The most hyped film of the summer should have a soundtrack to match its pomp, and Baz Luhrmann has, indeed, reeled in the world’s biggest stars – including Lana Del Rey, Florence And The Machine, Jack White and Mr and Mrs Carter – to make new music for the soundtrack to his latest visual orgasm, ‘The Great Gatsby’. You can guess why these musical idols all stepped forward. The Aussie director often makes songs the stars in his eye-popping visual set-pieces, and this must have looked like a chance to be included on a bit of cultural history.
And what better way to guarantee longevity than to borrow from (or rip the heart out of) music that’s already been around for nearly a century? Just like Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was transported from the grunge scene of the ’90s to fin de siècle Paris for ‘Moulin Rouge’, here bubbly jazz standards from the Roaring Twenties have had their horn parts and percussion lines ripped up by Luhrmann’s time team. So we get Emeli Sandé covering ‘Crazy In Love’ in a ’20s style. Bryan Ferry covering ‘Love Is The Drug’ in a ’20s style. And Will.i.am simply creating one of the worst songs you’ll hear this year with ‘Bang Bang’ – a hip hop tune… done in a ’20s style. (Incidentally the ‘Bang Bang’ lyric: ‘My baby makes me go down-diddly-down, down-de-down’ is probably the worst euphemistic cunnilingus reference we’ve ever heard in rap. And that’s saying something!) Fergie stinks the place up almost as badly with ‘A Little Party Never Killed Nobody’ – a pointless banger with the word ‘speakeasy’ slotted into the verse for historical effect. It’s a low point for the genre of electro-swing. And that, also, is saying something.
The worst part about it all is that you can already imagine the sort of Long Island house party – with people sliding down marble staircases, and hanging off chandeliers – that these songs are designed for. Something like that appalling Heineken advert, but with more Charleston and ten times the budget. The anachronistic mash-up is a cheap trick, and most of the music on this soundtrack does nothing to disprove that.
However, ‘Gatsby’ is an album of two very distinct flavours. And while the first nine tracks feel largely empty (including, sadly, Beyoncé and Andre 3000’s attempt to sing like they’re engaged in coitus on their cover of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’), the last few numbers do have a lot going for them. The radar beeps, genuine emotion and epic string climax of The XX’s ‘Together’ are heart-stoppingly good, and the tremulous, creeping tone of Gotye’s ‘Heart’s a Mess’ makes it one of the Australian singer-songwriter’s best tracks. Jack White does a pretty decent Neil Diamond impression on ‘Love Is Blindness’, and closing the show is in-demand songwriter Sia trying to out-Adele Adele on ‘Kill and Run’. These songs are moody, intense and have that special quality that’s so lacking elsewhere – subtlety.
Sadly, the virtues of The XX can’t outweigh the sins of the Black Eyed Peas, and the bitter memory you take away from this soundtrack is of a guy skiddly-doopy-dapping over a bass drop. RIP Scatman John. Even you would find this too much.
Read our preview of ‘The Great Gatsby’ film.