Surround Sound: The Big Bang, Part 5

Nine new soundtracks to discuss, including combo collections from No Strings Attached, Beastly, and The Lincoln Lawyer...

When you consider the inherent novelty of releasing soundtracks in 2011, in a media world inundated with options and audio alternatives, doubling up on the strategy seems almost surreal. After all, are there really aficionados out their clamoring for both the wordless score and the selection of pop/rock songs that make up the average movie's mixtape? It's an intriguing question, one made even more interesting by the selections presented in this fifth week of our continuing Surround Sound overview. Setting a record of sorts, we are going to delve into nine different offerings, three of which represent the very sonic yin and yang we were referencing a moment ago. Clearly, in at least one case, the desire is to tap into a teen marketplace marred by such limited talent chart toppers. But in at least one instance, the combination of composer and contemporary acts works. Elsewhere, we see the same old single disc depictions of the aural emotions behind the movies.

So, in week five, we will look at an (pointless) update of a timeless fairy tale, a legal thriller, a supposed comedy, a crime drama, a sci-fi spectacle, and a super hero spoof. Oddly enough, some of the combos are more winning that the solo shout-outs:

Beastly: Songs from the Motion Picture/Music by Marcelo Zarvos [rating: 5]

There is a real divide between the fey pop song longings of the soundtrack and the otherwise nominal but effective score by Marcelo Zarvos. The composer can, on occasional, go a little overboard (the weird bombast of "Jujyfruits", the childish chug-chug of "Building the Greenhouse") but other selections like the piano-based "The Poem" and slyly effective "Hunter Rescues Lindy" make the overall approach work. The reliance on Bizet's Carmen for some of the signature themes (intentional or unintentional) can be a bit irritating, however. On the other hand, the shoe-gazing selection of songs is so twee and trembling that it threatens to implode on its own preciousness. Opening track "On the Radio" is a perfect example of this kind of wistful whine. Things do turn upbeat - if not better - with tracks like The Vine's "Get Free" and Raney Shockne's "Boys and Girls", while Army Navy's "The Long Goodbye" is as close as this collection comes to anything anthemic.

The Lincoln Lawyer: Original Motion Picture Score/ Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 7]

Take about your diametrically opposed ideals. For the soundtrack portion of this pairing, we get an odds/sods assortment of blues, hip hop, and R&B, terrific tracks like "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City" by Bobby "Blue" Bland, "Don't Sweat the Technique" by Erik B. and Rakim, and "Moment of Truth" by Gang Starr. The result is like a contemporary block party where a bit of old school swagger is thrown in for good measure. As for the score, Cliff Martinez (whose known for this work with Steven Soderbergh on such films as Traffic and sex, lies, and videotape) mimics much of the mid '80s electronica design, adding dashes of Harold Faltermeyer and James Horner to the mix. Selections like "Looks a Little Short to Me", "I Can Kick Your Ass", and "About Those Razors" are rather retro with a slightly modern edge. Elsewhere, the ambient style of "Woodsman" and "I Got This" add a nice under-layer of lushness.

No Strings Attached: Music from the Motion Picture/Score from the Motion Picture [rating: 7]

In the last of our prearranged pairings, Ivan Reitman's attempted return for comedy form finds gold in the most unusual of places. First up, John Debney's poppy/rocky/quasi-quietLOUD compositions keep one on their toes, selections like "Golf Date", "You Wanna Do This?" and "Don't Listen to Me" coming across with expert appeal. Similarly, "Hailing a Cab" and "Drive to the Biltmore" mix the symphonic with the contemporary in engaging, elegant ways. As for the various tracks listed as part of the soundtrack, we get such classic sonic cheese as "I Wanna Sex You Up" by Color Me Badd, "Bossa Nova Baby" from Elvis Presley and D'Angelo's "Untitled (How Does It Feel)". Counterbalancing the aural approach are oddities like Hugo's cover of Jay-Z's seminal "99 Problems", Leona Lewis' Pink-ish "Bleeding Love", and Little Red's "Rock It." Together, they provide a genial, jovial backdrop to something that critics agreed was lightweight if likeable.

Brotherhood: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 6]

After years of working in television (Rubicon, Say Yes to the Dress), composer Dan Marocco delivers an interesting score to this low budget crime thriller. While falling into some of the traps contemporary writers make (the overuse of percussive elements, the constant drone of a synth in the background), the actual musical beats here are quite interesting. We enjoy the calm before the storm approach of "$19.10", the sinister appeal of "Roslyn" and the slow, subtle "Lights Out." Then some musical guests step in and shake things up a bit - and not always in a good way. Taxi Taxi's "+1" is intriguing in its sonic boom blasts of noise, while People in Plane's "Moths" sounds like someone ran over the entire emo movement with a copy of Franz Ferdinand's latest. Only Aushua's "Sister Saves" sounds right here, the ethereal moan of the guitar matching the high tension aspects of the track perfectly. Luckily, Marocco returns intermittently, reminding us of how to make this all gel.

Source Code: Music by Chris Bacon [rating: 6]

For his follow-up to the indie cult hit Moon, David Bowie's son Duncan Jones is going high concept, if not necessarily more high tech. This time travel thriller bears more than a fleeting resemblance to past efforts like 12 Monkeys and Deja Vu with splashes of Unbreakable thrown in for oddity, but we have to give the fledgling filmmaker some leeway. He's already proven he can handle such speculative material. The score by Chris Bacon doesn't inspire a lot of confidence, however. The opening theme sounds like a Lost in Space retread (Irwin Allen would be so proud) while, elsewhere, selections like "You Don't Know Me" and "Racial Profiling" are a tad underwhelming. Things do pick up later on, tracks like "Am I Dead?" and "Frozen Moment" finding the proper combination of emotion and the ethereal to get us in the mood. Overall, the score is stylized if a tad stilted, specializing in the kind of scattered piece-mealing that many musical backdrops utilize - and suffer from - in today's Hollywood.

Super:Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 8]

Currently making the rounds at festivals throughout the world (and earning excellent reviews in the process), James Gunn's take on the comic book hero movie has one of the best soundtracks of any contemporary music mixtape approach. Beginning with Tsar's sensational "Calling All Destroyers" and moving through minor masterworks like Eric Carmen's "It Hurts Too Much" and Moneybrother's Clash-like "God Knows My Name '11" , it's just one terrific track after another. Along the way, composer Tyler Bates does his best Pray for Rain impression, adding tiny tone poems like "The Prayer" and "LIbby Goes Down" to the proceedings. Still, it's songs like "Nobody Knows Anymore" by Terra Naomi and the Standell's cover "Sometimes, Good Guys Don't Wear White" by The Nomads that leave a lasting impression. If the movie is half as good as this clever compilation, we're in for some fun this spring.

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