Stop me if you've heard this one... see, there's this little vampire movie coming out this month, based on some book series that seems to be rather popular... oh wait, you know about Twilight already? Damn!
But seriously kids, it's a pretty significant landmark for horror in pop culture when a line of vampire novels rivals Harry Potter for total dominance of the young readers market, and we all knew a film series was coming. But in this case, music is such an essential element of the books (author Stephenie Meyer has cited the work of bands like Muse as creative inspiration, and includes them on playlists she shares online with fans) that I was curious to find out what tunes would finally make it into the first movie's source music, and of course the just-released soundtrack CD that I'm thinking is gonna outsell the Jonas Brothers for the next few months.
Okay, I'm not just curious... maybe “dreading” is a better word, since we know all too well the pain of being subjected to yet another “music inspired by the motion picture” suck-fest that is little more than an excuse for the studio-owned record label to unload leftovers from their roster of artists, many of whom have little or no affinity or association with the content of the film itself. But since music is so key to the lives of Meyer's characters, and main vampire Edward maintains a playlist of his own, in the form of countless recordings he's collected through the centuries (bonus tracks include Debussy's famous suite Clair de Lune and excerpts from Verdi's La Traviata, as referenced in the novel), I figured a little more thought went in to the selection. Overall I'd have to say that was a pretty good call.
First off, music coordinator Alexandra Patsavas (known for her savvy positioning of up-and-coming bands for series like The O.C. and Gossip Girl) opted not go down the cliché route of piling on oh-so-spooky goth-rock acts. It's definitely the right choice, since the musical themes here seem to have a finger on the pulse of the 17-year-old audience, and in turn the story's central character Isabella, not at all the black lipstick & pierced-eyebrow type. The result is a wide assortment of genres and styles, several selected more for capturing a certain mood than for stand-alone playability... a pretty courageous move, really.
I knew the band Muse would be in here somewhere if the author had anything to say about it (she did, by the way), and their early hit “Supermassive Black Hole” (from album Black Holes and Revelations) appropriately kicks off the album with the emotional urgency that is their trademark. Remember how well “New Born” worked to crank up the intensity of French gore classic High Tension? That's how tuned-in these guys are to the dark emotional heart of a story. Even if they weren't Meyer's favorite band, bringing their sound into any darkly romantic story is a no-brainer.
I'm not sure I can say the same for Paramore... the pop-femo outfit has a seriously intense following, and they can lay down a decent hook, but their more somber track “Decode” (in which singer Hayley Williams channels Amy Lee, never a good move in my book) just didn't punch my buttons. Their other contribution “I Caught Myself” is closer to their typical sound, but to me it's a fairly generic pop-rock number. Both tracks do manage to capture the highs and lows of high school life, but I was concerned that they would lighten the film's tone too much.
Thankfully, most of the other tracks put that worry to rest... again, I say most of them. I know that Meyer has also cited Linkin Park in her playlists, but the choice of their plodding “Leave Out All the Rest” was a serious misstep. Not so for alt-rock icons Collective Soul with “Tremble for my Beloved” (from their 1999 album Dosage), an epic arrangement that nicely captures that feeling of haunted supernatural love. Danish group Blue Foundation's “Eyes on Fire” captures that same mood in a much more sublime way with its languid, downtuned fuzz guitar and eerie synth washes accompanying fragile, childlike female vocals.
Former Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Ferrell supplies the upbeat anthem “Go All the Way (Into the Twilight),” a radical departure from his earlier work, with a falsetto vocal that made me check the track listing twice to make sure I was listening to the right guy. Mute Math's “Spotlight” is another energetic up-tempo piece very much in the Muse mold, with lots of emotionally intense percussion passages and velvety vocal harmonies. The acoustic guitar & piano -backed love ballad “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” from Iron & Wine is a bit more saccharine, but a pleasing listen. The most unusual entry is “Full Moon,” an electro-folk breakdown from UK band The Black Ghosts that at first seems a bit culturally misplaced among the other tracks, but in light of the eclectic tastes of our vampire characters, isn't such a bad fit after all.
Rob Pattinson, who plays Edward in the film, is a musician himself, and contributes the simple and effective “Never Think,” an inclusion that refreshingly doesn't come off as a crass marketing gimmick (“OMG, teen vamp hottie sings!”) thanks to his superb vocal skills. Actually, word has it director Catherine Hardwicke quickly opted for the song after hearing a CD of Pattinson's earlier material. If he ends up riding the film's in-the-bag success to a decent recording contract, I'd wager he's off to a pretty good start here, and could be a name to watch in the future.
No doubt the most anticipated track from fans of the books is “Bella's Lullaby,” an original song taken directly from the novel, created by Edward to quietly express his growing feelings for Isabella; it's also the only track on the CD taken from the main score by composer Carter Burwell. “Lullaby” is a well-written piece in its own right, but it's also overcomplicated, too grandiose and too “Big Important Movie”-sounding for what should be a simple and intimate tune... and call me nutty, but wouldn't rumbling timpani and crashing cymbals kinda defeat the whole purpose of a lullaby?
Sure, I'll admit my own playlists probably don't share too many titles with those of Stephenie Meyer. But I have to say there's quite a few tracks here that have already found their way back into my iPod – and that surprised me a little bit, in a good way.
But does this album have what it takes to be a chart-topper? Well, we know the sell-through success of this CD is pretty much a done deal already, with a built-in audience lining up to buy anything with the word Twilight stamped somewhere on it, and that's sure to give every band on here a huge boost. But it's nice to see some creative thought and attention to the target audience behind the music selections, and not just the usual lame marketing “push” strategy.
There's some fairly generic stuff mixed in, but also some fairly risky creative choices, so whether it has ultimate staying power depends on the fans, who no doubt had their own personal playlists in mind and might be thrown by some of the selections. Then again, there are a few tunes here that really start to sink in after repeat listening. Who knows, in the Twilight world, some of these songs could actually have made their way into Edward's own private collection. But probably not all of them.