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Trying to Find Soundtracks That Set the Scene

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Build it, and they will come.”

That’s the unspoken mantra chanted by many Hollywood soundtrack directors, looking to construct their own musical “Field of Dreams” from a marketing and sales standpoint. They mash as many top-selling acts onto a soundtrack as the budget allows, even if the artists or songs have nothing to do with the emotional fabric of the film. The goal: a home run, i.e., going multi-platinum. So what if not even one of the hip-hop songs featured on this summer’s “The Nutty Professor” soundtrack, for example, ever was heard in the movie or had anything to do with Professor Sherman Klump’s predicament? The goal isn’t art, but marketing.

Some directors, notably Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, however, realize that the music is as integral to the film experience as camera angles. The ear-removal scene in Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” is just as memorable for its clever use of the Stealer’s Wheel hit “Stuck in the Middle With You” as it is for its grisliness. Scorsese uses Rolling Stones songs as the conscience of many of his films.

Baz Luhrmann’s use of music in his adaptation of “Romeo & Juliet” is nothing short of brilliant. Songs such as Kym Mazelle’s “Run to Be Free” and Des’ree’s “Kissing You” not only hiply update the play in a pop-culture context, but also add an emotional intensity to pivotal moments of the film, cementing certain scenes in the eyes and ears of viewers.

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“Romeo & Juliet,” which is already No. 12 on the national charts, isn’t the only current soundtrack of note. “The Mirror Has Two Faces” and “Swingers” not only bolster the emotional intensity of the movies but also stand on their own alone as worthwhile musical collections. Here’s a look at a few notable movie soundtracks:

**** Various artists, “William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet,” Capitol. Like “Purple Rain” and “Dead Man Walking,” soundtrack albums that transcend the visually arresting movies they were attached to, this collection takes you hostage, from the hard-thumping kick of Garbage’s "#1 Crush” to the Wannadies’ whispering their way through “You and Me Song.” The sounds are eclectic, ranging from gospel and R&B; to trip-hop, but like Luhrmann’s rapid-fire footage, blown-out colors and exaggerated locales, it all makes sense.

Des’ree’s radiant vocal on “Kissing You” is enough to cause tears, while Radiohead’s eerie “Talk Show Host” could make Tricky’s brooding music sound bright and happy. But no matter how the sonic landscape shifts, there’s a cohesion and sense of thematic purpose that matches the tumultuous tragedy of the two teenagers on-screen.

*** Various artists, “Music From the Motion Picture ‘The Mirror Has Two Faces,’ ” Columbia. Before Whitney Houston became the queen of soundtrack-related hit songs, Barbra Streisand reigned. She’s been responsible for some powerful film music, and such films as “A Star Is Born” and “Funny Girl” garnered her as much acclaim for her singing as for her acting.

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“The Mirror Has Two Faces” is no exception. She and collaborator Marvin Hamlisch have created a candle-lit score and instrumental love songs that are gentle to the touch, heartwarming and seemingly effortless. They have a charm missing from most soundtracks, especially love stories.

The airy strings on “Rose Sees Greg,” the sensuous piano touches on “In a Sentimental Mood” and the easygoing “Got Any Scotch?” are the best arrangements on the album. Even a seemingly corny duet between Streisand and Bryan Adams manages to radiate its own special heat.

*** Various artists, “Music From the Miramax Motion Picture ‘Swingers,’ ” Miramax/Hollywood. Shaken, not stirred, this cocktail of a compilation jumbles the perfect combination of more obscure modern funk and lounge gems with tried-and-true jazz vocal classics.

While modern retrograde songs such as the samba-like “Paid for Loving” by lounge act Love Jones and the hard-swinging “Wake Up” by the Jazz Jury set the mood, it’s the older tracks by Louis Jordan, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin that set the cool marker in terms of atmosphere and sonic quality. Jordan’s “Knock Me a Kiss” is a sly, sophisticated wink of a track that could seduce even the most jaded woman in town. Anyone who can match the level of cool communicated by this track truly has the world at his fingertips--the mark of a real swinger.

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** Various artists, “Music From and Inspired by the ‘Space Jam’ Motion Picture,” Warner Bros. “You in it for the money? Or in it for the love?” demands LL Cool J on one of the better tracks on this soundtrack. Too many of the performers--including Seal, Coolio, D’Angelo and Quad City DJs--chose the money.

Salt-N-Pepa’s “Upside Down,” while well-meaning, feels off balance, and Coolio’s delivery on “The Winner” is simply lazy. Only R. Kelly’s masterful “I Believe I Can Fly,” and B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J and Method Man’s “Hit ‘Em High (The Monstar’s Anthem)” are the kinds of tracks that inspire the spirit and move the heart.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).


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