[Editor’s Note: In Hot Soundtrack, the House gets behind the music of a popular film or TV show, exploring why the aural complements the visual, and why you should listen.]
However enticing the movie itself may be, the commercialism of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby has been oppressive, to say the least. We’ve already discussed the film’s preposterous glut of posters (which, for the record, has ballooned even larger since), and if you walk through Manhattan, you’ll see that the movie has caused the Deco gleam of the Chrysler Building to spread out all over, from subway-stair video ads to Brooks Brothers stores, which have devoted full windows and products to the promotion of Gatsby’s 1920’s style. It’s a whole lotta marketing, but one part of it that’s hardly off-putting is the film’s carefully constructed soundtrack, which is brimming with an embarrassment of aural riches, and is easily the most anticipated album of its kind in years.
Executive produced by Jay-Z (who also holds a producing credit for the film), the Gatsby soundtrack seems, on the whole, to be an extraordinary melding of vintage and contemporary sounds, fulfilling Jay-Z and Luhrmann’s goal to “translate Jazz Age sensibilities” into something that can speak to, and enchant, the modern listener. The undertaking is far more involved than one might think, as the hip-hop mogul and the Australian auteur toiled away for two years, nailing down a tone and compiling an illustrious roster of artists, whose styles range from alt-rock to urban, but are all huddled beneath the unifying umbrella of the Roaring Twenties theme.
As many learned from the trailer that dropped on April 4, three of the album’s tracks come from three of today’s hottest songbirds: Beyoncé (natch), Lana Del Rey, and Florence Welch. Beyoncé’s track, a retooling of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” featuring André 3000, is one of four covers on the soundtrack, the others being Brian Ferry’s take on Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug,” Jack White’s moody rendition of U2’s “Love is Blindness,” and Emeli Sandé’s cover of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” a collaboration with the Bryan Ferry Orchestra. Based on an album sampler that was leaked on April 16 (embedded below), the latter sounds like the least successful track, and it’s more than a little arrogant on Jay-Z’s part, for while contributions from him and his all-powerful wife were inevitable (his song “100$ Bill” is the opening number), an ill-fitting retread of their biggest duet is, frankly, pushing it.
But the inclusion of a budding voice like Sandé still affirms the strength of the album’s chic curation, which, additionally, yielded songs from buzzworthy acts like Nero, Goyte, and The xx. Helping to keep up the hip-hop end of things—Luhrmann has said that hip-hop has the energy today that jazz had in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s heyday—is will.i.am., whose “Bang Bang” is as brassy as it gets, and Fergie, whose Q-Tip and GoonRock collabo, “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got),” sounds like it singlehandedly encapsulates the time-warp objective, kicking off as if being crooned in a speakeasy before evolving to incorporate today’s trend of ever-building synth energy. In the same vein is “Where the Wind Blows” by Coco O. of Quadron, which has the instrumentals of a Cole Porter classic, but vocals akin to those of Jennifer Hudson. The whole merger is fairly irresistible, and that’s without the album’s two apparent showstoppers.
Rightly chosen as the soundtrack’s lead single, Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” proves itself a sweeping and gorgeous ballad with only a few leaked snippets, ably evoking the romantic drama of Fitzgerald’s classic while taking full advantage of Del Rey as a no-brainer fit for this endeavor. Already possessing a voice that sounds as if it were plucked from the past, Del Rey has made a name for herself by subverting her vocal nostalgia with tawdry, modern flourishes—a “gangsta Nancy Sinatra,” as she herself has said. “Young and Beautiful” leaves the irony at the door and rests simply on two things: the swoony allure of those husky pipes and the artist’s inherent, current mythos. If it’s not the perfect track, its only competition is Florence and the Machine’s “Over the Love,” a florid rafter-shaker that, however literally employed in that trailer (yes, we can “see the green light” too), is as all-consuming and rapturous as anything in Flo Welch’s repertoire. Together, these two songs are reason enough to grab the album, which will be available for purchase and download on May 7, with an exclusive, 17-track deluxe edition hitting the shelves at Target.
Though he’s never undertaken a soundtrack project quite as substantial as this, Luhrmann has long been passionate about his films’ relationships to their music, often merging bygone sensibilities with modern pop flair. For William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, which was already a bold blend of postmodern stylings and ancient prose, he managed to make a frothy song like The Cardigans’ “Lovefool” complement the stuffy words of The Bard, taking advantage of the famed couple’s adolescence to wildly (and successfully) rope in a whole new generation of fans. For Moulin Rouge, he went so far as to transfer a whole handful of pop standards, from Elton John and more, into the film’s “Elephant Love Medley,” which rather seamlessly took on a life of its own. Ever the era-spanning, pop-culture reconstructionist, Luhrmann—whose Gatsby music also reunites him with Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge composer Craig Armstrong—seems to have once again crafted a tuneful accompaniment to dance to and marvel over. If Romeo + Juliet was his teenage dream, and Moulin Rouge his jukebox musical, then Gatsby looks to be his literate answer to the mash-up, another hip and highbrow upgrade in both sights and sounds.