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I'm a bit of a snob about the film "City of Angels" - I really can't stand it - which is a shame. I really should like it. I think it is because I was so in love with the film it is based on, "Wings of Desire" that I can't see past it. When I try to be objective and deconstruct the movie in its own right I can't actually name anything wrong with it. It is a beautifully sad tale that should tug at my heartstrings - a lot better than some of the durge Hollywood has come out with. But I still don't like it. The soundtrack, on the other hand? Wow. I can't stop listening to this when I get into the frame of mind. I know this must sound bizarre but I say again, if I had never seen "Wings of Desire" I would have loved this movie. There is not a bad track on this album, but my favourite track has to go to Alanis Morisette and "Uninvited" - she has the most beautifully haunting voice, especially in this track. Probably worth the price of the CD just for that.
I first saw City of Angels way back in 1998 when it was first launched at the cinema and countless times since then, I jump at the chance to see it on terrestrial television whenever it is advertised- as well as on the Sky channels. The music is just so well organised for it, and in touch, which slightly conveys that perhaps the artists involved in the project were made to include songs especially for the film. This is not just a story about an Angel clipping his wings to fall in love with this human being. Its one of those stories that you dont forget in a hurry and the music makes the impact of this film much more memorable much more than the actual black and white film before this memorable remake. Maggie is played by Meg Ryan; Seth is played by Nicholas Cage.
I paid £12-99 for my copy which shows various colour stills from the film and basic outlay of tracks running against the bottom of the pages. Other prices I have seen have ranged from £ 7-49 up to £15-99 (HMV) Other places I have visited havent stocked this album although it remains to be a consistent seller. Please note that this is quite a long review.
** The Story Line **
The story line is based around Maggie, an open heart surgeon who battles daily to save the lives of her patients. She is immeasurably consumed in her work, cycling to work to keep up her energy as well as get to the hospital as quickly as possible this is how dedicated she really is. So when one of her patients dies unexpectedly from an otherwise text book operation success, Maggie is inconsolable. She cant really understand why her patient has died when everything she did was right. On the sidelines Angels are working to take away those whos times are ready, and its the patient who dies, that is taken away by Seth, an Angel who is mystified by Maggies compassion for the patients operation procedures. Over and over in her mind, she is drawn into what she could have done to prevent her patients death, and whilst she is trying to re-start his heart on the table in the theatre, she looks up into thin air, staring intently muttering something like I will save him, to which the audience are shown an Angel standing directly opposite her it is Seth. Seth is mystified by her reaction and seems to think Maggie can see him.
** Track listing **
1. If God Will Send His Angels U2
Im not a keen fan of Bono but I do like his voice at times and in this song, which introduces the album, its an upbeat song when it starts to unravel towards the chorus. Its close in theory to Stings Set Me Free, earlier jazz based song, only carrying Bonos trademark guitar as heard in his earlier and one of the most famous songs, In The Name of Love, only without reverb added to allow this song to stand out with a complete dryness. It is though by its nature a quiet song through the verses, accompanied by subdued keyboard and harmonies. You can hear vibrato in Bonos voice as he draws out some of the lyrics in this song. A good start.
2. Uninvited Alanis Morrisette.
I dont ever recall this song being played in the first half of the film it could well have been played when Maggie was up at her mountain retreat if it did get played then it certainly passed me by. This could have been an outtake from Morrisettes first accomplished solo album, as it has all the hallmarks that made that album very successful and eye widening. The melody doesnt so much as pose a threat because a spooky outside piano sequence repeats itself over and over, like a warning bell perhaps to show the intent is not invited. It adds effect to this song, as well as the added Indian Tablas and an orchestra to build up some kind of idea to provoke Morrisettes trademark grungy guitar sound which inevitably she adds like gravy, to soak up the songs content musically and structurally.
3. Red House Jimi Hendrix
This is the song that Maggie selects to listen to, preferably loud whilst operating on a patient. It has nothing else to do in the film but perhaps to show that she loves her rock and she loves her blues. This is a slow rocky bluesy number, a type of structure that is later reminiscent in Tina Turners song Rock Me Baby, from the film and soundtrack album, Whats Love Got To Do With It. It seems perfectly chosen though, as it allows the listener to jump out of death like songs from the film. Good, thick guitar solos that drip in bluesy notes add an overall effect to anyone whos never really heard Jimi Hendrixs guitar before, until now.
