You've Got Mail
Music from the Motion Picture (Atlantic 83153)
While we're in the theater, the music in a movie soundtrack has a very specific job: to underscore the action on screen and create an atmosphere that would give the images maximum impact. In other words, the music is meant to manipulate our mood and make us feel the way the director wants us to feel.
Outside the multiplex, movie music has a different, but not dissimilar, role. When we hear a soundtrack album, we should get a sense of the movie's mood. Be it happy, sad, sweet or silly, the soundtrack album should give us the same good feeling the movie itself evoked. And usually, that job is left for the record company.
Nora Ephron is an exception to this rule. Like a lot of directors, she tends to edit scenes with specific songs in mind. But unlike many of her peers, her taste in music is as strongly distinctive as the movies she makes, and that makes "You've Got Mail" an absolute delight.
As with "Sleepless In Seattle," there's a sweet nostalgia to the songs on "You've Got Mail." It isn't just that she relies on familiar oldies like Bobby Darin's "Splish Splash" or "Dream" by Roy Orbison; some of the album's best moments come from songs that may not be as familiar but immediately evoke an emotional response.
Harry Nilsson's "Remember" is a case in point. Sweet and sad, it's part love song, part lullaby and wholly appropriate for the sort of hopeful longing Ephron is trying to evoke. Even if you don't know how, exactly, the song works in the film, it's easy to get a sense of what its scene must have been about.
Nilsson is in some senses the album's star - we also hear "The Puppy Song" and his ineffably beautiful rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - but he's hardly the only one who shines brightly. Randy Newman's "Lonely at the Top" is as wickedly funny as it was 20 years ago, while Jimmy Durante's "You Made Me Love You" is sly and flirtatious.
All in all, "You've Got Mail" is like a great mix tape, one that not only shows off how good the maker's taste is, but gives a window into somebody else's mind. In that sense, the album is a perfect advertisement for the film, because after hearing it, you can't help but want to spend more time in the world it evokes. ***1/2
Classic Wynton (Sony Classical 60804)
Wynton Marsalis' name has become so inextricably linked to jazz that many listeners may have forgotten that he was originally signed as both a jazz and a classical artist. "Classic Wynton" makes a pleasant reminder. Drawn from eight of his classical efforts, the album both shows off his talents as a trumpeter - the clarity, agility and bright, smooth tone that makes him as at home with baroque music as with be-bop - and the best of the instrument's repertoire. In addition to such obvious choices as the Haydn concerto in D, the album trots out such well-televised tunes as Stanley's "Trumpet Voluntary" and Mouret's "Rondeau" (big PBS favorites, both), as well as flashy, familiar fare like "Flight of the Bumblebee." All told, an excellent introduction to classical trumpet. ***
Different Stages ((Atlantic 83122)
Rush has gotten so good at clean, pop-savvy arrangements that it needed something like "Different Stages" to show off how much power this trio still has. Recorded at various stops on the band's "Test for Echo" tour, this live album boasts plenty of interplay between guitarist Alex Lifeson, bassist Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Peart, and the instrumental tangents they take off on are as thrilling as any jam Cream ever played. But because Rush takes care to balance improvisational freedom with a sense of compositional integrity, the band never loses the music's melodic thread, so that these tracks always work as songs. The double-disc set also includes a third, "bonus" CD, from a 1978 show in London. ***
Gran Turismo (Mercury 314 559 081)
There's something so winsome about Nina Persson's languid, lovely voice that she makes even the most despairing lyrics seem sweet, somehow. As such, the last two Cardigans albums sounded cheerier than they should have, but with "Gran Turismo," the words and music are much less at odds. It isn't just that the instrumental backing on songs like "Do You Believe" and "Hanging Around" is dark and aggressive, wrapping Persson's pretty croon in ragged, distorted sound; Persson herself is putting a sharper edge on her performance. There's a whiff of panic beneath her murmured delivery in "Explode" that makes the song's surface passivity downright chilling, while "Junk of the Hearts" uses her blank delivery to underscore its point about emotional emptiness. A brilliant and chilling album. ***1/2
Music From and Inspired By the Motion Picture (Geffen 25313)
Anyone worried about how Gus Van Sant's remake of the Hitchcock thriller "Psycho" will hold up against the original will not be reassured by "Psycho: Music From and Inspired By the Motion Picture." Although Danny Elfman does a decent job of updating the twitchy disquiet of Bernard Herrman's original "Psycho" score, those selections take a back seat to the album's rock-oriented fare. Granted, that's not a bad thing, especially when the music is as horror-show campy as Rob Zombie's "Living Dead Girl" or the Pet Shop Boys' suave, silly "Scream." But too much of the album is given over to drearily predictable efforts, such as Teddy Thompson's "Psycho," which blends techno groove with snippets of movie dialogue, or James Hall's pointless remake of the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer." **
* = poor
** = fair
*** = good
**** = excellent
Pub Date: 12/03/98