Published January 17, 2002
Review by Brad Green:
Everyone has a romantic weakness. A sight, smell or sound that dissolves the most
hardboiled sense of pragmatism and ushers in the dreamer. Suddenly the world is painted in
intriguing hues, and Routine shrugs off her quotidian coat to reveal all manner of
secrets. For some, this strange intoxication is triggered by a link with childhood memory,
for others it is an arousal of imagination. I have not yet visited Paris, but my own
irresistible catalysts are the Continental melodies of the cafe accordion, the street
ensemble and the salon piano. They speak to me not of a perfect world, but a world full of
magic, whimsy and infinite potential.
If I gush, excusez-moi s’il vous plait, it is the fault of composer and
multi-instrumentalist Yann Tiersen. His score for Amelie summons up irresistible waves of
an all too rare quality: cheerful nostalgia. All nostalgia is tinged bitter-sweet, but is
by nature more inclined to melancholy than the honeyed, jaunty phrases of this soundtrack.
The result would be too buoyant for director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s trademark
grotesquery, but it is perfect for a film which finds the auteur strolling on the sunnier
side of quirky observation.
Yet the same nuances that stamp every Jeunet vision are present in these tunes. There is
the hint of the carnival and the kooky that lurks around the corner of reality, mostly
hidden, except from the wry angle of Jeunet’s lens – or Tiersen’s ear. In
their very effervescence, Tiersen’s compositions bubble with the laughter of the
harlequin and troubadour. The style is in no way forced; a number of tracks borrowed from
his previous albums blend seamlessly with the new material. A lightly swinging croon and a
Piaf-style cabaret song, both of the 1930s (and the only music on the CD for which Teirsen
is not responsible), sway harmoniously in between.
The lucidity of Tiersen’s music is not surprising; he plays each and every instrument
himself. Considering these number almost a dozen, and range from piano and banjo to
accordion and carillon, it is a talent which invites bouquets. More importantly, the music
is of a style where the synergy of composer as ubiquitous performer is paramount. The
one-man ensemble dabs on each instrumental tone like a pointillist dot, and the overall
sound glows like a Seurat masterpiece. Not that the instrumentation is ever thick. There
are moments of solo piano, pure and dignified, and a solo accordion passage where you can
hear the hands on the keys and almost feel the breeze in the bellows.
Even when the interplay of instrumentation is at its most sublime, the enchantment
radiates from the gentle contrasts and confluences within intimate groupings. You cannot
crowd a symphony into a Parisian café, and Tiersen ensures his music breathes. It is the
breath of joie de vivre.
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