These are good times for film soundtracks. Reputable dance acts are now willing to work with a director and come up with music that complements and adds to the visuals, rather than simply licensing a couple of songs to play over the end credits. Instead of a duff compilation or an orchestral suite, soundtrack albums are becoming sharp experimental works with a proper narrative flow.
The big beat boys of the nineties make music that has always had a cinematic edge, and the addition of an orchestral edge to the bounce really opens out the sound. Basement Jaxx’s work on Attack The Block adds theremin to the mix, accentuating the sci-fi. The Chemical Brothers created a jagged, jittery soundscape for Hanna that seems to have influenced Joe Wright’s cutting style.
Then of course, there’s the epic score to Tron: Legacy, which has frankly raised the bar for electronic soundtrack work. The scale and sweep of Daft Punk’s work made the album one of my favourites of last year.
A decent soundtrack album can be a sheer joy, mixing great songs with massive instrumentals and moments of mood and drama. Some don’t work at album length. I’m thinking specifically of John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13, which is simply the same cues played over and over again at different track lengths. Or, sadly, Clint Mansell’s music to Moon, which I love to bits, but is stretched uncomfortably thinly over 75 minutes. The final ten-minute piece Welcome To Lunar Industries (Three Years) gives you everything you need. Tellingly, it’s the one track not available on Spotify.
There are certain soundtrack albums that have managed to find an identity above and beyond their origins, becoming works of art in their own right. Here are my top five. I’m sure there are more. I’m sure you’ll let me know.