Sunday, March 2, 2008

Soundtrack Sunday – "Garden State" (2004)

Usually, this is the day when I pull some long-forgotten soundtrack out of obscurity.

Or offer a new look at some film music that might have gone unappreciated at the time of its release.

Neither is the case here, of course.

Any hipster probably already has a copy of this excellent collection, which won a Grammy in 2005 for Best Compilation Soundtrack, landed on several critics' "best of" lists that year and was certified gold by the RIAA. Aping the work habits of Cameron Crowe and John Hughes, writer, star and director Zach Braff used music that he was listening to while writing the movie. He considered it as a kind of mix tape for the movie, rather than a soundtrack.

Here's why I want to talk about this album today: Because it is a perfect antidote to one of my pet peeves about movies and the soundtracks that come out of them.

How often do you come out of the movie, obsessing about all the cool songs in the film and vowing to go out and buy the soundtrack? Then when you go to the store, half of them aren't on the CD. I remember loving the main theme to one of my favorite films of all time, The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) and then not finding it on the soundtrack. For some strange reason, director Peter Weir hired Maurice Jarre to do the score – and then used Vangelis' "L'Enfant" as the main theme, which was only available on his Opera Sauvage (1979) album.

Or maybe it's just the opposite. The songs on the soundtrack almost have no relation to the movie. Maybe they were heard for a few seconds on the radio during a scene or they were (shudder) "inspired by" the movie. This seem to be a particular problem during the 80s where selling a hit-filled soundtrack seemed to be as important as getting people into the movie theater. Even Crowe and Hughes have been guilty of this at times. Admit it: Do you listen to the Pretty in Pink (1986) soundtrack and think about Molly Ringwald getting ready for her big date with Andrew McCarthy?

Probably not.

Which, happily, brings me back to Garden State. Reportedly, the movie's release was delayed so that Braff could get approval for all the songs he wanted in both the film and on the soundtrack. It was well worth the wait. Not only is the music excellent, but it just about defines the movie. Each song I hear evokes specific scenes because none of them are ever used perfunctorily. According to IMDB, an extraordinary 13 of 18 songs played in the movie are on the soundtrack CD. (One of those excluded was "Three Times a Lady," thank you very much). Truthfully, other than Alexi Murdoch's "Orange Sky" (which the producers couldn't secure for the album), I can't think of one song I remember from the movie missing from the soundtrack.

Braff's song selection is also quite excellent, making all kinds of cross-generational connections that even the best soundtracks fail to do. For the younger 20-somethings, this was probably the first time they heard a song from Simon and Garfunkel (The underrated "The Only Living Boy in New York") that wasn't on their parents' greatest hits collection, which they probably got sick of by the time they turned 12. You can also never go wrong with teaching unwashed hipsters about Nick Drake ("One Of These Things First") And it's great that Mr. "Down Under" Colin Hay was able to regain some well-deserved respect with the entirely acoustic "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You."

Play "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You" by Colin Hay

As for the older folks who had never heard of bands such as The Shins, the Cary Brothers or Remy Zero, this was a great way for them to start opening their ears to the 21st century. I know that I didn't start taking trip-hop seriously until I got totally entranced by the cuts from Frou Frou ("Let Go"), Thievery Corporation ("Lebanese Blonde") and Zero 7 ("In the Waiting Line").

Play "Lebanese Blonde" by Thievery Corporation

So there you have it. Yes, I didn't throw the spotlight on anything you hadn't heard before. But hopefully I've given you something to think about – and maybe even the powers-that-be in Hollywood who need to learn a little bit more about how soundtracks should be.

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