Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 9/27/03 with a Few Minor Edits.
When there’s a comeback arose, it’s always based on something to cash in on something or to prove that you’re viable again. Then there’s My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields. Since the release of 1991’s seminal rock masterpiece Loveless, My Bloody Valentine disappeared after making two acclaimed albums and several brilliant EPs by the mid-1990s. For years, fans had waited for Kevin Shields and company to return with a new record but instead, Shields contributed covers to tribute or benefit albums, remixes, and guitar contributions under the MBV moniker. In 2000, he briefly made a return to the spotlight when he toured with Primal Scream to promote their album XTRMNTR which Shields had made contributions for. Still, many wondered if the reclusive perfectionist will make a return and in 2003, he did.
The news of Shields’ return sent shockwaves all over the music press, notably the U.K. and U.S. underground who had been praising Loveless for years. Though it’s unsure if Shields will release a full-length album in the coming years, there will be a new MBV album coming with unreleased and re-recorded material from the pre-Loveless period. Whether the MBV or his new solo record will come out first, Shields finally presented four new tracks to the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s sophomore masterpiece Lost in Translation.
The soundtrack to Lost in Translation is a wide mix of music ranging from Japanese pop, indie-pop, French electronic music, ambient, noise-pop, and dream-pop. Leading the pack is Kevin Shields with four new cuts on the record along with an old classic cut from Loveless. The film’s music and score is also provided by producer Brian Reitzell who plays on a couple of tracks for Shields as well as two of his own tracks with Beck's keyboardist Roger J. Manning Jr. The soundtrack, like the film itself, provides a sense of chill and alienation to capture the isolating tone of Sofia Coppola’s subtle, evocative look of the movie and the soundtrack does a perfect job in doing so. With the sterile, chilling electronic music of Squarepusher, Death in Vegas, Air, and Sebastien Tellier along with songs and textures from Phoenix, Happy End, Richard Beggs, and a classic cut from the Jesus & Mary Chain, the film provides a diverse soundtrack into the colorful layers and dissonance of Japan.
The album begins with a brief intro designed by Richard Beggs which features the noises of Tokyo and its people along with samples of Japanese songs like Sora Izumikawa’s Lost Generation, Akinori Kumata’s Carpe Diem-Ima Konoshunkanwo Ikiru, and Miki Watanabe’s Kitakaze To Taiyo. The intro serves as an uncomforting, chilling opener to the world of Japan and its people as it segues into the next song. Kevin Shields’ City Girl arrives with Brian Reitzell’s mid-tempo, pulsating drums and Shields’ dissonant, droning guitar wash as he sings, “Please, tonight/Last night/You/You’re away, and wonderful/I wanted you, I do, I do” with his sullen, drowsy vocals. The song’s textures of shimmering melodies from Shields’ guitar proves that after 12 years, Shields hasn’t lost the ability to craft a brilliant pop song, especially in the chorus of “City girl, you’re beautiful/I love you, I do, I do, I do” with Reitzell hitting pulsating fills and cymbal crashes to Shields’ melodic guitar wash.
Next is an eerie, chilling instrumental from Sebastien Tellier entitled Fantino that has Tellier playing a soft, washy acoustic guitar track with accompanying layers of synthesizers and mellotrons that serves as a chilling, evocative tone to the song to encompass the isolation of the film’s American characters in Tokyo along with dissonant Japanese melodies performed on the synthesizers that wails throughout the song in its squealing demeanor. Squarepusher comes next with his instrumental piece Tommib that arrives with its melodic, sterile synthesizer track in its dreamy, melancholic tone. Though the track is brief, it again encompasses that alienation in the film’s subtle tone as it was used in some of the driving scenes of Tokyo that has Tommib serve as an alien-like accompaniment to a world that is foreign to outsiders and the track captures that tone perfectly.
