Music always plays a major role in Baz Luhrmann’s films. The soundtracks for Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge are two of the biggest-selling soundtracks of all time and they are masterpieces. For the soundtrack for his adaptation of The Great Gatsby, he sought out Jay Z and entrusted him to find songs that would feel modern and classic at the same time. To that end, Jay Z assembled an amazing collection of songs that sound contemporary while also incorporating elements of old school jazz.
One can certainly argue that none of these songs are actually from Gatsby’s era and that none of them truly feel like they could have been. But the same way Luhrmann modernized Romeo + Juliet, it would seem he willfully sought to modernize Gatsby. (I haven’t seen the film yet, so I can’t say this for sure, but from all of the previews I’ve seen it looks like he’s incorporated many modern elements into Fitzgerald’s era. And the music is certainly one of those elements.)
The soundtrack opens with one of its strongest tracks, Jay Z’s “100$ Bill,” which is easily my favorite Jay Z song since “99 Problems.” With beats that punch and slam, it’s sonorous and gives off an in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll vibe. And Jay Z has inserted dialogue from the movie throughout the song, tying his lyrics and the words of the film’s characters together splendidly.
The second track is Beyoncé & André 3000’s cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black.” Initially, I hated the track. I think what bothered me most was how much they’ve slowed down the track. Also, the beats sound like samples from a dubstep track being looped over and over, essentially droning. They twisted and turned the song as much as possible, processing it into something most Winehouse fans would call blasphemy. But now that I’ve listened to it several times I must admit that it’s really grown on me. Things that seemed so wrong about it now seem wonderful when listen to it. It’s definitely a grower like that. The same goes for the following track, Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful.” It just didn’t sit well with me the first few times I heard it. I love Lana, but her phrasing seemed awkward and the music didn’t seem to fit her voice nicely. But now I am under its spell and think it’s one of Lana’s best songs to date.
There are many other noteworthy songs on the soundtrack. Emeli Sandé & The Bryan Ferry Orchestra do an excellent job covering Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” Gatsby-era jazz style. Of all the songs on the soundtrack, it’s easily the one that evokes the era of Gatsby the most. Although Bryan Ferry also does another song in that old school jazz style, this one along with The Bryan Ferry Orchestra. It’s an enchanting cover of the famous song “Love is the Drug” by Roxy Music. Beyond that, Gotye’s original song “Heart’s a Mess” has a very old school vibe, though it’s not quite jazz. It’s a mesmerizing song though, easily one of the best tracks here. Another highlight is Florence + The Machine’s “Over the Love,” a powerful song during which Florence’s voice is super emotive and somewhat angry. It actually sounds like it would have fit perfectly on her brilliant album Ceremonials. And, speaking of powerful and emotive songs, Jack White’s cover of U2’s “Love is Blindness” is like a razor blade piercing your soul. He pours out so much emotion, just overflowing with it. He starts off sounding angry, like a rabid, injured dog. And the emotion intensifies as the song goes on and he finds himself in a fit of rage, screaming the lyrics, pushing the boundaries of his vocal chords as he makes one feel the pain the song projects.
I also have to mention The xx’s downtempo masterpiece “Together.” It has its intense moments, but for the most part it’s something of a chill-out tune. Like The Cure meets Depeche Mode. Also noteworthy is Sia’s “Kill and Run.” It starts off quietly, Sia even displaying some vulnerability, but she sounds quite menacing by the time the song is over, by which point you’ll probably be envisioning her as a serial killer.
Not every song on the soundtrack is a winner. will.i.am’s “Bang Bang” might be better than anything on his recent album #willpower, but it’s still awful. “Love’s stupid, I know it,” he says/raps a couple of times during two parts of the song, which at least have an old school jazz vibe. But much of the song is a massive house track, the sort of generic anthem will.i.am is all too infamous for. Which reminds me — I need to make a playlist for this soundtrack and remove this track so I won’t have to hear it again. At least not until I see the film; hopefully they don’t play much of it in the movie.
Another horrific song is by Fergie, Q-Tip & GoonRock. It’s called “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)” and it just veers off in too many different directions for its own good. It sounds like it wants to be a dubstep song during part of it, but it never quite delivers any wub wub. At other times it’s more of a synth pop tune, but the vocals totally ruin it, partially because the lyrics are so generic and just plain stupid. In other words, it’s precisely the sort of anthem Fergie does with The Black Eyed Peas. I need to leave this one out of my Gatsby soundtrack playlist, too.
All in all, most of the soundtrack is quite good. Sure, a couple of rotten apples want to spoil the fun, but it’s easy enough to skip those tracks.
I have to say it: if you buy one soundtrack this year, it should be this one.