Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Opera's Diverse Soundtrack: The Magnolia Soundtrack Is A Decent Album!

The Good: A nice mix of Aimee Mann's songs and classics.
The Bad: Short, Thematically homogenous and depressing
The Basics: Ideal for those who want to be depressed or recall highlights of Magnolia without taking three hours, the Magnolia soundtrack delivers.

Magnolia remains, to date, my second favorite movie of all time (right behind Brazil). In effect, Magnolia (click here for my review!) acts as an opera, with various storylines paralleling each other through loss, forgiveness, and love. In the movie, the soundtrack is dominated by the voice of Aimee Mann and the Magnolia soundtrack is mostly her work.

Opening with Mann's cover of "One" (by Harry Nilsson, not U2), the soundtrack to Magnolia is credited by the movie's writer/director/executive producer P.T. Anderson in the liner notes as having originated the movie, an intriguing concept. The songs evolve into Mann's original works, "Momentum" and "Deathly" to the exceptionally recognizable - for those who have seen the film - "Wise Up" and "Save Me."

As my final reference to the movie, the Magnolia soundtrack perfectly encapsulates the themes and moods and memories of the film Magnolia. In fact, it's very hard to review this soundtrack separate from the film. When I hear "Momentum," I instantly envision Claudia Gator scrambling around her tiny apartment attempting to hide her cocaine. In the movie, "Momentum" is the song she is blasting on her stereo while Officer Jim waits outside her door. And it was initially disconcerting to hear "Wise Up" without the diversity of voices from the movie. It almost sounds less evolved when only Mann sings it. It is not the community pathos that it becomes in the film when all of the characters sing it together. And, of course, the first times I listened to "Save Me," I missed seeing Claudia's triumphant smile.

That said, the Magnolia Soundtrack is essentially an Aimee Mann album with two Supertramp songs, an orchestral track and Gabrielle's oft-overplayed "Dreams." It's amazing how well the two Supertramp songs fit in the Mann's works. "Goodbye Stranger" and "Logical Song" have the same sense of loss and longing that Mann's "Driving Sideways" and "Save Me" do. They work well together. Conversely, "Dreams" stands out as a kind of sticky pop song that is objectionable in its presence. The piece conveys no irony on its own. Instead, it feels like a mistake in being placed on the album.

Aimee Mann, for those who are not familiar with her work - which, to be fair and honest, I am not outside this collection - is a singer-songwriter who appears in her videos as a skeletal woman with piercing eyes. She has an amazing voice, she's a powerful soprano who articulates her lyrics clearly and with gravitas. She plays bass and/or guitar on various tracks on the album. She is an able musician and a skilled vocal performer. It is easy to hear why she would inspire other artists to make masterpieces in their own mediums.

But what stands out are Mann's lyrics. She, for example, originated the classic line "Now that I've met you / Would you object to / Never seeing each other again" ("Save Me"). That horrible sense of wrenching apart is articulated perfect through her lines. That makes for some of the album being difficult to actually listen to. Honestly, when was the last time on the radio you heard the delicious simplicity of the evaluation, "You look like / A perfect fit / For a girl in need / Of a tourniquet?" (Save Me). Mann has uncommon lyrics and there's not a terribly obvious rhyme on the whole album, which is a refreshing change to much of the other depressing music I've listened to lately.

But the truth is, much of the Magnolia soundtrack is depressing, miring itself in the complex emotions of loss, obsession, and letting go. She is singing about and to people who believe love is hopeless and/or cannot be retained or rediscovered. Her ultimate line says it perfectly, "Come on and save me / From the ranks / Of the freaks / Who suspect / They could never love anyone" ("Save Me").

How do you get out of bed after hearing her sing that in her haunting, declarative voice? Well, you have to put something else in.

A great album for getting or staying depressed, but wanting to do it with something intelligent and not dumb teen pop. The best track is the exceptional song "Wise Up," the weakest track is easily Gabrielle's one hit "Dreams."

For other soundtracks, please check out my reviews of:
Saturday Night Fever
The Heights
The Last Of The Mohicans


For other music reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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