There’s no way a straight-up review would’ve worked to describe the truly bizarre experience of listening to the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s potentially doomed to fail, potentially camp genius film version of The Great Gatsby. So, I went one by one. Some of it is great, some of it is pure shit – but most, if not all of it, is interesting.
Jay-Z, “$100 Bill”: This works (and probably twerks). Not only is it a pretty dope Jay song, but it actually sounds like it would make sense as an anachronistic piece of non-diegetic soundtrack, and not just because of the ’20s horn samples.
Beyonce and Andre 3000, “Back to Black”: Three-Stacks can’t really sing that well, certain tracks on The Love Below notwithstanding. But, he does fine. Queen Bey is nothing less than her excellent self. She is also interestingly understated in her vocal performance.
Lana del Rey, “Young and Beautiful”: I’ve long been going back and forth on my opinion of Ms. Del Rey. Certain singles are great, certain album tracks are meh and I remain uncertain as to her future as an album artist. This new song, however, is excellent. It also sounds period-appropriate in her singing style and the instrumentation (barring the subtle drum machines). The refrain, while extremely on-the-nose, is apt and affecting – “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?”
Jack White, “Love is Blindness”: This is a U2 cover, and I’m on the fence regarding White. Despite these caveats, I like this one, too. While it’s not period-accurate in the music – powered by a driving organ riff, down-tempo pounding drums and some guitar noodling as accents – it does seem appropriate to the world that Luhrmann appears to have created based on the trailers.
Emeli Sande, “Crazy in Love”: Emeli is pretty great. Like anyone with a pulse, I love “Crazy in Love.” However, this seems a bit off to me. The music, courtesy of the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, is fully swing (minus the Kid Koala scratches at the end), as is Emeli’s singing style. It just seems to be trying too hard.
will.i.am, “Bang Bang”: This sucks on every level. Is anyone surprised? The mid-song transition into feigned jazz rhythms and scatting, before the final bullshit drop, is facile posturing and worse than the pop sounds surrounding it.
Fergie, Q-Tip and GoonRock (seriously who the fuck is that last dude): “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)”: Oddly enough, Fergie is the least bad thing about this. She does a passable ’20s-chanteuse impersonation. Q-Tip has no place here, which saddens me to say, but the shocking shittiness of his verse is sadder. Just no.
Bryan Ferry and the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, “Love is the Drug”: This track is period-accurate big-band swing to a fault, but also a little boring. It’ll probably play well in the movie.
Gotye, “Heart’s a Mess”: A little weightless and insubstantial, but certainly not bad. I guess those are the same things you’d say about any Gotye song. So, there you go. That organ lick is kinda tight.
Coco O., “Where the Wind Blows”: I don’t know who Coco O. is, but I dig her track! She (and the track she’s singing atop) walks the line between total modern anachronism and period quite well. Her voice is impressively coquettish yet forceful at the same time, and the ’20s piano meshes well with the skittering drum-and-bass beat.
Florence + the Machine, “Over the Love”: For a while, everyone was pretty big on Flo. Now, she’s a bit more like someone who’s loved or kinda disliked (if not hated). I’m usually the former, even if I find her a bit predictable. So, it was nice to hear that most of this song is wonderfully understated: minor-key piano and a vocal take that burns slow before exploding rather than going all-out all the way.
the xx, “Together”: IT’S PERFECT LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE THE XX DOES, OKAY? A bit slow-paced, but those dueling Romy/Oliver vocals and Jamie xx’s subtle, sonic atmospherics in the background… and, well, my fucking God, does anyone currently embody the spirit of romantic ache through music the way this band can in its sleep?
Nero, “Into the Past”: This track is fine, but it really has no place here. Like at all.
Sia, “Kill and Run”: Nothing too busy or overcomplicated here – piano, some strings and Sia’s elegant alto. Like Florence Welch on her song, Sia knows the value of a slow build and a biiiiiiiig payoff, which is why her belting of the refrain in the song’s climax is such a showstopper.
Liam Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.