Friday, May 12, 2006

Reviews of Soundtracks I Own: Letter S.

Today’s letter! S! Sexy S! And there’s a whole lot of them to review…

- Schindler’s List
- Scrubs (Season 4)
- Serenity
- Shaun of the Dead
- The Shawshank Redemption
- Shrek
- Shrek II
- Sin City
- Spanglish
- Spirited Away
- Stand By Me
- Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Um, looking at some of them, I know what you’re thinking. But before you hasten to judge, you must bear in mind that I was given a lot of these. My grades are A-, B, C, C, A, B+, A, C, B-, B+, A- and D-. Also have The Simpsons, Syriana and a couple of others lurking around somewhere, but I haven’t yet uploaded them to my MP3 player, thus, and I cannot be arsed to move.

Schindler’s List (John Williams)
The heart-rending playing of Izthak Perlman is the main draw of this masterfully orchestrated score, which accompanies each of the images of the film perfectly, right from that very first introduction to the man himself. I had the pleasure of learning the Theme for my grade 7 violin C-piece, so I think I’ll ramble on about it. I think the form is binary, though I’ll have to check up on that, and the A part is the playing of the theme in its original low octave, appropriately accompanied with those rare chiming of harp and clarinet. The second part starts a little faster, then modulates to the first section, except two octaves higher. When I first started it, I was terrible, because you have to go into about 7th position on the violin, and after a while, it really hurts. Not that you’d be able to tell with Perlman’s rendition, where the playing in the second half matches, if not betters the beauty of the first. A truly talented musician, and it stings to think that he wastes his talent playing the violin to crap like Memoirs of a Geisha.
Best tunes: Theme from Schindler’s List, Remembrances, Midnight Show.

Scrubs – Season 4 (various)
Zach Braff, star of medical comedy Scrubs handpicked the songs for his directorial debut, Garden State, and I’m inclined to think he was influenced by some of the music from his own TV show, as Blue Eyes from the Cary Brothers features on both OSTs. However, that is where the similarities end, because the wide range of songs here totally define eclectic. From Hawsley Workman, Mozart, Robert Palmer and Jets to Rimsy-Korsikov, there is a different song for just about any mood. Of course, the trouble with having such a wide variety is that sometimes the general gist of the music can get lost in the hubbub, but overall, indulge in the randomness.
Best tunes: Something, Today

Serenity (David Newman)
Meh. Not a fan of the film, nor am I of the score, there are moments of intensity that strike the occasional chord and its appropriately atmospheric, but unless you’re missing Star Trek, I’d say bin it. Or, play it and the Crash score at the same time, and you’ve just made yourself an aquarium.

Shaun of the Dead (various)
Though the soundtrack sounded beyond sublime on the film, to sit down to, some of the tracks get a little tired and the audio tracks are nothing short of grating without the images to go with. The collection of classic rock songs are not to be faulted, of course, especially the lovely Queen’s You’re My Best Friend. The rest is a little samey, but the Zombi dub with Simon Pegg and that fat man is quite amusing.
Best tracks: You’re My Best Friend

The Shawshank Redemption (Thomas Newman)
So good, it’s been pinched for the Brokeback Mountain trailer, Thomas Newman’s score to Shaw ranks as one of his best works. Like a magician, he deftly captures the essence of prison life in his score, from the foreboding (New Fish, delicate chords exuding uncertainty), the quietly triumphant (drawn-out strings moderating to an upbeat pizz, a highlight of Finding Nemo), and the utterly devastating (Andy’s sadness and fear are flawlessly composed in An Inch of His Life, where almost a minute is sound effects, [an effect echoed in Mental Boy from American Beauty]. Newman exhibits his ableness with all the instruments, though, mind, as everything comes together majestically in the final End Titles, giving the film the sense of triumph, with the woodwind singing neatly in the background as the violins sing Andy and Red’s joy. But the highlight for me are the triumphant fiddles in And that Right Soon, a piece as fantastic as the scene it accompanies, dancing with Andy's glee. This film is my favourite of all time, and it has so rightly been given the music it deserves.
Best tracks: And that Right Soon, End Titles, So Was Red, Stoic Theme

