The juxtaposition of instrumental music with actual songs seems almost antithetical to the movie soundtrack dynamic. After all, we view the score as something supporting the film, not focusing in on its themes (or lack thereof) or pimping particular sales lagging label mates. And yet over and over again, directors use individual tracks by known and unknown artists to amplify their own sense of aesthetic, while studios demand their placement for added marketing pizzazz. Of course, rare is the filmmaker who can successfully merge the sentiments of a specific song with the sequence it’s supposed to suggest. More times than not, the commercial tie-in is more viable that the proposed purpose. Luckily, some films use music as it’s meant to be – a celebration of life within a unique aural vista in which vision and sound are supposed to merge.
This time around, SE&L‘s Surround Sound looks at three soundtracks that really can’t make up their minds. One wants to celebrate the sexy soul sounds of old school R&B, but yet can’t shake the exterior elements that make the movie it stands for sadly significant. Another tries to walk the fine line between beatbox and breakneck, and almost succeeds. Finally, we get the weird combination of New Age mood music and slightly underdone indie pop. In all three cases, the parts work better than the sum, and if you don’t mind digging just a bit, you’ll probably find more gems than jokes. Let’s begin with the best, for obvious reasons:
Soul Men – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 7]
As a collection of classic tracks, Soul Men sizzles. There are excellent takes on such Stax staples as “Comfort Me”, “Private Number”, “Water”, and “Memphis Train”. We even get such memory lane myths as “You Don’t Know What You Mean (To a Lover Like Me)”, “I Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)” and “Never Can Say Goodbye”. But it’s the collaboration between Mac and Jackson that consistently stands out. Again, the voices sometimes strain to hit the notes, and there is a lack of pure professional polish that comes through, especially when placed side by side with someone like co-star Sharon Leal. Yet it’s the power of personality that wins over – that, and the undeniable perfection that is these old soul standards. Many may see this uneven comedy as an awkward swansong for two very talented me. But Mac and Hayes are the reasons Soul Men works, not the elements that bring it down.
The Guitar – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 6]
But there’s more – 30 tracks more. Written by David Mansfield, the moody, ambient tone poems produced to supply The Guitar with atmosphere seem to work, for the most part. “Walking” offers an intriguing introduction to this composer’s concepts, while “Thoughts of Suicide” and “First Flashback” (with its thunderous guitar swirls) broaden the potential canvas. “Shopping” sounds like an ad for a high end PC, while “Nice Dress” is a country-tinged trifle. Things stop about halfway through, oddly enough, for another tune, the lo-fi oddity “Hard Way”. From then on, it’s more amplified angst, carefully strummed psychobabble, and a far amount of sublime sonic invocation (“Leaving” being a prime example). While the verdict may be out on Ms. Redford as a director, her choice in aural accompaniment shows promise – and some problems. As a result, The Guitar soundtrack feels unfulfilled.
Nobel Son – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 6]
Unfortunately, this fellow CD space savers consistently let him down. The Bad Apples “Let Me Be Real” is so derivative of flaccid FM rock that it starts to sound dated the moment the lead singer opens his bemoaning craw. Spitfire’s tracks aren’t bad, but they too suffer from a sort of “been there, heard that” recognizability. Emjay and the Atari Babies do their best Sigue Sigue Sputnik meets T. Rex cock stomp with the interesting “So Clear”, while “Hum” from the Groove Armada starts out strong, and then never builds into anything. Only the Chemical Brothers contribute something special, their brilliant “Come Inside” suggesting all the reasons the band was once considered the “next big thing” in music’s ever-changing landscape. If a collection of songs can be indicative of the type of film they complement, the hit and miss redundancy of Nobel Son‘s soundtrack doesn’t bode well for director Miller’s motives.