Next is Death in Vegas’ Girls that is a more blossoming track with its grand, melodic crashes of guitars, bass, synthesizers, drums, and Susan Dillane’s vocals as it starts off soft and then blooms into something mesmerizing and open as the snare hits along with fuzzy synthesizer tracks. The track serves as the introduction of Japan to its foreigners as either something beautiful or strange as the track then speeds up a bit into something a bit more menacing but not in a very aggressive way as it still encompasses its melancholic tone. Goodbye is the first of two electronic-inspired instrumentals from Kevin Shields as he returns to the ambient-textures of MBV in the past to explore electronic music with just some synthesizers and a guitar. Goodbye plays as a dense, soothing track with ambient-like synthesizers and textures with a soft guitar drone in the background as the track shows the stimulating chill of loneliness in the film’s central characters of Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). The track might seem to be totally different from Shields’ work with MBV but in truth, it’s not really different in its ambient, dreamy tone since Shields have always found ways to make noise dreamy. Even though it doesn't appear in the film.
We now go into the pop spectrum of the soundtrack with Phoenix’s Too Young with its bouncy, Casio-keyboard melodies, flourishing guitar melodies, dance-rhythms, and vocals of Phoenix’s singer as he sings the chorus of “Can you hear me calling/Everybody’s shaking/Tonight, everything is over/Too young”. Some listeners might remember this song from the movie Shallow Hal where Jack Black is dancing with three women that Jason Alexander refers to as “Hyenas, giraffes, and hippos”. Coppola uses it for a sense of fun in the party scene with Murray, Johansson, and Japanese actor Fumihrio Hayashi as a precursor to the famous karaoke scene in the film.
We now go to some nice Japanese pop from an old 1971 song by Happy End entitled Kaze Wo Atsumete that is a lovely, acoustic pop song sung entirely in Japanese by a guy with a nice baritone-like vocal with melodic keyboard backgrounds. This song is catchy and has an Elvis Costello quality of sorts in the song although I think Elvis Costello should be questioned if he had heard of these guys and ripped them off. Still, it’s a great Japanese pop song that has a catchy chorus in its title that broadens the record wide open in its diverse presentation.
We return to the eerie world of Tokyo in an instrumental called On The Subway by Brian Reitzell and Roger J. Manning Jr. with its cold, simmering synthesizer accompaniment along with melodic keyboard hooks, and a pulsating, eerie drum machine track that encompasses the isolation of Charlotte in the Tokyo subway where’s she’s the only American in subway and the trains that just is well utilized in its isolating tone. The second of third Shields instrumental arrives with the melodic Ikebana that is all Shields as he plays a dreamy, melancholic guitar track with its layers of chiming melodies and a simmering, ambient synthesizer accompaniment in the background. The track is easily the best thing from Shields in the soundtrack as he displays his brilliant as a guitarist by playing a simple melody in a moving scene of Charlotte watching women pruning Japanese orchids.
We now go to a classic My Bloody Valentine song from Loveless called Sometimes where Shields plays a grungy, dreamy guitar wash with its dissonant, droning melodies as he sings the song’s dreamy lyrics of loneliness with his drowsy vocals and an accompanying acoustic guitar wash from Blinda Butcher in the background. This song like many road scenes in the movie was used in a very particular one where after days of insomnia, Bob and Charlotte are returning to their hotel as they’re finally becoming sleepy and Coppola deserves credit for finding this song and acknowledging the influence of My Bloody Valentine in the film as a wailing, ambient like synthesizer approaches to end the song.
Next is a track from the French electronic duo Air (who contributed the score to Coppola’s debut film The Virgin Suicides) as they bring the only new track, aside from Shields and Reitzell, in the instrumental Alone In Kyoto. Alone In Kyoto opens with soft, simmering synthesizers as melodic string riffs and soft wails of synthesizer melodies later follow it. Pianos come in as the track begins to build some momentum as the track encompasses some Japanese melodies to visualize Charlotte’s trip in Kyoto as the track later, becomes more melancholic with its piano and wave backgrounds to stimulate the sadness of Charlotte’s marriage in the film.
