Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/12/04 w/ Additional Edits.
Since releasing the landmark debut Moon Safari in 1998, the French electronic duo of Nicolas Godin and Jean Benoit-Dunckel known collectively as Air. Air became one of the premier bands in the burgeoning French electronic scene with Dimitri from Paris, Daft Punk, Sebastian Tellier, and several more. The wide acclaim Moon Safari received helped Air put themselves in the vanguard of the electronic music scene, after it got overwrought with its hype in the previous year. One fan that enjoyed Moon Safari was Sofia Coppola, daughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Sofia was working on her 1999 feature-film debut The Virgin Suicides which was released to wider distribution in 2000. Wanting a haunting, breezy mood to the film's dreamy, 70s adolescent tone, Coppola hired Air to score the entire film in what resulted to be one of the best film scores ever produced.
Whereas the original soundtrack for The Virgin Suicides featured loads of 70s hits from Styx, the Hollies, the Bee Gees, Heart, and many more. Air's score for The Virgin Suicides does have that breezy 70s tone but in a darker context prevalent to the film's story about a group of teenage sisters on the verge of self destruction due to their disconnection with reality and young boys. Filled with melancholic textures from real instruments as well as moody, translucent electronic layers of synthesizers and drum machines, Air's score is filled with harrowing, dreamy moments. Unlike most film scores, Air doesn't try to repeat any formulas or melodies which makes some score albums to be disappointing. With contributions from frequent contributor Brian Reitzell along with vocalist Gordon Tracks (an alias of Phoenix vocalist Thomas Mars) and saxophonist Hugo Ferran, Air's moody score for The Virgin Suicides is one record that sends chills as it presents dark images of Sofia Coppola's amazing debut feature.
The album's first track is the only song on the record, the haunting ballad of Playground Love. With it eerie, orchestral-like keyboard accompaniment along with an ominous, melancholic piano melody and Gordon Tracks’ slow, drum fills, the song begins as Tracks sings, "I'm a high school lover, you're my favorite flavor/Love is all, all my soul, you're my playground love". After that verse, a sexy, evocative saxophone solo appears from Hugo Ferran as he accompanies the dark loneliness that is in the Lisbon Girls. Track's lyrics of lost innocence with Air's dark, melancholic tone has that smooth, dreamy feel of 1970s pop with an edge. Ferran's saxophone gives the song a sense of sexiness along with its sadness surrounding the lost innocence of teenage 70s adolescents.
Next we come to Clouds Up were Air brings in elements of fuzzy, discordant synthesizer melodies along with washy acoustic guitars and an eerie, synthesizer accompaniment. In its slow, haunting mood, the track shows the distorted view of what many thought of 70s suburbia which looked nice but beneath it all, it's pretty ugly. Bathroom Girl is a reference to the character of Cecilia (Hannah R. Hall). Air brings in a smooth, evocative accompaniment on the keyboards along with a soft, wailing guitar solo and Brian Reitzell's slow, thumping drums. With an eerie arrangement on the background, Air brings in a sense of drama to convey the sadness of Cecilia as she ends up being doomed while bring a foreshadowing to the rest of the Lisbon sisters. Cemetary Party arrives with its distorted, bass-like synthesizer strike along with atmospheric, melodic guitar riffs, and momentum-built arrangement as things begin to darken. The track plays reference to the party of the Lisbon girls that would lay the ground works for tragedy. Especially with the track featuring an eerie, ominous choir in the background.
Dark Messages is another dark track with warbling textures and synthesizer arrangements along with layers of melodic vibraphone keys. The track conveys the mood of isolation concerning the Lisbon girls as the vibraphone shimmers throughout the track along with the warbling bass synthesizer. The Word "Hurricane" arrives with its smooth, wailing synthesizer accompaniment and slow, pulsating drums from Reitzell. Another synthesizer accompaniment arrives but in a more haunting, disenchanting tone as Reitzell plays the drums a bit faster. A choir-sounding synthesizer brings more chills as a person describes the definition of the word "hurricane" as pianos and wailing synthesizer distortions appear and everything gets broken. Dirty Trip arrives with its smooth, jazz-like arrangement of throbbing bass lines, Reitzell's smooth drums, and an evocative, transcending synthesizer accompaniment. Coming in after a minute or two is waves of guitar distortions that sweep through the track's jazzy arrangements along with a dreamy, shimmering synthesizer track and a melodic guitar riff.
Next is the theme to The Virgin Suicides entitled Highschool Lover that plays up to the same, melancholic piano melody of Playground Love but to the degree of something more amiss. With a soft, washy acoustic guitar and piano accompaniment, the track plays to the disconnection between the Lisbon Girls and the real world, particularly young boys in their neighborhood and Lux (Kirsten Dunst) longing for school hunk Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett). With an eerie, string-like accompaniment on the keyboard arriving, the sadness continues as Air plays up the same feeling the Lisbon Girls are having. Afternoon Sister arrives with its whistling, melodic keyboard track along with an acoustic guitar accompaniment that is followed by a dreamy arrangement from its synthesizer as it plays up to sadness surrounding the Lisbon Girls in grand, 70s melodrama. Ghost Song arrives with its melodic guitar and a striking, ominous synthesizer melody that is followed by a wailing, dense synthesizer as the feeling of death is arising.
Empty House arrives with its bass-beats and shimmering synthesizer accompaniment. Then comes this eerie, harmonium-like melody from the keyboard as the feeling of death is arising. Then comes a bass-synthesizer melody as the track's arrangements build up the momentum of something extremely dark with its whistling keyboard track as if ghosts are now singing. Dead Bodies arrive with a fast, striking piano track and pulsating drums from Brian Reitzell along with fast bass lines and shimmering tambourine accompaniments. The track gets faster as a wailing, choir-like synthesizer arrives along with eerie, shimmering synthesizer arrangements as things get more intense. The album's final track is Suicide Underground is the album's most eerie track. Led by distorted narration of the film (original narration was by Giovanni Ribisi) as an eerie, discordant synthesizer arrangement plays in the background with Hannah R. Hall saying her famous line, "Obviously doctor, you've never been a 13-year old girl" through some vocal distortions. The distorted, deep narration continues as Brian Reitzell plays a slow, pulsating drum track to the track’s haunting arrangements of synthesizers and its distorted waves of loops and acoustic guitar washes.
The only real flaw in Air's film score to the film's soundtrack, like the film itself is that it's too bizarre for some, particularly towards the end where things get even stranger and more isolating. Then again, Air was conveying the same feeling Sofia Coppola wanted from the audience as they watch the film. While Air's soundtrack is a bit stranger than their debut, the album remains consistent and alluring in its mood. There are no boring spots throughout the album. Fans of Air would likely to pick this up just to hear all the scores in its arrangements. More casual music fans would best, pick up the Original Soundtrack featuring the hits of the 70s plus two tracks from Air, Ce Matin La from Moon Safari and an alternate version of Playground Love. In the end, Air's score to The Virgin Suicides is an enjoyable listen for fans of the duo and for those who loved the film itself.
Air Reviews: (Moon Safari) - (10,000 Hz Legend) - (Walkie Talkie) - (Pocket Symphony) - (Love 2)
Sofia Coppola Reviews: Lick the Star - The Virgin Suicides - Lost in Translation - Marie Antoinette - Somewhere - The Bling Ring
Sofia Coppola Soundtracks: The Virgin Suicides OST - Lost in Translation OST - Marie Antoinette OST - (The Bling Ring OST)
Sofia Coppola Essays: Sofia Coppola: The Videos and Ads 1993-2008 - LIT 5th Anniversary Essay - The Auteurs #1: Sofia Coppola
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