4. Paula Cole Feelin Love
What a slow, sexy and sultry song this has always been! Indeed you dont need to know when they play this bit in the film even if you havent seen the film its pretty obvious where a song like this comes into its own! Im aware of Paula Cole having her Kate Bush moments and this song highlights such influence, especially the way that she reaches the high notes, without struggling and with a similar sound and technique that a younger Kate Bush would have employed. I love this song musically because theres the same rhythmic pattern and a walking bass line against the strict electric piano tinted with vibrato effect. It makes a very delicious track to listen to. Eye widening moments lyrically;
You make me feel like I wanna be a dumb blonde in a centre fold!
Cole goes to such lengths to add echoes here and there, to allow her voice to drag its feet sulky-like against the floor, not ready just to give up. I think all of these effects are quite apt given the films visual aspect at this point!
5. John Lee Hooker Mama You Got A Daughter
I cant really remember when this song was called for on the film it may have been in the bath where Maggie is relaxing among bubbles and soaking up a beer or it may have been yet another occasion in the operating theatre. Great guitar riffs and a quick swing mark out this bluesy track. It could well have been the great Nina Simone singing this song, though it would undoubtedly have been risky singing such an involved chorus line. At moments though, Hooker does sound like Simone and vice versa. I find that the song does repeat an awful lot of its basic line Mama You Got A Daughter but seldom do I as a listener ever feel that it becomes annoying. Some may though!
6. Sarah MacLauchlan Angel
If you love nothing but hearing a female vocalist with a piano then youll love this song. I think I may have shed a tear at this point when the music came on, because this is a very moving song. Sad in its nature from the very start where a muted piano drowns out the only accompaniment save from a cello which gives counter melodies throughout when the song starts to take off the only difference that marks this song out from being unusual is that its mostly playing about with major keys of music which isnt usually done from a sad motive in music usually. In its basic sense, its a slow ballad but its one that tinged with Sarahs haunting voice, simply allowing the song to sink into her dripping emotions and long sustained echoes. Beautiful.
7. Goo Goo Dolls Iris.
I love this song as it lifts the general feelings of sadness straight out of the air. With its crisp, tingly acoustic guitars right from the beginning, the Goo Goo Dolls dont detract from the flavour of the film in terms of story line. However, this song could well have been written by Rod Stewart in his later years; the added orchestra of strings adds colour not so much solo virtuosic virtues. You can hear the amount of detail this group have put into their guitars not just from an electric point of view because the heavier electric guitars come in much later towards the end of the song, to add more accompaniment and basis.
8. Peter Gabriel I Grieve
This song could well have been an outtake or a previous session from Peters So, album. There are times when I dont appreciate this mans voice, and times when I do. I like his voice at times when it sounds as if hes out there, stranded outside in the outdoors, or hes just about to come in from the cold. I guess thats the hard edginess he has in his voice that he likes to convey at times. In this song, particularly towards the end, there is a pre-recorded bass section, which is fairly reminiscent of Gabriels massive single (and duet with Kate Bush,) Dont Give Up, which would have been apt for this album. However in this song, Gabriel is dark and uninviting, allowing the listener to know how he feels, but without much emotion at the beginning as his story slowly unravels his idea of death. By the time you get through the chorus when Gabriel sings I Grieve For You And you leave me a great percussion effect starts up (listen out for the centre symbol of a hi-hat being hit which sounds like a distant bell) which conveys the warning siren of deaths effects calling again. A drum machine enters and throughout this point in the music, Gabriels moods are changing evidently he sings and displays his new line of thought after facing the grieving process, Life carries on in the people I meet, in every one thats out in the street, from dogs to cats and flies to rats... with the harsh realisation that the singer has realised life cannot stop after death for everyone else despite the harsh sadness that sets in immediately. Structurally, Gabriel harks back to African tribal dance rhythms to supplement this echoing dark harmony in the music. It works well but its a long song!
9. Jude I know.
What a voice this guy has almost near to the 1960s cream of Neil Sedaka and anyone else I have missed out I was born in 1974 so you can imagine what kind of music I was reared on! His voice is very fuzzy at times, almost like the beginnings of a fuzzy guitar, Id say more buzzy than fuzzy but still the voice is tinged whether its with emotion or none at all is less known. Jude allows his voice to come through the music like tea through a strainer he allows his voice to filter through the string quartet which is beautiful to listen to on its own for all the short time it has on the song. Strings and guitars play intermittently throughout the accompaniment, guitars more so with electric guitars coming in here and there. I find the song too depressing to listen to though and thats in spite of Judes voice which is fleeting at times in the music.
