It might seem obvious to say that the best shows use popular music to their advantage, choosing songs whose mood or lyrics seem to mirror the events on screen. It is just this type of music selection that makes some seem to wonder whether the song was found in some kind of cosmic kismet, or the scene were in fact written to reflect a particular piece of music. Both have indeed occurred, and some remain forever shrouded in mystery. As I said, it might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many shows and movies actually get it wrong. I feel strongly about Buffy, Garden State and a vast majority of the shows on HBO. I’m still on the fence about say, Smallville or The O.C.. Sure, the songs they use are hip and popular, moreso the latter than the former, but for every “Save Me” by Remy Zero, there’s some kind of pop-punk band that just doesn’t belong. One of the shows that seems to get it right every time is Six Feet Under.
The words “Everything Ends” were adopted by the HBO show as the theme for the fifth and last season. Of course, for a drama program revolving in and around the concept of death as a part of life, the words have a double meaning. The show itself is ending, and so we close a chapter on the Fisher family and the satellites of people who orbit them. Death is a character in itself on the show, sometimes taking the form of the ancillary characters who die in the first two minutes, sometimes as the passed patriarch Nathaniel Fisher, Sr., and sometimes just as an overarching and hovering presence within the funeral home/household of the Fisher family. The songs which appear in this second volume of songs from the show all seem to fit the themes, the scenes, and at the same time, amazingly, are in and of themselves brilliant pieces of popular music.
Whereas the first volume of the Six Feet Under Soundtrack was a fair bit lighter in tone, featuring no less than three versions of the opening theme, and various songs which fit particular scenes, but not the overall theme, Everything Ends is a heavy affair. Only four of the songs are new, but the old ones seem new taken out of their previous album element. Take for instance Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head.” The album of the same name has been played so much by fans that one tends to lose perspective on the songs as individual pieces. Outside of the album and sandwiched by the French band Phoenix’s ironic “Everything is Everything” and the Fiona Apple/Tori Amos crossbreed of Sia, the song seems fresh and new. Not to mention the fact that the references to burning down a house that held terrible memories fit an exact storyline in the show. The phenomenal Nina Simone’s “Feelin’ Good” may seem lighthearted, but is darkly ironic in the context of the program. HBO ended up using the song again in their famous ads for all original programming on the cable network. Chanteuses Jem and Bebel Gilberto add a little bit of dance to the mix, the first presenting “Amazing Life,” a melancholy and contemplative number, while the second comes with “Aganju,” a remixed Latin dance track.
One obvious choice for the soundtrack was Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” covered here by iPod’s “it” band of the moment, the Caesars. The band handles the classic well enough, after all, how could you (and who would want to), mess with it? My only complaint is that there really, funnily enough, wasn’t enough cowbell, if any (I couldn’t hear it). Death Cab for Cutie’s title track from their last album, Transatlanticism, is sung in the show by Claire and her artistic friends in the fourth season. The longing in the closing choruses of the song is palpable and is yet again, a perfect selection. The two songs that will probably sell the bulk of the CDs are the Arcade Fire’s new song “Cold Wind” and Interpol’s “Direction,” both written expressly for the show. Winn Butler’s cool and sensitive voice wins out in the battle of the new tunes, as “Direction” seems sparse and hollow in comparison. It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for in a new track from Interpol.
When all is said and done, the second volume of songs from the hit HBO drama is a far cry better than the first. Each song dealing with notions in the show that either hit the nail on the head, such as Radiohead’s airplane crash survivor song “Lucky,” or simply dance around the topic seductively and opposingly, such as Irma Thomas’ “Time Is On My Side.” You know you have a good soundtrack on your hands when the songs bring to mind images of the show. Listening to Everything Ends made me miss the Fisher family all over again, but we do at least have this last season, complete with more fitting music selections.
Various Artists – Garden State Soundtrack
Various Artists – Six Feet Under Soundtrack, Vol.1
Various Artists – Wonder Boys Soundtrack