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I am a huge movie soundtrack enthusiast but I must admit, Thomas Newman is not my favourite. I often find his songs samey and dull, too simplistic and lacking the "epic" element which other composers have. However, American Beauty is a great film and has a great soundtrack to accompany it.
The 19 song score to the film is extremely varied. The soundtrack has, arguably, become as famous as the film itself. Its most famous song "Any Other Name" is STUNNING. It is one of those "oh what is that song? I know that song because they play it on the TV all the time but I don't know what it actually is?" like 'Clubbed to Death' (Matrix soundtrack) and others. Google it, because you'll almost certainly recognise it. It's gorgeous and puts you in such a relaxed mood. Another well known song is "Dead Already" to which the film opens. That is just as lovely, very twangy and catchy. That too has been used in numerous TV adverts and TV shows. Songs like "Root Beer" continue this 'twangy' theme. A few songs are a little less inspirational, such as "Choking the Bishop" and this does slightly take away from the album as a whole. I love this soundtrack. It was the inspiration behind Lana Del Rey's famous "Born to Die" album and has provided backing tracks to numerous TV shows. Lovely.
Thomas Newman's OST for the desert island American Beauty every bit matches the films dark yet beautiful concept, and the albums manipulation of emotion is second to none. Musically it's reminiscent of Robyn Miller and Brian Eno in places with drifting sounds, rippling strings and plenty of mellow piano and xylophone passages which help to create an uplifting and challenging album of music, which added great atmosphere, sorrow and joy to what was a bitter and twisted web of love and hatred.
To listen to the music with no knowledge of the film would be an equally pleasurable but very different experience and I think it's what makes the album that extra bit special. Some of the piano solos are outstanding too and elect memories of Harold Budd - certainly this score is highly underrated and fully deserved greater credit, not only in the field of film but in the field of incidental music too.
For those of you who dont know me, I am a bit of a soundtrack addict. If I like a film or a TV series I very often try to get the soundtrack on CD. This has led to some embarrassingly dreadful purchases (Home and Away Living Without Your Love..Anyone? No, thought not) and some incredible musical finds. I frequently come across music that I would NEVER dream of looking at otherwise. Collecting soundtracks has seriously enriched my listening experiences.
Anyway, this one has been lurking in my CD changer for a couple of years now and I thought it was about time I shared my love for the collection. The film was a HUGE hit in 1999; Kevin Spaceys mid-life crisis and the collapse of his family relationships was compulsive viewing. The film has cult status and several images from the movie have achieved iconic significance: the red rose petal scene is one example. Produced by Alan Ball (responsible for Six Feet Under) the film has a unique flavour and I think that that flavour is encapsulated in audio form on this CD.
Dead Already Thomas Newman. This is an instrumental track, delightfully eerie and yet poignant. Lots of rhythmic tabla and some light bells give it a whimsical edge. This is the main theme tune of the film.
Because Elliott Smith. This begins with female chanting vocals that suggest a somewhat religious theme. It is my least favourite track on the album. Not enough meat to it. When the guitars begin it still doesnt get going. The overall sound is a little reminiscent of a sixties hippie musical track. Written by Lennon/McCartney so I guess that explains that then .
Free to Go The Folk Implosion. This is one of those gems I was talking about. I know nothing about this band and would never bother hunting them down but this track is fantastic. Funky, guitar led track with some really good vocals. Lyrics arent too bad either.
All Right Now Free. Who doesnt know this track? If you dont, you should. Excellent rock track. Nuff said.
Use Me Bill Withers. I LOATHE Bill. Im sorry but I do. He is so limp. But that said, this is okay. Its quite beefy for Bill. Very funky, lots of elecrtic guitar and drums. The vocal is sexy too, much as it pains me to say that
Cancer for the Cure Eels. Not the Eagles, as my mother thinks Im saying. The Eels of Susans House fame. This is a strange song. Starts out with what I think is an industrial sound, overlaid with some indistinct talking. A drum beat fades in and the noises start to sort themselves out. Then the song becomes interesting. There is lots of bass and the song is very drum-led. Its odd, theres no getting around it, but its really, really good.
The Seeker The Who. I love the Who. This is not one of my favourites but it fits well with this whole selection. The song is from another seminal moment in the film where Kevin Spacey is driving and listening to this track. Roger Daltreys vocals are gorgeous.
Dont Rain on My Parade Bobby Darin. Just when you think the album is going one way it veers off at a tangent and goes the other way. This is a class act. Just listening to it makes me tingle! This is the wifes (Annette Bening) car song. I think the jump from The Who to Bobby is meant to demonstrate just how far apart husband and wife have become. It works.
Open the Door Betty Carter. This is serious piano led jazz. It isnt my cup of tea but I must admit that Betty has the voice of an angel. She is sexy and smoky and you can imagine her draped over the piano a la Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys.
We Havent Turned Around Gomez. Not Gomez Addams Im afraid. This is another unusual track opening with a double bass and then male vocal. Its a ballad but its a bit better than your average sad song. So you wanna spin the world around? Yes, Id like to, thanks.
Bali HaI Peggy Lee. This is one of my all time favourite atmosphere songs. It is absolutely evocative of tropical shores and palm trees. I just want to mix cocktails and lounge on the sand in the sunset, listening to Peggy croon at me. Fabulous.
Any Other Name Thomas Newman. Back to the instrumental themes from the film. This is lovely. We revisit the sound of the first song but this time there is a profound sadness to the tune. There is a reflective quality that would make this the ideal meditation song. Fan of Six Feet Under will recognise this sound. It is unforgettable.
Thats the lot, then. This is a superb album that captures the essence of the film and while it pretty much stays on solid musical ground, it provides the listener with new and unexpected delights.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Dead Already
3 Power Of Denial
4 Lunch With The King
5 Mental Boy
6 Mr Smarty Man
7 Root Beer
8 American Beauty
9 Bloodless Freak
10 Choking The Bishop
11 Weirdest Home Videos
12 Structure And Discipline
14 Angela Undress
16 Walk Home
17 Blood Red
18 Any Other Name
19 Still Dead