The big hoopla about this new movie, Magnolia, is that it is inspired by the songs of Aimee Mann. In fact, some dialogue was directly lifted from her lyrics. Avid Mann fan that I am, I was extremely anxious to get my hands on the soundtrack and just as excited about seeing the movie.
I've accomplished both of those deeds and can honestly tell you: I'm still very excited about the soundtrack but my fervor over the film has ebbed somewhat. In my haste to see this movie, I neglected to read the fine print: This film is about one second shy of 3 hours and plot was a trivial matter kicked to the wayside. I was fortunate, having given the soundtrack a spin before hand. For those of you who have never even heard of Mann and went to see this film based on your enjoyment of Boogie Nights, I suggest getting the soundtrack immediately as an antidote to your shock and confusion.
Apparently, Paul Thomas Anderson was riding high after the success of Boogie Nights and had the license from his studio to do pretty much anything he wanted as a follow up. So he decided to indulge himself. The result was a marathon of a movie and radio airplay for Mann.
In the liner notes to the CD, Anderson practically credits the entire film to Mann, which I think is a bit much. Deriving a character such as the chauvinistic Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise), from a Mann song (presumably, "Driving Sideways") is sheer creative genius and I can't give the credit to Aimee this time.
This isn't the first time that film and popular music have been conjoined. The Graduate gave us visuals for some classic Simon and Garfunkel tunes and the music of Cat Stevens was tightly woven through the plot of Harold And Maude. The marriage of Mann's music and the film, Magnolia, tends to be an awkward union at best. At one point, in the film, the characters (one on his deathbed!) sing along to the poignant song, "Wise Up". The cringing that swept over the audience was almost audible.
But folks, this is not a movie review, it's an album review and I can confidently say that Mann is more consistent than her writer/director friend.
The soundtrack is actually a collection of older and new material which will appear on her forthcoming album Bachelor No. 2. Out of the 13 tracks, four of them are just filler by other artists, fortunately tacked on the end.
The album starts out with a cozy cover of Harry Nilsson's "One". Mann has even spiked the tune with a line or two of her own. After that intro we are treated to nine tracks of creative brilliance, describing the foibles we've nearly all endured by simply being human. The thing about Mann is her ability to convey the shortcomings and missteps that invariably arise between people. You'll be nodding your head in commiseration as you listen to line after line acknowledging feelings you've often dealt with.
In "Driving Sideways," Mann brilliantly describes the mental castration that a man feels when he practically bends over backwards for a woman who won't "deliver": "And you will say/that you're making headway/And put it in overdrive/But you're mistaking speed/For getting what you need/And never noticing/That you never do arrive". If you listen closely, you'll notice the ending guitar solo is the melody from "Walk Like A Man" by the Four Seasons.
Then there's "Deathly", a gorgeous song, a plea to a potential lover to curb his affections because his object, the singer, is an emotional wreck: "Now that I've met you/Would you object to/Never seeing each other again/'Cause I can't afford to/Climb aboard you/No one's got that much ego to spend." By track nine, it appears that the singer has acquiesced: "You look like/A perfect fit/For a girl in need/Of a tourniquet/But can you save me".
"Momentum" is a clever little oxymoron: a swing tune about stagnating in life. You won't be able to listen to this song without assessing your own life. Who can't relate to this? "And I know life is getting shorter/I can't bring myself to set the scene/Even when it's approaching torture/I've got my routine"
There is not a single low point in Mann's performance. The melodies are hook-laden and infectious. Her lyrics are a glorious showcase for her gift of rhyme. Even the instrumental version of "Nothing Is Good Enough" only whets the appetite for the vocal performance of the same song on her forthcoming album.
Magnolia the soundtrack can stand fine on its own without the tedious movie or the four tracks which snap us out of the introspection Mann has induced. Do yourself a favor. Skip the movie (until available on video), but by all means indulge yourself in this album.