I am, along with many others, eagerly awaiting the release of Baz Luhrmann's 'The Great Gatsby'. One of my favourite books adapted by a director that has proven he can film a visually rich and sumptuous movie, looks set to be one of the highlights of the Hollywood calendar. One aspect of the production that may prove to be slightly more questionable, is the soundtrack. With Jay Z as executive producer, it was never going to be a straightforward reproduction of popular 1920s standards (for that, see the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack which is absolutely superb). Rather than incorporating jazz-age music, considered daringly modern at the time of the novel's release, it has been replaced with the contemporary equivalent; that is replacing jazz with hip hop.
The opener, '100$ Bill' from Jay-Z, (who was also executive producer on the film) sets the somewhat anachronistic tone for the rest of the album. The track does sample dialogue from the film, but not in any meaningful way.
Following '100$ Bill' is 'Back to Black' by Beyoncé and André 3000. Originally by Amy Winehouse, the song is quite jarring - especially Beyoncé singing 'I love blow and you love puff'. I don't think the style or lyrics are relevant to The Great Gatsby and it just seems like a reason to have Jay Z's wife on the album. Another cover, the evocative and despair-filled 'Love is Blindness' from Jack White (originally by U2), brings an emotional depth that seems to be lacking from some of the more morose tracks.
'Bang Bang' seems one of the more promising tracks, sampling the ubiquitous 'Charleston'. Will.i.am produces a song more in line with what I was expecting from the album, combining his signature style with hints at early 20th century popular music. At times, he employs a style reminiscent of a barber shop quartet as well as a few bars of scatting. On multiple listens, the track does tend to improve and seems to fulfil the brief of combining what was considered daring and new in the '20s, and what is contemporary and modern now.
A second appearance by a Black Eyed Peas alumnus is 'A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)' from Fergie (feat Q-tip & GoonRock). A typical electroswing track, with a few horns thrown over the top of a classic club tune.
Lana Del Rey's 'Young and Beautiful' is the point at which the soundtrack takes an increasingly dark turn. It was written to accompany a specific scene in the film, as was Florence + the Machine's characteristic alternating-between-haunting-and-powerful ballad 'Over the Love'. They are both the dramatic trailer fare and they can be easily imagined scoring a poignant montage in many a film. Sounding as though it was written for the same scene as 'Young and Beautiful' and 'Over the Love' (or perhaps hinting that a large proportion of the film will be of a pensive and brooding nature) 'Together' by The xx continues the mood with its lush orchestral sections, but doesn't say anything new.
With the tinkling piano backing, 'Where the Wind Blows' by Coco O of Danish duo Quadron has a vaudevillian feel, but in no way sounds dated. One of the few uplifting songs on the soundtrack. 'Hearts a Mess' (Gotye), 'Into the Past' (Nero) and 'Kill and Run' (Sia) are all very low key, ambient tracks, with the latter two again featuring quite majestic strings. Sia's vocals on the last track in particular, are well suited to the opulent look of the film.
'Love is the Drug' will be familiar to anyone that listened to the Bryan Ferry Orchestra's debut released last year, although this version also features the vocals of Mr Ferry himself. One of the most 'authentic' tracks on the album, it goes some way to capture the essence of the jazz age portrayed in the film and can verge of sleazy - but definitely in a good way. The second helping from the Bryan Ferry Orchestra this time features Emeli Sandé on vocals, in a reimagining of Beyoncé's 'Crazy in Love'. Although good to hear another jazz-fuelled track, Sandé's vocals don't quite come up to scratch, exacerbated by the fact that Beyoncé features as a reminder elsewhere on the album.
It would have been more fitting to hear some 1920s songs among the covers, perhaps some that are mentioned in the novel itself. I understand the theory behind Luhrmann's remark that, as the audience is living in the 'hip-hop age' as opposed to the jazz-age, they "want [their] viewers to feel the impact of modern-day music the way Fitzgerald did for the readers of his novel at the time of its publication" however I don't think it has quite hit the mark and may prove distracting. It will be interesting to see the context into which each track is placed, and whether the soundtrack accurately reflects a rather bleak film.The soundtrack is released on the 6th of May on Interscope Records with a deluxe version featuring three additional tracks.
Have you heard any of the songs from the soundtrack? What did you think of them? Are you looking forward to seeing The Great Gatsby?