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SONIC DEATH MONKEY Soundtrack Reviews - Coffee and Cigarettes & The Thomas Crown Affair

by Natasha Theobald

I have another great couple of soundtracks to report on this week for you. I would apologize, but, truth be told, I don't tend to buy things I think I'm going to hate. I am just like you - I don't want to waste my money. True, there have been some misses, soundtracks which will never again see the inside of my CD player ("Intolerable Cruelty," "Mona Lisa Smile"), but I take no joy in blasting the artistic efforts of a group of musicians. So, I buy what I think I will like, and, guess what, I was right again. All of that is preamble. This week, I will take a delighted listen to the soundtracks from "Coffee and Cigarettes" and "The Thomas Crown Affair" (the original starring Steve McQueen). Join me, won't you?

The soundtrack for "Coffee and Cigarettes" is less a soundtrack than a sonic adventure. The word 'eclectic' only touches the tip of the iceberg on this one. (Considering that the film is from director Jim Jarmusch, I know that must be a complete and utter shock to you.) There are sounds of oldies, traditional country, 70s funk, classical music, jazz, and so much more. The listener is whipped from one thing to the next on an invariably shaking and jaunty ride beyond space and time and, dare I say, sense. As I believe I have mentioned, though, this is the way I like it. I want to be shocked and jarred and exposed to something completely different from the norm. The fact that all of this is accomplished in the space of thirteen, sometimes lengthy, tracks is testament to the intent and the success of reaching that goal within this venture.

On to specifics. There are two versions of "Louie, Louie" on the disc. The older, from Richard Benny & The Pharoahs opens the disc on a familiar note. The second, which appears later, comes to us courtesy of Iggy Pop and manages references to the first Bush and Gorbachev. It's hard to pick a favorite, so I'm glad both are given.

The other double appearance is by Funkadelic. They arrive on the scene at track number two, "Nappy Dugout." They reappear in slot eleven with "A Joyful Process," which, fascinatingly, starts with a simple little version of "Jesus Loves Me" before grooving into something truly funky and a little bit wild. I really like it.

Other highlights include tracks from Modern Jazz Quartet, with "Baden Baden" and "Hanalei Moon" from Jerry Byrd. Tommy James and the Shondells appear with "Crimson and Clover," a song which is not only bittersweet in sound but in personal memories for me. I love hearing it, though. It is beautiful. The experimental sound of "Saw Sage" from C-Side and Tom Waits is also a treat. It absolutely blew me away, with odd sounds, entrancing percussion, even bird noises somewhere in the mix. Very tribal, very emotive, very different.

I highly recommend this disc with the slight caveat that it may be better for more mature tastes. For example, I don't think my niece, who is seventeen, would probably love it as much as I do. It is great, though, for times when you are feeling like something different, but you don't know what. Certainly different, this will not likely disappoint you.

Moving on to an award winning score by composer Michel Legrand, this week SDM has been listening to "The Thomas Crown Affair" soundtrack. While the songs with lyrics will probably be the best remembered off hand (think "The Windmills of Your Mind") they are truly the least of what is to be offered by this compilation, recently re-released for your buying and listening pleasure.

A great deal of the music seems to be written with our hero in mind, Thomas Crown as played by Steve McQueen. It is casual cool, effortlessly sexy, smart, energetic, and so much more. As he is mastermind of the heist which begins the action of the film, the early tracks are jazz inspired, with lots of verve and attitude. The music sounds of its time and sounds of no time, which is to say that while you may be aware of whence it came, it has aged remarkably well. The same may not be said for the tracks with lyrics, which are slightly touched and worn by time, but both sung songs are also offered in instrumental versions, which gets rid of much of the problem.

The music sets scenes of action and scenes of seduction with irresistible charm. In fact, I would say this might be the perfect CD to accompany an afternoon tryst. It is sexy but full of energy, playful and sort of vigorous in just the right ways. The tempo and energy are not dropped until quite late in the disc, when the events of the film become more dramatic and tension-filled. In fact, from track ten, called "Doubting Thomas," to track eleven, "The Crowning Touch," it seems that the fate of the characters has been sealed. We go from doubt to surety.

Track eleven is certainly the one that's doing something different. It is quite dramatic, depending on piano and orchestration, where much of the previous work is infused with the energy of horns. All of a sudden, we are enveloped in something less delectable, wherein the stakes have become decidedly high. All of this can be heard in the track, the drama and the tension and the decision and the aftermath. It is eventful and descriptive and highly evocative.

We are not left to meander in the drama for long, however, as the last song is followed by purely instrumental versions of the theme ("Windmills") and the song of seduction, "His Eyes, Her Eyes." Of course, the carefree nature is given some second thought by the listener in light of the end, perhaps. The songs take on a new dimension and fuller life.

I would say this is a must-own soundtrack for collectors. The score has such energy and life that you can hardly resist it, much like Thomas Crown himself.

That's it for this week. Michael will be around next weekend to enlighten you further with soundtracks anew. Thanks for reading.


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originally posted: 06/08/04 06:25:41
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