Shrek (various)
It was one of the most successful children’s films of all time, but adults found something to love in it too. I’m sure at least some of this was down to the soundtrack, which feature a collection of pop records that would normally seem dated, but are suddenly cooler having appeared in this film. At times the youth of the film may be a little too clear, through the songs Bad Reputation and Like Wow!, which practically scream youth and immaturity, whilst Eddie Murphy’s I’m A Believer is amusing, if a tad silly. Nonetheless, Dana Glover, Eels and particularly My Rufie bring the edge of emotional force needed to elevate this above generic Dreamworks stuff. Indeed, Rufus Wainwright’s soulful rendition of Hallelujah is one of my favourite songs of all time, absolutely shattering in its sadness, soul and an impassioned, unfightable desperation. Hot damn.
Best tracks: Hallelujah, My Beloved Monster

Shrek II (various)
Whilst not equally its prequel in terms of quality, the soundtrack is even better. Opening with the Oscar-nominated, Summer song of the year, Counting Crows deliver Accidentally In Love, a fun, sweet and catchy and effortlessly feel-good. None of the sad songs equal Wainwright, though Eels try with I Need Some Sleep, an oddity that begins like a lullaby but harbours some grown-up themes in its lyrics. Lipps Inc’s uber-catchy Funky Town is great fun, Tom Waits’ husky vocals shine on Little Drops of Poison, a track that is freaky and captivating in equal turn. The downside of this package is actually Jennifer Saunders’s wailings, as I’m never one for actors’ voices featuring on soundtracks, but that little glitch aside, this is one of the most fun, listenable soundtracks I own, with a new delight every time you listen to it. My latest discovery was Frou Frou on Holding on For a Hero. Priceless.
Best tracks: Accidentally in Love, Changes, Little Drops of Poison

Sin City (Robert Rodriguez, Graeme Revell and John Debney)
So hurried was the post-production of Rodriguez’s film, he had to call on three composers just to get it scored in time, a different guy for a different segment. John Debney, the most accomplished of the three, does the best work, as his tunes ring a persuasive, sexy jazziness, not different to that in The Incredibles, though to be fair its all pretty mediocre as a sit-down listen. The theme is appropriately comic book, though.
Best tracks: Sin City Titles, Old Town

Spanglish (Hans Zimmer)
To hablar Spanglish is to say English and Spanish. Such a culture clash needs to come across in the music, and Zimmer hasn’t entirely convinced me with his efforts. Granted, it’s awfully nice to listen to, though the same recurring theme (Spanglish) gets a bit boring, and sometimes you can’t see where he’s going with the music. Yes, I’m talking about the 10-minute long piece The Beach, where violins and guitars alternate like there’s no tomorrow. As witness in the track Learning Spanglish, the guitarist is certainly capable one, and the accompanying strums/pizzs complement his playing, but, as I say, tell me the direction, and the grade will improve. Not a failure, just a bit odd.
Best tracks: Learning Spanglish, Spanglish

Spirited Away (Joe Hisaishi)
Practically every track echoes mystery and a gorgeous sense of adventure in Hisaishi’s score, showing that he’s scored again (ahem) with Miyazaki. The opening booms of No Face actually made me jump the first time I heard them, which is just a testament to the ambience of the piece, especially as, seconds later, it transforms into a rhytm-fuelled drum beat. In terms of instruments, there isn’t a whole lot of variety, but what’s on display – the drums, the cymbals, the tentative violins, they dance around each other delightfully. Hisaishi's score is a rich blend of broad orchestras and piano, melancholy pieces, I can hear hints of Japanese music amidst but the composition remains ever accessible. From excitement to fear to anger, it guides us through the emotions of the protagonists beautifully.
Best tracks: The Empty Restaurant, The Stink Spirit

Stand By Me (various)
Another Stephen King adaptation is given another excellent soundtrack, this time through a selection of well-known 50s rock classics, as well as some quiet, under heard masterpieces. At just over 23 minutes, it rates as one of the shortest soundtracks I own, but what is on show is simply excellent. Coasters sing the lively Yakety Yak and there are two lovely Del Vikings tunes, amongst the many others – Everyday and Get a Job are two other good songs, and Lollipop is fantastically catchy in its childishness. But the highlight of the soundtrack is Ben E King’s soulful vocals on Stand By Me. Listening to this is a timeless, exquisite experience, that only stands to remind you how amazing the film is.
Best tracks: Stand By Me, Lollipop, Come Go with Me

