Thursday, September 22, 2011

Shitty movie, great soundtrack

Musically speaking, I would have been perfectly happy if we'd never progressed beyond the late 1990s.

That was when I discovered electronic music -- both the kind that makes you dance and the kind that provides great ambiance -- and it's the last time I was so enthralled by the discovery of a new musical genre.

My musical world was opened up at the hands of such acts as The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, The Crystal Method and Daft Punk. And I was never the same.

And I think I may have one soundtrack from one shitty movie to thank for this turn of events.

On April 4, 1997, The Saint was released into theaters. I didn't see it at the time, only catching up with it a few years later on video. However, I did buy the soundtrack. For you, it may always be "see movie, then buy soundtrack," but it hasn't been for me. In fact, that year I also bought the soundtrack to a film I still, to this day, have not seen: David Lynch's Lost Highway. (See, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails was the musical supervisor, and I love everything Trent.) Anyway, buying the soundtrack before seeing the movie was no big deal to me.

I think I knew that a particular song -- "Dead Man Walking" by David Bowie -- was exclusively available on this soundtrack. Then when I scanned the rest of the tracks, and recognized a lot of band names (though didn't quite know who they were yet, as we shall explore), it was one of those incidents where the gears start whirring in your head, and suddenly you realize you are purchasing this CD -- it has met the necessary threshold for potential. (Kids, before ipods, adults used to buy things called "compact discs," or "cee-dees.")

I listened the hell out of that soundtrack, but like many albums we temporarily binge on, eventually you just kind of stop listening to it. Heck, today I've stopped listening to most everything. In fact, the only reason I ended up listening to the Saint soundtrack yesterday was that I wanted to take a long walk pushing my son in the stroller after work, but was already caught up on all my podcasts.

It was a gray day -- winter has come on fast in Southern California, though we're always just a few warm days away from an indian summer. And something about the grayness and melancholy of the day made a fragment of a song from the Saint soundtrack -- "Dream Within a Dream" by Dreadzone -- jump into my head. Since I feel like I can't think of anything I ever want to listen to these days, I love it when something jumps into my head, allowing the potential for instant gratification. There I was, carrying a device that contained thousands of songs, including this and the other 13 tracks on the Saint soundtrack.

So, I began listening.

But before I run through how amazing this album is -- chock full, truly -- I should repeat a little detail that has gone underexplored to this point: The Saint is a really terrible movie. I suppose it's nowhere near as goofy as some spy movies, but its very blandness makes it worse -- it's not even an interesting failure.

That doesn't matter. The Saint soundtrack has my undying love, but it's mutually exclusive from the movie. Not one of the songs even makes me think of a thing I might have remembered happening in the movie. It's a complete disconnect.

So yeah, I'm really glad I bought the soundtrack before seeing the movie -- other way around, and I probably wouldn't even have considered it.

Ready for a quick tour of the tracks?

1. "The Saint Theme" - Orbital. (It may actually just be called "The Saint," if I am to believe itunes.) This is a nice intro to the album, taking the original ditty from the TV show and giving it an electronic makeover. Works.

2. "6 Underground" - The Sneaker Pimps. An essential calling card of the trip hop genre. Funky and groovy and sultry and always fun to listen to. "1-2, 1-2 ..."

3. "Oil 1" - Moby. Until "Oil 1" -- which I thought for the longest time was just called "Oil" -- I don't think I had ever heard a Moby song before. Since then I've seen him live twice. "Oil 1" is not one of his best -- it's a driving kind of song, relentless, a bit more brutish than elegant. But it does the trick.

4. "Atom Bomb" - Fluke. "My baby's got an atom bomb ... 22 megatons ..." I had not heard of Fluke before (or since), but "Atom Bomb" has made it onto a half-dozen mixes I've made over the years. This song has a great bombast (no pun intended) to it. A lot of low-pitched synthesized wonderfulness and noises cascading upward and downward. An adrenaline boost.

