tempted to call it's use subtle, but in the context of this film that's like saying "you look thin" to someone at a fat camp. Keeping with that metaphor, when Donkey (Murphy) sings Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" to Shrek (playing the reluctant father,) it's overtness is equal to the green ogre's girth.
Even the contemporary choices throwbacks to the classic artists here. Wolfmother's "Joker and the Thief" is very Led Zeppelin-y, while you could say that the songs from Trevor Horn and Damien Rice owe a lot to Harry Chapin, only perhaps more somber. Rice's "9 Crimes" is used in the film as the prerequisite third act ballad, letting us know that there's sadness - and a very special lesson of self-acceptance. I like who I am... just not so sure I like the soundtrack. Here's the tracks reassembled (approximately) as they appeared in the film.
Playlist: Rssmbld Sndtrck - Shrek the Third