10. Eric Clapton Further On Up The Road
If this song doesnt get your feet tapping, then something is wrong with you! After a minute and a half of instrumental introduction, Eric Clapton starts to tell his story. I think this may well have been another theatre song, namely of the hospital kind! Full of blues licks, rock guitar and a thickness of accompaniment from his band, Clapton still manages to come across all cool and laid back. Excellent but aside from the music, it doesnt really have much to do with death, for me.
11. Gabriel Yared Gabriel Yared
(a) An Angel Falls
(b) The Unfeeling Kiss
(c) Spreading Wings
(d) City of Angels
This is the classical instrumental music that plays throughout the film. From the very beginning when Seth begins to question his own living as an Angel and decides to change his own future, the music begins to come in. Its a theme thats first aired in An Angel Falls, and is repeated over and over throughout the whole duration of the film, almost as a reminder. Even if you have never been moved by classical music, perhaps these extracts may do it. The chorus of voices are haunting, echoing against the splices of orchestra that has been split up, to add more emotion and thought to the music. I bet the composer; Gabriel Yared has been influenced at some time in his life by the music of Vaughan Williams because classically & musically speaking, this music is written with a lot of hallmarks from Williams, because by and large the music has been written with a strong feeling of modality added to it if indeed that was Yareds intention. I always get goose pimples when the music dips and rests on the central theme repeating itself, going away; coming back.
The Unfeeling Kiss, is expertly played by Carlos Bonnell, crystallising the effect of the whole theme of the composition and integrating it into acoustic, classical guitar. With a solitary Indian chime here and there the listener is encouraged to listen to this beautiful array of strings plucking away from the guitar.
Later, the music drifts in and out, and the listener is then treated to Spreading Wings, a mixture of electronic effects, sustained chorus voices and a muted grand piano (not dissimilar in fact to the piano played earlier in Sarah MacLauchlans song, Angel.) tinkling away in the higher depths of the instrument. The original, central theme of the music keeps repeating, bringing the listener back to something he or she can trust before going into something new and unchallenged. The piano returns to the basic tune of the central theme, before bowing out to an oboe which adds yet more poetic balance to the music. Before long, the ideas here and there musically come to a rest with excellent violin solos played by Kenneth Stillito and Rolf Wilson. Indeed at times the violins sound as if they are made to sound as if they can cry because they sound like they are weeping.
By the time the idea from the last theme has ended, the strong orchestra return to reaffirm ideas to allow the listener to come back into the fold coming to a brief climax and again a solo piano and violin back up the same idea. Its all very basic but because of the films emotional charges of losing someone to death, being saved, being loved, falling out of love the music has been geared together in such a way that it touches the soul. You cant help but feel moved. Perhaps this is the composers intention to pin the listener down and make them hear the emotion of the music. It is the orchestra which has the last word, with piano sequencing passages falling back down to the main idea indeed youll find that it takes some time for the music to finish whilst added choral voices can be heard fading in and out, becoming louder. The acoustic guitars enter with their version of the main theme before the orchestral solo violin; chorus and orchestra come in finally building up to a grand climax before fading away to virtually nothing. Another round of hushed strings comes in once more announcing the last part of the theme. ©Nar2 2007.
** Conclusion **
As a film, its brilliantly executed whilst the reality of death is somewhat lightened up the presence of Angels. Musically, its one of the better soundtracks Im pleased to say I own.
I like most of the tracks that have been included on this album because they seem to fit well not just in terms of the theme set in the film. For me, my favourite section is the orchestral music as well as the female vocalists on this album. I hope you enjoy this soundtrack album as much as the emotion it has given me. Thank you for reading. ©Nar2 2007. * This review appears elsewhere online such as Epinions *
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 If God Will Send His Angels
3 Red House
4 Feelin' Love
5 Mama You Got A Daughter
8 I Grieve
9 I Know
10 Further On Up The Road
11 Angel Falls
12 Unfeeling Kiss
13 Spreading Wings
14 City Of Angels