5. "Roses Fade" - Luscious Jackson. A bit of a transitional song -- only 2:29 long, and kind of an anomaly for the album in terms of its style. But it's got its own driving personality, and hey, Luscious Jackson rocks.

6. "Setting Sun" - The Chemical Brothers. And here's the "big get," as far as I'm concerned -- especially in retrospect. As with Moby's "Oil 1," "Setting Sun" was also the first Chemical Brothers song on my radar, but this is a much bigger deal: I have gone on to buy at least six more Chemical Brothers albums, and they have settled comfortably among my top ten bands of all time. This is just the perfect song to initiate a prospective listener to Chemical Brothers, and because I wouldn't own their album "Dig Your Own Hole" for a couple more months (at which point things really took off in terms of my relationship with them), for the longest time I knew "Setting Sun" as a song that had no lyrics, because the version that appears here is instrumental. The "turn up the volume" noise in this song -- I don't know how else to describe it -- still makes my eyes roll back in their sockets. (In case it's not clear, that's a primeval expression of entrancement, not annoyance.)

7. "Pearl's Girl" - Underworld. And make way for the next home run from the next heavy hitter. Underworld is one of the absolute pioneers of this musical form, and "Pearl's Girl" showcases them at their most diverse, opening with a trippy, atmospheric beginning that quickens into a full-on dance tune, accompanied by the chanted, slightly reverbed vocals that are the trademark of Karl Hyde. And this delirious combination washes over you for 9 minutes and 37 seconds. I have not seen Underworld live -- unfortunately -- but they put out a new album earlier this year, and they still rock.

8. "Out of My Mind" - Duran Duran. A mid-tempo angsty love song. Duran Duran will not be playing it in concert any time soon, but it's passable.

9. "Da Funk" - Daft Punk. If you are keeping track: Yes, that is Moby, Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Daft Punk, all on one album. And again (stop me if this sounds familiar) this was my first introduction to Daft Punk. (Great name, I've always thought.) "Da Funk" is truth in advertising -- it's funky and full of attitude, and taps your toes until your leg might fly off. This song was still surfacing on my mixes as recently as three years ago, when I made a mix for the guys who attended my bachelor party.

10. "Dead Man Walking" - David Bowie. Here was the prize, and it didn't disappoint. Consider how I've praised what's come already, and then realize that the only song I could actually vouch for was this one. It was the first time I'd heard the guy who sang "Let's Dance" and "Young Americans" reinvent himself as a master of the synthesizer, and I was hypnotized. Not only does this song drive big time, with a dynamite opening, but it also benefits from the extraordinary pathos of Bowie's voice -- unobtrusively.

11. "Polaroid Millennium" - Superior. A good mix maker knows when to start bringing down the tempo at the end of the album. With a great lead-in from the piano ending to "Dead Man Walking," "Polaroid Millennium" takes us into a melancholy epic of romantic yearning, with ethereal vocals that bring chills, and plaintive musical stylings that become operatic in the second half of the song. I know nothing about Superior except that they made at least one absolutely terrific, moving song.

12. "A Dream Within a Dream" - Dreadzone. The actual song I originally intended to listen to didn't come on until I was almost home, but there was still enough gray in the sky for me to wander away into my mind a little bit while listening. I like to think of both this track and the previous track as the kind of song that should be playing while you're riding in the backseat of a car after midnight, looking up into the twinkling lights of a city winding down for the night. No lyrics in this one, unless you count a few vaguely tribal vocalizations here and there -- just a stripped-down, beats-oriented odyssey of mood.

13. "In the Absence of Sun" - Duncan Sheik. Probably the weakest track on the album is not bad per se -- in fact, it's got some nice moments. But Sheik's voice hits a bit of a whiny register here and there -- actually, now that I'm relistening, he sounds a bit like Lenny Kravitz, but it works better for Lenny than it does for him. Anyway, this song is appropriately tender and quiet for the penultimate track on an album that's gently winding down.

