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Sountracks are getting weirder, that's for sure. No longer an excuse for stringing together the usual clutch of Motown classics, they are increasingly challenging audiences' sense of time and place by crossing genres and spanning generations.
Colm O Hare, 20 Jan 2000
Sountracks are getting weirder, that's for sure. No longer an excuse for stringing together the usual clutch of Motown classics, they are increasingly challenging audiences' sense of time and place by crossing genres and spanning generations. American Beauty is the directorial debut of Sam Mendes, (known for his play The Blue Room, which famously featured a nude Nicole Kidman). It's described here as "a dark comedy with a new twist on suburban angst". So far so good but quite how songs from diverse artists like Bobby Darin, Eels, Gomez, Peggy Lee and The Who fit in is anybody's guess. It certainly makes for an intriguing patchwork of musical styles.
Best known is Free's perennial anthem 'All Right Now' - still sounding remarkably fresh thirty years after its release, followed closely by The Who's decadent rocker 'The Seeker', another gem worthy of an outing.
Of the contemporary inclusions, Elliot Smith's faithful take on The Beatles 'Because' works quite well while the Eels are their usual eclectic selves on 'Cancer For The Cure'. 'We Haven't Turned Around' finds Gomez in a reflective mood with The Folk Implosion's 'Free To Go' adding another dimension altogether. If there is a theme here it's the relative "whiteness" of the bands and artists included, presumably reflecting the film's subject matter - the only track approaching soul/R&B is Bill Withers' 'Use Me'
Travelling further back in time, Peggy Lee's 'Bali Ha'i' conjures up images of 1950's cocktail lounge sophistication, as does Betty Carter's silky smooth torch ballad 'Open The Door', in contrast to Bobby Darin's bland MOR crooning on 'Don't Rain On My Parade'.
It all doubtless makes some kind of sense in the context of the film but even without the visuals, American Beauty is a better than average soundtrack.