ROYAL TENENBAUMS, THE: SOUNDTRACK
Review by Brad Green:
Mark Mothersbaugh’s greatest gift to the world of music came when he stopped singing (dreadfully) and started composing (seriously). Or, at least, seriously dedicating himself to his musical wit. Originally, Mothersbaugh rose to fame as the frontman and driving force behind the synth-heavy, post-punk pop group Devo – a commercial gimmick dressed up as social commentary on man’s devolution towards industrial soullessness. A statement that was distinctly embedded in their tuneless music. Nevertheless, the inherent irony of it all remains Mothersbaugh’s defining characteristic.
Having transformed himself over the past decade into a surprisingly sophisticated soundtrack composer, he has unleashed latent musical abilities without blunting the edge of his sardonic style. Here his uncompromising blend of kookiness and clever composition makes for as winningly original a score as I’ve heard in a long, long time.
Perhaps it’s even more ironic (in a way that would attain Mothersbaugh’s complete approbation) that it is punctuated on this soundtrack by the kind of skew-angled folk tunes that were forerunners to fringe culture popsters such as Devo themselves. Nico brings her wonky pitch, slight German accent and deadpan delivery to a couple of super Jackson Browne songs; Bob Dyaln’s worldess, languid and horn-rich ditty, Wigwam is here; and there are droll, raw and minimalist selections from the likes of Emitt Rhodes, The Clash and The Velvet Underground. Some of these lack the musical depth to excite, but none totally fails in context.
And that context is the delightfully uneasy mood evoked by Mothersbaugh’s creativity. He gathers together a gallimaufry of instrumentation – pizzicato strings and staccato contra-basses, susurrus percussion and fingersnaps, piano stabs and undefinable but appealingly fragile pinpricks of sound – and runs them through a series of stylistic hoops. On one cue, crystalline piano patterns are suddenly interrupted by a reggae guitar break, which just as quickly dissolves to a jaunty harpsichord that is underpinned by a jazzy, walking bass. Somehow it all remains cohesive.
Whenever a cue threatens to hold a direction it inevitably does an about turn at the next bar. Mothersbaugh seems to delight at continually pulling the rug out from under our expectations and it is his sense of humour, irony and paradoxically sunny melancholy that combine to from a masterfully offbeat and refreshingly singular soundtrack.
Published April 11, 2002
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TITLE: The Royal Tenenbaums
SCORE: Mark Mothersbaugh
FEATURED ARTISTS: Nico; Ysaye Quartet; Bob Dylan; Emitt Rhodes; The Clash; Ramones; Elliott Smith; Nick Drake; Vince Guaraldi Trio; The Velvet Underground