Quick! Name the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words “Miami Vice.”
Chances are that the words “pastel,” “Don Johnson” or “Phil Collins” came to mind. As they should have. The hit show of the 1980s has become a lasting icon for the decade, and when you think of the fashions for men in the 80s, the image of Crockett and Tubbs in their pastel blazers, sleeves pushed up and raffeta shoes are brought to mind. So when Michael Mann (the executive producer of the show) announced that he was making a feature film based on the series, it’s no surprise that there were some doubts. Sure, it’s become fun and ironic to be nostalgic about the ’80s, but did we really need a Miami Vice movie? Instead of making a campy ode to the ’80s, Mann updated it and gave us a Crockett and Tubbs that are way too cool for school. No albums with Barbara Streisand’s help here.
In conjunction with the injection of the “so cool it’s serious” mode of the film, the soundtrack is equally ’80s free. The music is mostly atmospheric, electronica-tinged mood music and like the movie, is stripped of any fun and irony that made the TV show so watchable. There is one reference to the TV show of yore, and that’s a cover of the Phil Collins classic, “In the Air Tonight” by Nonpoint, a band known to few, save for their mothers, most likely. Unlike the version that The Postal Service did of “Against All Odds” for the Wicker Park Soundtrack, this cover is rather faithful to the original. The only thing missing is that badass first drumbeat that made the original version the best song ever to air drum to. It’s listenable but it may only be because of the listener’s familiarity with the song. The vocals lack the dramatic tension of Phil Collins’ work in the song, even when the singer starts screaming the words. While Phil Collins is largely thought of as uncool, this version of “In the Air Tonight” pales in comparison and actually makes Phil Collins seem cool.
To get some indie cred, the soundtrack also features two tracks from Mogwai’s Mr. Beast. While Mr. Beast is far from Mogwai’s best work, the two tracks are easily the highlights on this album. The songs lend a foreboding mood that works for the movie. The tracks also rock pretty damn hard which works well for this testosterone-fueled film. Moby produces an original song for the film in “One of These Mornings” featuring Patti LaBelle. Sounding very similar to “Natural Blues” on Play, the song is soothing and sounds like something that would get played in a chill-out room in a Miami club.
Another highlight is “Strict Machine” from Goldfrapp’s 2003 album Black Cherry. There is an easy, unforced sexiness to Allison Goldfrapp’s voice that makes India.Arie’s vocals in the previous track, “Ready for Love,” seem labored. Because of the Miami setting, there are songs that reflect the Latin flava. Manzanita’s “Arranca” is unfortunately placed after a Mogwai track and feels out of place. Emilio Estefan’s “Pennies in my Pocket” is fun if you can get past the notion that’s it’s a cover of a Mandy Moore song.
The Miami Vice soundtrack never escapes the trap many soundtracks fall under: it doesn’t stand alone as a compilation separate from the film. Yes, the songs are used to create an atmosphere in the movie, but a really excellent soundtrack can stand on it’s own. Think Cat Stevens’ work in Harold and Maude, Simon and Garfunkel and The Graduate or more recently the soundtracks of the films of Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. Those soundtracks make for excellent, unpredictable listenings at home, whereas the Miami Vice soundtrack is, overall, pretty bland and works best as background music. If anything, the soundtrack makes an excellent case as to why you should put it down and, instead, pick up whole albums by Goldfrapp, Mogwai and Moby.
Similar Albums (to buy instead):
Moby – Play
Mogwai – Mr. Beast
Goldfrapp – Black Cherry