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (John Williams)
I’ve never been bowled over by the music in the Star Wars films, and that is probably because in listening to the music, I remember the mediocrity (at best) of the films. John Williams seems to feel it to, as he reverts to autopilot for most of the action sequences, a la booming crescendos at practically every climax and the clashing cymbals featuring so often that they would give anyone a headache. There is little originality. The Phantom Menace is pratically a mirror of previous Williams scores. The Droid Invasion is a blatant child of Belly of the Steel Beast from Indiana Jones and the use of high woodwind runs screams to Jurassic Park. Aficionados of the “films” will see this as a must own, but I wouldn’t waste your time or your money.
Best track: um...

The best of these soundtracks…
01. Hallelujah (Rufus Wainwright, Shrek)
02. And that Right Soon (Thomas Newman, The Shawshank Redemption)
03. Theme from Schindler’s List (John Williams, Schindler’s List)
04. Stand By Me (Ben E King, Stand By Me)
05. End Titles (Thomas Newman, The Shawshank Redemption)
06. You’re My Best Friend (Queen, Shaun of the Dead)
07. Accidentally in Love (Counting Crows, Shrek II)
08. So Was Red (Thomas Newman, The Shawshank Redemption)
09. Funky Town (Lipps Inc, Shrek II)
10. Little Drops of Poison (Tom Waits, Shrek)
11. I Need Some Sleep (Eels, Shrek II)
12. Blue Eyes (Cary Brothers, Scrubs)
13. Holding out for a Hero (Frou Frou, Shrek II)
14. Remembrances (John Williams, Schindler’s List)
15. Come Go With Me (The Del Vikings, Stand By Me)
16. The Empty Restaurant (Joe Hisaisi, Spirited Away)
17. You’re My Best Friend (Queen, Shaun of the Dead)
18. Stoic Theme (Thomas Newman, The Shawshank Redemption)
19. Spanglish (Hans Zimmer, Spanglish)
20. Sin City Titles (Robert Rodriguez, Sin City)


Emma said...
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Anonymous said...

Do you have the PMononoke score? Review it please!

MysticFist said...

Lol. Yeah, hi. You've changed the layout a bit, I like that. Now what can I say when you already said it all yourself?

Schindler's List's score is easily Williams' finest accomplishment. I simply cannot get all technical here as you do, but I can still tell how greatly the film's emotional resonance is enhanced by the score... plenty of sequences are almost entirely carried by music, and the film just wouldn't be the same without it. Is it just the score or the soundtrack you're evaluating, though? Because if one were to consider not just Williams' work for the film, but Spielberg's use of non-original music (Gardel's illustrious tango, amongst others) as well, this would have to be one of the very best compilations around.

But Stand By Me's glorious soundtrack is, on an entirely subjective level, probably my favourite of the bunch. It's brimming with nostalgia and it always makes me long for a time/life I've never even experienced. Listening to any of those tunes invariably reminds me of the film, which is in itself a sure testament to how well placed they were in it, having naturally become an integral part of the plot.

MysticFist said...

Ohh, by the way, you have "You're My Best Friend" twice in your list (#6 and #17, which is strange as I believe the list is meant to be in order), what's with that? You like it so much you needed to mention it more than once? Was it used twice in the same film? Or could it be a mistake? :O

Lisa said...

Wow, excellent reviews! And you were worried about getting an A* for English language! Lol, if you couldn't, who could?

Review Brief Encounter, if you can. I want to see why you like it so much

Clare Blackwell said...

OHMIGOD! OST to The Da Vinci Code is officially on the downloads! Get it! get it!

Helle said...

You really shouldn't have dropped French for GCSE. We watched Amelie today and nobody got it. You could have been there, yelling at them Lolz. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, practice makes perfect, I guess

Kate said...

I love your review to the Shrek Osts, mainly because you endorse Wainwright. He is great, isn't he? Have you heard the song Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk? Brilliant

TurkeyPhant said...

Getting a good job and going to a good university is overrated, especially if you're throwing away clear talent as shown here

Anonymous said...

Wow, that article sucked.

Jason said...

Wow, that article ruled.

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