The second instrumental contribution Reitzell and Manning is the short instrumental for Shibuya with its dense, deep synthesizer track as wailing synth melodies arrive with pulsating hooks as Richard Beggs brings in noises of Tokyo and people talking in Japanese. The final instrumental piece is from Kevin Shields for Are You Awake? where Shields goes into electronic music with bass accompaniment from Bryan Mills and throbbing synthesizer melodies from Shields and pulsating rhythms from Brian Reitzell as Shields takes the ambient of MBV into dreamier, more rhythmic textures as he even plays a soft, squealing synth-buzz in the background.
The supposed album closer is the classic Jesus & Mary Chain song Just Like Honey as future Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie plays that famous Wall of Sound rhythm of the Phil Spector-produced Ronnettes masterpiece Be My Baby. With Douglas Hart’s bass accompanying and William Reid playing a soft, feedback wash guitar with Jim Reid singing, “Listen to the girl as she takes on half the world/Moving up and so alive/In her honey-dripping beehive, beehive/It’s good, so good, it’s so good, so good/Watching after you is the hardest thing that I can do/That I can do for you, for you/I’ll be your plastic toy, I’ll be your plastic toy, for you/Eating up the scum is the hardest thing for me to do”. Then Gillespie goes into a caveman-like beat to the song’s layers of guitar-wash feedback as Jim Reid sings the words “Just like honey” repeatedly as the song served as another road song to the film while the lyrics provide a clear description of what the movie is about, sort of.
After 9 minutes of silence, a secret track appears where Charlotte introduces Bob Harris as he does a moving karaoke version of Roxy Music’s classic More Than This. With re-recording backing tracks from Reitzell and Manning, Bill Murray steals the show as he sings the song’s heartbreaking lyrics with his flat but soulful vocals including the chorus of “More than this, you know there’s nothing/More than this, tell me one thing/More than this, there’s nothing” that is brief but moving though it doesn’t capture the same spirit that Murray did a long time ago for that Star Wars song but his rendition of “More Than This” still leaves you breathless.
While a lot of film soundtracks this year (with the soundtrack to Underworld as an exception) are just trying to provide singles and song that really has nothing to do with the film, the soundtrack to Lost in Translation doesn’t try to provide any sort of huge singles or songs that had nothing to do with the film. All the tracks in this record capture the feeling of isolation in Coppola’s dreamy masterpiece, which is why this record is by far, the best soundtrack of the year and maybe, the best album of 2003. Another thing that should be noted about the soundtrack is the packaging with Polaroid pictures of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson showing their loneliness or whatever brief of happiness is shown in the film. It’s by far one of the best packaging I’ve seen for any film soundtrack along with its evocative look of Tokyo captured by film cinematographer Lance Acord.
The soundtrack to Lost in Translation is easily one of the best soundtracks to come out in the past ten years. With its array of electronic music from Air, Death in Vegas, Squarepusher and pop tunes from Phoenix, the Jesus & Mary Chain, and Happy End, the record has everything. Even the tracks of Brian Reitzell and Roger Manning standout for its dense, eerie score that displays the alien tone of being a foreigner to the new world. The real star of this soundtrack of course is Kevin Shields. Though his instrumentals for Goodbye and Are You Awake? are excellent forays into electronic music, it’s the instrumental for Ikebana that really shows why Shields is an influential force in pop music while City Girl is another example of Shields’ mastery on pop music. Fans of My Bloody Valentine, the various artists in the soundtrack, or the film itself should pick up this soundtrack. For Kevin Shields, it’s a brilliant comeback in appearing the year’s best soundtrack to the year’s best film.
Sofia Coppola Films: Lick the Star - The Virgin Suicides - Lost in Translation - Marie Antoinette - Somewhere - The Bling Ring
Sofia Coppola Soundtracks: Air-The Virgin Suicides - The Virgin Suicides 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 - Favorite Films #4: Somewhere - LiT: 10 Reasons
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