Sunday, November 6, 2011

Soundtrack From A Darker Past: Watchmen Soundtrack Is A Conceptually Brilliant Album!

The Good: Some truly great songs, Well mixed, Memorable independent of film
The Bad: Missing one song, One lame song
The Basics: Despite a lousy cover opening the album, Watchmen is an extraordinary musical experience that transcends its links to the film.

I had been bugging my wife for months about Watchmen, before it was released. By the time it was released, I had probably bugged my (then) fiance so much that there was some doubt which part of the trip we were on I was enjoying more; spending the most continual time with her or seeing Watchmen in IMAX. Of course, in my mind there was no real competition; I was excited to be with my fiance, but there weren't billboards of her up all around New York City for me to ooh and ahh at. And I absolutely loved Watchmen (reviewed here!).

As the lights came up on our IMAX viewing of the film, though, I turned to my shocked fiance - who was probably wondering just what kind of a psychopath I was to drag her to such a film - and asked her what she thought of it. Her quiet response was simple: "That movie ruined 'Me And Bobby McGee' for me." It was in that moment I realized two things: 1. I would be doing a lot of apologizing that night and 2. The film had a powerful soundtrack that stood out at key moments in the film.

With twelve songs and over forty-five minutes of music, Watchmen is a compilation of (as near as I can tell) all but one of the songs played during Watchmen (there was a second Leonard Cohen song played during the closing credits after My Chemical Romance's cover of "Desolation Row" which did not make it onto this album). This is a collection of amazing music and the fact that back to back to back the album has "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "The Sound Of Silence," and "Me And Bobby McGee" puts it ahead of virtually any ten minutes on any oldie's station I've heard of late. Throw in the smooth jazz of Nat "King" Cole's "Unforgettable" and the fun of "I'm Your Boogie Man" and you have a solid album with a retro sound.

Of course, music is an essential part of almost every film ever produced, but that does not mean it makes for a truly great soundtrack album. The Watchmen soundtrack is, independent of the film. But, for a moment, it is worthwhile to see how much care went into producing the soundtrack. It is easy to recall that in the film, the sense of irony with which director Zach Snyder chose "The Times They Are A-Changin'" for the opening credit sequence as alternate timeline of Watchmen is illustrated. The song worked perfectly, but it also was presented tongue-in-cheek to get viewers into the mindset that the film was not following their recognizable sense of history.

But the care that went into constructing the soundtrack cannot be overstated; music had to have a rebellious quality that was evocative of a United States trapped in a Cold War of Nixon's Era. So, despite the fact that the film takes place in an alternate 1985, Snyder could not use music from the likes of R.E.M., which railed against Reagan and his doings. So, instead, Snyder and his assistants on Watchmen stuck with standards like Jimi Hendrix's "All Along The Watchtower" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" to punctuate the film. Track to track, the Watchmen soundtrack evolves as a nostalgic-retro rock experience after "Desolation Row."

In fact, there are only two incongruent tracks on Watchmen and the first is My Chemical Romance's "Desolation Row" cover which is noisy, unpleasant and does not fit the theme or sound of the rest of the album. My Chemical Romance does the cover as a My Chemical Romance song: loud and without articulation or respect to the lyrics in the song. Instrumentally, it is chaotic and sloppy. Those who appreciate Watchmen might call it many things, but chaotic it is not; the film and material that inspired it is elaborate, complicated and explores the nature of how pieces fit together to make an ordered whole whether it is a conspiracy or a human's mind. This cover of "Desolation Row" spits in the face of all that follows on the album.

Because what the album does exceptionally well after that is transport the listener to a simpler time with the nostalgic bars of "Unforgettable" and takes the listener on a musical history lesson through Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin and into the '70's with K.C. & The Sunshine Band and Leonard Cohen. And the clever aspect of the Watchmen soundtrack is that it does not track chronologically from the film. As a result, after Jimi Hendrix's guitar anthem comes the lone instrumental track "Ride Of The Valkyries" by Wagner and the anthemic nature of the two songs back to back is surprisingly incredible. It works.

As well, the album has a decent mix of male and female voices, with Billie Holiday's "You're My Thrill" playing well off "Pruit Igoe & Prophecies" (Philip Glass). One need not see Watchmen to appreciate the mix of classic folk rock and pop-rock (and with Hendrix, straight out rock) on the album, but it does take a creative mind to appreciate the way Wagner and Hendrix fit together, but the soundtrack acts as a musical journey making it easy to take that leap.

Just as viewers have been dazzled by the darkness and spectacle of Watchmen, listeners will likely enjoy the journey through the history of 60's and 70's pop rock with a few other classics thrown in. It's too bad the album had to start with such a sour and sloppy note.

The best track is "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and the low point is the album opener, "Desolation Row."

For other Watchmen products, please check out my reviews of:
Watching The Watchmen By Dave Gibbons
Limited Edition Walter Kovacs (Rorschach Unmasked) Action Figure
Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comics


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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