Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack (Virgin)
by Nik Rainey
The reason that soundtracks are nine times out of ten better than the flicks they (purportedly) represent is simple economics: Even if a movie blows hot monkey chunks, exhaustive pre-release publicity can still draw a certain number of suckers in at the full $7.50 ticket price. Those you can’t con that way may be swayed by its release on video (oddly, this helps some of the biggest dogs the most, especially for those of us who show up at the video store at 7:55 on Friday and the new releases shelf is occupied only by it and ten copies of The Stupids), pay-per-view, cable, and network TV. And eventually, they wind up competing for post-midnight UHF broadcast time with a half-hour Flo-Bee spot. In this day and age, therefore, movies stand every chance of making back their money through the descending infrastructure of marketing. And unless you’re fool enough to purchase the thing, even the worst wastes of time and celluloid leave you no more than a few bucks and a couple hours short. Soundtracks, on the other hand, are designed for staying power ’cause they hafta – they’re more expensive than a movie ticket and once you plunk down your twelve-to-eighteen samolians, you’re stuck with it, with hopes of recouping only a fraction of the list price should you opt to shill it to the second-hand note shoppe in your area.
Take The Saint, for example. By the time you read these words, this latest attempt to contrive a franchise out of an old TV show (yeah, I know it was a series of books, too, but nobody reads anymore. Didn’t you get the memo? Never mind, wait for the audiobook.) is surely slouching towards videoblivion, a forgotten blotch on the floor of Cinema Four, and from what I’ve heard, rightly so. By contrast, the CD tie-in, which is admittably every bit as market-driven (has the world caught on to genus electronicus or just the A&R; flacks?), is a far more intrinsically satisfying piece o’ pop product, a commercially viable chunk of ripe synthetic cheese designed to lead the electric sheep by their hypoallergenic nose rings into the astroturf pastureland brought to you by a grant from Übercorp, Discorporated. And it does its job quite happily, thank you.
You see, it’s quite simple, really, a paint-by-numbers proposition. Theme song? You got it – just take the old TV toon, give it to somebody with “buzz” (Orbital, in this case), and update thusly. Next, look in the yellow pages under “Names That Will Look Good On Your Promo Material And In The Last Half-Second Of Your TV Spot” and poke your finger to the page at random. (Eenie, meenie, miney… Moby !) Then take a few songs that are being played on the radio already and change them slightly because those dumb collector schmucks’ll shell out whatever’s left of their temp-job paycheck for the same song they already bought in sixteen different configurations if you wipe the vocals or chop out five seconds of it and put something in parentheses after the title like “(Mohammed Riza Pahlavi Edit)” or “(Rabid Barn Owl Mix)” (viz. Sneaker Pimps, Chemical Brothers , Luscious Jackson). Then put in a collect overseas call to some drunken Limey hack in charge of hyperbole at Select magazine and get him to rattle off the names of artists who are currently enjoying their requisite week-and-a-half of positive press. “Erm… Daft Punk, Superior, Dreadzone …” he manages to belch out before passing out face-first into his kidney pie. Good enough. You slap those on. Find a couple of aging tossers on your roster desperate to rehabilitate their moribund careers by hotwiring the “new sound” when its owner isn’t looking (Duran Duran, David Bowie, Everything But The Girl), get a band that highlighted some other soundtrack the year before and tell ’em to write something that sounds like that other song of theirs (Underworld), enlist a band named after a fish just to be cheeky (Fluke), throw in a mawkish semi-acoustic ballad that doesn’t fit to remind listeners that the world’s an imperfect place (Duncan Sheik), toss it all together and voila! You’ve got yourself a million-selling soundtrack album!
Of course, none of this is to say that I don’t actually like the album. I do. A lot. Listen to it all the time. With one or two minor exceptions, every song here percolates with intelligence, artistry, and skill. But look, soundtrack records are by and large just glorified mix tapes with trademarked logos on the cover and pictures of overpaid pretty people playing make-believe in the CD booklet. It just so happens that this one works. And maybe this isn’t the best example to demonstrate my cynical thesis, especially since critics are probably the lowliest slavering dogs in the whole system (slobbering a few battered adjectives and tired comparisons onto computer monitors for the sake of promo copies, free drinks, and a completely disproportionate sense of self-importance when, in fact, we don’t do anything). So don’t mind me. Buy this record, enjoy it, and maybe say a silent prayer for those of us with gobs of perception but not enough balls to accomplish anything greater than a few timid slashes at people who have the unmitigated gall to act rather than react, create rather than destroy, and achieve rather than aggrieve. Thank you.