Various Artists
Lost in Translation
Emperor Norton
2003
C+



the Virgin Suicides was the perfect example of a soundtrack (both the original soundtrack and Air’s complementary score) that worked fabulously within the confines of the movie but was relatively disposable on CD. Few who have seen Sofia Coppola’s movie will forget the utter joy felt at hearing Josh Hartnett and Kirsten Dunst win Prom King and Queen to the strains of “Come Sail Away,” or the wrenching heartbreak of the telephone tag game played between the Lisbon sisters and their faraway admirers to the tune of (among other loneliness-centered hits of the 70s) “Alone Again (Naturally)”. However, even fewer who have seen the movie would actually want to listen to Styx or Gilbert O’Sullivan on their discman. Likewise, Air’s score was an essential part of The Virgin Suicides, making every scene of the movie that much more dreamy and that much more haunting. However, expanded to eleven tracks for a full album, it’s just boring as hell, apart from the movie’s main theme and of course the gorgeous single “Playground Love.”

So for the CD companion to her next movie, Lost in Translation, Sofia decided to more or less combine the score with the soundtrack, making for a somewhat confusing album that is, at its core, a relatively ambient outing, but punctuated with occasional songs to keep things from drifting too far out of interest. This time, however, french pop duo Air is not the muse of choice (although they contribute the relatively, well, fitting “Alone in Tokyo”) but rather the original hermit of indie rock, Kevin Shields. Yes, Sofia got Kevin to come out of hiding and not only offer up an old My Bloody Valentine favorite (“Sometimes”) but also to contribute four brand new songs to the soundtrack (more than he’s contributed to anything since Loveless). I may as well get this out of the way right now: THESE SONGS DO NOT SOUND LIKE MY BLOODY VALENTINE.

Yes, just in case you were as naïve as I was in hoping that these songs picked up exactly where “Honey Power,” “When You Sleep” and “Soon” left off (except, naturally, with ten years of progress assumed) let that be dispelled right from the get go. Rather, Kevin opts for a more score-friendly approach, with two pretty if somewhat unmemorable drone pieces (“Goodbye” and “Ikebana”), one bizarre ambient-techno track (“Are You Awake?”) and a poppy love song (“City Girl,” probably his best contribution). It’s all very nice and helps build a very solid core for the soundtrack (not to mention that it probably works fabulously in the movie, due for release this Friday) but the guy proved that he hadn’t dropped out of the race just yet with his decidedly jaw-dropping work on Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR—is this the best he can do on his own?

There are a couple unappreciated intrusions, like Phoenix’s unbelievably annoying “Too Young” and Happy End’s probably-made-sense-in-the-movie-but-what-the-hell’s-it-doing-here contribution “Kaze Wo Atsumete”, but mostly the rest of the soundtrack follows along similar lines, with Squarepusher’s lovely “Tommib” and the two Brian Reitzell & Roger J. Manning Jr. pieces being relative highlights. Add a couple of classics (the previously mentioned “Sometimes” and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s always appropriate “Just Like Honey”) and you have an enjoyable if unremarkable soundtrack.

But there is one track left, for which alone is almost worth buying the soundtrack. Death in Vegas (last time I checked they were doing “Firestarter”-esque big beat on MTV—who knew?) check in with “Girls,” a composition that shines so brightly it seems like only one man could’ve written it—funny enough that the same man fails to do so four times on the same CD. Yes, this is probably what most fans would’ve expected from Kevin Shields in 2003, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing—all ah-ah’s and shimmering guitars (oh, how I’ve missed them!) and fuzzy bass and tempo increasing and increasing until it’s almost too much. It’s one of the best things I’ve heard all year, and unless you want to get the Death in Vegas parent album Scorpio Rising (which I just might have to do, actually) you better get this, just to hear the one song. And you’ll get a lot of pretty ambience, too, most of which works pretty OK, even outside of the movie (plus Bill Murray karaoke-ing the Roxy Music classic “More Than This”). Disappointing, but still a worthy purchase.
Reviewed by: Andrew Unterberger
Reviewed on: 2003-09-11
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