[25 August 2009]
When a soundtrack is done right, the music becomes more than just something in the background; it becomes a key piece of storytelling. The tunes selected to appear in a feature do more than just hum along behind the main characters. Instead, the musical pieces emote and connect with the characters, the location, and the story, and in a sense take on purpose as an actual character.
Some of the most recent examples of superior soundtracks that become vital elements to plot, character, and location include Marie Anoinette, to which the titular queen had her carnal desire projected through bright and shiny chords ringing from the opening explosion of Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy”. The soundtrack for Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited may have had some obvious choices—such as using traditional Indian music to display the sense of, well, India—but some others that weren’t so apparent. What other band would be more suitable to be used in a film about a dysfunctional set of brothers than the Kinks? Despite what Will Oldham may say, Anderson’s soundtracks (like Coppola’s) are composed of songs that are deeply engrained in the characters of each story.
Then you have television show soundtracks, which have become perhaps the easiest way to display would be credibility and hipness through various volumes of indie bands playing three-and-a-half-minute songs. Scrubs and The O.C. may be the worst offenders of casually selecting something that appears “indie” in order to gain a bit of “credibility”. Interestingly enough, three volumes of Weeds soundtracks follow a similar formula, except each album finds a new artist’s take on the opening theme song.
However, the True Blood soundtrack is a bit of a different beast. It still aims for the indie-ness of the previous mentioned shows, but also has a keen eye on using music that reflects the swampy landscapes. In that sense, the soundtrack is more akin to something like the soundtrack to one of Anderson’s or Coppola’s films: not mainstream, yet not inaccessible, and with enough tunes that are from the location where the story takes place. If the effect isn’t as marvelous or inspiring as the soundtracks from Wes Anderson or Sofia Coppola’s films, True Blood’s soundtrack still stands on its own merits as a strong and sturdy collection of songs that do more than just linger in the background.
Several of the songs sound like something recently drug out from the swamp: the most obvious, Lucinda Williams’ “Lake Charles”. The singer’s mile-thick Louisiana accent is impossible to ignore, and her story about a man who feels he belongs somewhere else seems to complement the story of a hundred-year-plus vampire. Jace Everett’s “Bad Things” grinds like a thick slice of white-boy blues with a menacing and lustful vocal delivery that probably sounds like a hungry vampire would.
Other blatant tunes include Slim Harpo’s “Strange Love”, Dr. John’s “I Don’t Want To Know”, the Legendary Shack Shakers’ “Swampblood”, and CC Adcock and Layfayette Marquis’ “Bleed 3 Feed”. The last two reveal their usefulness in their titles, while the former two do so through production value and vocal delivery.
While half of the album is based deep in blues-inspired tunes, the rest tends to venture off into alternative country’s vast landscape. Ryan Adam’s “Two” features a lovely harmony from Sheryl Crow, and one can almost see the season finale utilizing the understated delivery from the song. “Christine’s Tune” is almost as flat-out hilarious (and campy) as Bill’s opening scene in the show. The soundtrack ends with Little Big Town’s “Bones” (which sounds a lot like Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”), and that is fitting, considering the background of the main vampire.
Two cover songs do make the cut. The Watson Twins (famous for singing with Jenny Lewis on her first solo outing) turn the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” into a mournful dirge that fairs much better than the by-the-numbers cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire” from Cobra Verde.
While the soundtrack to True Blood may not be perfect, it’s still a fine collection of songs that do more than just make noise. While some of the choices may be too obvious, not one song is wasted, nor does it feel like a song was selected just because it had a certain air of coolness. Instead, the soundtrack feels like Louisiana, with occasional tunes giving a musical background of the main characters. Here’s hoping we get something from Tom Waits’ murky catalogue next go ‘round.