One of the most hyped soundtracks of the upcoming movie season is for “The Great Gatsby,” Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. For those who didn’t do their assigned reading in high school, the story takes place in the 1920s in the fictional Long Island setting of East Egg and West Egg. As such, the book happens at the birth of the Jazz Age, when high-energy brass bands worked with stomping, New Orleans-inspired rhythms to create dance floor thrills.
For the soundtrack to his “Gatsby” interpretation, Luhrmann has tapped a mix of current-day hit makers such as will.i.am., Lana Del Rey, Florence & the Machine, the xx and Gotye and rising artists Nero, Emeli Sande and Coco O of Quadron to update the speak-easy vibe of the ‘20s. Add in Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry and his orchestra interpreting his work in that setting, and the soundtrack is certain to attract curious ears.
That stands to reason. Luhrmann’s got a record: His 2001 Parisian spectacle “Moulin Rouge!” produced a mega-hit cover of “Lady Marmalade” featuring Pink, Lil Kim, Mya and Christina Aguilera. That musical also tapped the work of David Bowie, Bono, Beck, Gavin Friday and Jose Feliciano, among others.
A dozen years later, Luhrmann’s moving from one party to another, at least as evidenced by the teaser video that Interscope Records just released via YouTube. The six-minute mix features tidbits of a dozen songs from the soundtrack, and cursory listens reveal both ridiculousness and potentially fascinating re-imaginings.
The ridiculous aspects, judging by the 30-second teasers? Will.i.am’s opener, “Bang Bang,” draws on the most overused riff of the Jazz Age, a shortcut that feels a bit too obvious. Admittedly, in typical will.i.am fashion, it’s tortuously catchy.
The same could be said for the clumsy, thumpy second track, by fellow Black Eyed Pea Fergie, rapper Q-Tip and producer GoonRock, which starts with a catchy, repetitive clarinet riff. On first listen, you think, “Oh, this could be interesting.” No such luck. Big, dumb synth washes arrive to render the melody moot, and an LMFAO-inspired steroid beat stomps through unimaginatively.
To the surprise of no one, Del Rey contributes a forlorn, echoed cliché of a ballad, this one about losing youth and beauty having “nothing but my aching soul.” Florence and the Machine’s song “Over the Love” shows Florence Welch at her most vocally expressive -- which is saying something.
The better? Ferry’s adaptations, which he released earlier in the year, fit in perfectly. Coco O also offers a gem of a ballad, and Jack White offers a bouncy, beat-heavy moaner.
The best tease? By far, Sande and the Bryan Ferry Orchestra’s rendition of “Crazy in Love.” Beyoncé’s classic gem about the first blush of love seems made to be covered by an orchestra, and the way that Sande sings it brings out a surprising, simmering urgency. (Welch could learn a thing or two about restraint from her.)
All this said, the six-minute video delivers just enough information to make any opinion unstable. Who knows? Maybe the other four minutes of Del Rey’s song aren’t something we’ve heard many times before. And perhaps White’s catchy song features a cameo by Insane Clown Posse that ruins it.
Listen below to judge for yourself.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit
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