Sony Classic Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/06/2001
Thomas Newman is one of the few soundtrack composers out there who still view a soundtrack as a musical means to tell a story, not an attempt to paste together a bunch of musical acts together for the sake of making a hit album. His score for American Beauty helped the movie maintain its intoxicating flow.
Now he's back again with Erin Brockovich. And once again, Newman's score helps the film as much as the great performances given by Julia Roberts and Albert Finney. Listening to the movie's soundtrack onscreen makes perfect sense: many of the songs use odd instrumentation to create a watery motif. The lead track, "Useless" has an upbeat piano cadence that sounds like a rallying cry to the protagonist of the film.
However, listen to the soundtrack in your car or just on your stereo and Erin Brockovich loses a lot of its commercial zest. In fact, listening to the soundtrack on its own merits sounds every bit as avant garde as Philip Glass or John Cage. Fortunately, much of the soundtrack has stirring string sequences to keep its humanism intact.
The soundtrack has a sewn together feel as some songs are fully formed and others simply surface for a few seconds and then lead into one of two Sheryl Crow songs on the soundtrack. Many songs are titled after the event that the song appears in the movie, such as "Chicken Fat Lady" and "Lymphocytes." When my mother asked the title of a song she liked on this soundtrack, it took all of my composure to say "No Colon" with a straight face.
Some tracks worked great on the screen, but seem to be a scatterbrained artistic mess, like "Xerox Copy" and "Holding Ponds." However, the soundtrack manages to maintain much of the heart that is in the film. Part of the reason for this is the catchy, repeating song variations spread neatly throughout the soundtrack. The musical cadence of "Useless" pops up throughout and a playful piano arrangement gives songs like "On The Plume" and "Classifieds" a great pop edge.
The two Sheryl Crow songs, "Redemption Day" and "Every Day Is A Winding Road" were inspiration to director Steven Soderbergh. Because many of Crow's songs deal with blue-collar characters, her songs are a perfect compliment to this soundtrack.
If you are not a fan of new-age classical music, Erin Brockovich may not be the best soundtrack to invest in. However, the soundtrack serves the ultimate purpose of a good soundtrack: the music automatically recalls to the listener when and where they were in the film when they first heard it.