Am I entirely alone? While Zach Braff asks this unspoken question of himself as his “about to tie the knot” character in the “new” film The Last Kiss, but I ask it in relation to the quality of Braff’s soundtrack to the film. That’s right, not only is the Scrubs star starring in this film, but he is also the producer of the soundtrack, we can assume based on the overwhelming success of his compilation for Garden State. To be fair, I haven’t seen the film, but to me it seems like another example of what’s wrong with big business filmmaking. It’s rare to find good stories and auteur driven productions, which is why I applauded Garden State in both its film and soundtrack incarnations. Instead you have studios fighting over who can release the better 9/11 movie, the better 50′s film noir thriller, or period piece about magicians, and if they can’t compete, they simply throw together a dumbed-down remake of a good foreign film. Their hearts were in the right place, having Crash creator Paul Haggis write the screenplay, Tony Goldwyn direct and Braff compiling the soundtrack. But the end result is simply Garden State 2: Attack of the Mopes. Part of me is surprised and part of me is not that reviewers seem to be gushing about this soundtrack.
Garden State introduced more people to the Shins and Iron & Wine while rediscovering the vast talent of Nick Drake and Remy Zero. Even then, however, the Shins were old news to most indie music fans, having first heard them three years earlier. For fans who never ventured outside of that soundtrack, exploring the other music provided by the artists on file, The Last Kiss could seem like a godsend. But for me, it still seems like Braff is three years behind. I’m forced to amend the statement I made in my review of Garden State’s soundtrack, where I urged Braff not to let anyone else mess with his gift of finding music for films. We all make mistakes. “Chocolate,” the opening track by Snow Patrol, provides a delicious piece of ‘spot the irony.’ This is the song from whence came the title of the album from which it was taken, Final Straw, and Gary Lightbody’s repetition of the phrase couldn’t have described my feelings about this soundtrack any better. I suppose that Snow Patrol, Coldplay and other bands of that ilk are perfect fits for the moody backgrounds of a ‘turning 30′ character, but it’s been done before. Joshua Radin, a newcomer with two songs on the soundtrack, takes on the void left by Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel from Garden State with the requisite acoustic breathy emotional singer / songwriter fare that always seems to swell when the main character turns on the waterworks.
“Pain Killer” by Turin Brakes follows, and is one of my favorite songs from their 2003 album, Ether Song. Braff turned a lot of his fans onto this song via his blog website, where he would often recommend tracks to people after numerous requests following the release of his first soundtrack. Honestly, the content of the song would have much better fit the themes in Garden State than The Last Kiss. Although I am finding it somewhat of a head scratcher, no pun intended, as to where a three-year old song about fellatio fits into this story. Whereas Garden State featured a song from Coldplay’s first album, Parachutes, even then four years too late, this soundtrack plucks from their next full-length, the ever popular breakthrough, A Rush of Blood to the Head. At this pace, Braff’s soundtrack efforts in 2009 should finally catch up to X&Y. “Warning Sign” is a decent enough song from the album, though I would probably have gone with the more dramatic and mopier “Amsterdam.” For that matter, we also see returns from Imogen Heap (of Frou Frou, the band who performed the song “Let Go” during the closing scene of Garden State), Remy Zero (“Prophecy” from Villa Elaine is the choice this time when “Life in Rain” would probably have been the equal to “Fair”), and Cary Brothers, still unsigned without surprise from my end. Older tunes by Rachel Yamagata, Ray LaMontagne, Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann and Rufus Wainwright round out the album, with one more acoustic number by Joshua Radin for good measure.
There is something to be said for great songs never losing their luster, as is evidenced by the wonderful “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” among others. Braff has done a more than decent job of choosing good tracks for what could otherwise be considered a great mix CD for that special someone (although I don’t know how they’d take “Pain Killer”). I’m sure these songs also take on different connotations in the context of the actual film. When watching Garden State for the first time, I had the distinct impression that some of the scenes and structure of the film were actually taken from the songs he chose to soundtrack it, they fit so snugly with the images. Maybe this is the case here, I don’t know, but Braff wrote the screenplay for that first film, which excuses the dated quality of the songs, being that they probably informed his work. It’s kind of like how John Ottman both scores and edits films for Bryan Singer. Of course the music fits in perfectly with the movie, the guy is fitting his music in with his own edited images! The inclusion of Athlete’s “El Salvador,” a middling song from an equally middling album, pretty much sums up the soundtrack for The Last Kiss for me. I know that Braff fans will call for my head, considering how his Garden State ‘spoke to them,’ but “El Salvador” and most of the rest of the music on The Last Kiss will not change your life.
Various Artists- Garden State
Various Artists- Scrubs soundtrack
The mix CD you made for a friend three years ago