14. "Before Today" - Everything But the Girl. "And I miss you, like the desert misses the rain." Remember that song? Yeah, that was Everything But the Girl, and this is the only other song I've heard by them. It's a solid final track and does everything a final track should do -- it just has that "last track" sound, remaining in the generally quiet, generally yearning realm of a funky ballad. It doesn't need to be quiet like a whisper, and there's actually a driving beat in part of the song -- but it's that same driving beat that occurs in that same car looking up at those same twinkling city lights.

So I realize that almost no one reading this will a) own the Saint soundtrack, b) care to own the Saint soundtrack, or c) possibly even like the bands I've been referencing. So this may have been a self-serving exercise. Hey, welcome to the blogosphere.

But reacquainting myself with the Saint soundtrack made me recognize that a good soundtrack also seems a bit of a lost art. I make this assertion with almost no confidence -- I think it's very likely that I've just stopped buying soundtracks, so I don't know how good they might still be. Then again, I've bought the soundtracks to The Social Network, Tron: Legacy and Hanna all within the last year, so maybe I do know what I'm talking about. (Or don't, because there are three examples of good soundtracks right there, contradicting my own claim that no one can do it anymore.)

But each of those soundtracks was composed by a single artist -- and if you really want to see the Saint soundtrack's influence on me proven in no uncertain terms, consider that the Tron: Legacy soundtrack/score was composed by Daft Punk, and the Hanna soundtrack/score was composed by the Chemical Brothers -- both artists I was introduced to via the Saint soundtrack. (And the Oscar-winning Social Network score was of course the work of Trent Reznor, also mentioned in this post.)

What I really miss was when a single album of music could introduce you to a dozen artists -- it was like one of the great mix tapes you've ever received, based loosely (sometimes very loosely) around the theme of a particular movie.

And if that movie is The Saint, it can give you the entire foundation for the next phase of your musical existence.

So why *was* The Saint such a shitty movie, anyway?

Eh, who even remembers?


Travis McClain said...

I remember buying the CD single of Orbital's "The Saint" (as I recall, it was not titled "The Saint Theme") and digging it. I was quite the soundtrack buyer during that era, before soundtrack albums devolved into record label samplers. I rarely bought a soundtrack without having seen the movie, though oddly enough the aforementioned Orbital single was such a purchase.

I remember the Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and Last Action Hero soundtrack albums being significantly more popular than the films.

Some of my mid-to-late 90s favorites:

Batman Forever - I'll defend the movie and I'll fight over the soundtrack album

Twister - great driving album

Mission: Impossible - less of my personal comfort zone, but I dig enough of it that I like the album

Out to Sea - I had to have this if for no other reason than it includes Brent Spiner singing and I wanted it as a companion piece to his Ol' Yellow Eyes Is Back album

*Shameless Self-Promotion*
Incidentally, not too long ago I had a piece published on Flickchart's blog about the Silverado soundtrack and how I came to own--and love--that music before I ever saw the movie:

Vancetastic said...


I'm not familiar with any of those other soundtracks. I do remember the U2 song "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me" being associated with one of the Batman movies, but I think it was Batman & Robin. (Talk about a potentially great soundtrack in a definitely shitty movie. Though the poor quality of Batman & Robin is such a given through the film blogosphere that I find it cliche to even mention it here, so I'll just drop it.)

I'll check out the Silverado post ... and you can always feel free to self-promote in my comments section without a disclaimer!

Travis McClain said...

"Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" was indeed for Batman Forever. That soundtrack also featured Seal's "Kiss from a Rose."

Batman & Robin's soundtrack featured The Smashing Pumpkins's "The End Is the Beginning Is the End" and "The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning" on either end of the album. I actually like that album, too, but it's not on the same level as Batman Forever.

As for the film itself, I've made my peace with it and it has its own little corner of the Bat-world to occupy for me. It's bad, but I kind of like it. In event, Flickchart has demonstrated to me that I like it more than a lot of other movies I've endured over the years.