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Magnolia (Soundtrack)

music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Magnolia (Soundtrack)

Artist: Aimee Mann
Genre: Soundtrack
Release Date: December 1999

Review by LarryG
3 stars out of 4

While there's little dispute about the high quality of her songs, Aimee Mann has been deemed uncommercial, unable to get her recent work released by a major label. Perhaps the best thing about the movie Magnolia is that it led to the first release of a collection of Aimee Mann songs in more than four years. Paul Thomas Anderson partly based the film Magnolia, which he wrote and directed, on Aimee Mann songs. The movie is filled with big themes: forgiveness, overcoming past traumas and whether love can conquer all. Anderson creates some poignant moments but takes a long time to get there and is pretty heavy handed. On the Magnolia soundtrack, Mann finds as much emotional insight and gets there a lot more subtlely. Mann's adult songs about romantic dysfunction are so smart and her inner confusion is so thought provoking that you can see why Anderson would want to use them as a starting point for a movie.

On Momentum, Mann sings that, like many of the characters in Magnolia, she's gotten used to her misery and almost finds comfort in it. She sings, "even when it's approaching torture, I've got my routine." Anderson's characters could easily be speaking Mann's words, "I can't admit that maybe the past was bad/so for the sake of momentum, I'm condemning the future to death so it can match the past." Mann's Magnolia songs are generally mellow and don't grab you like the carefully constructed Beatlesque and Byrdsy pop rock songs of Mann's previous best work, her solo debut Whatever. Still, while the low key music matches the usually sad lyrics, the songs are interesting and often misleadingly upbeat. Jon Brion, who produced Mann's solo records after she left Til Tuesday, gives Momentum his typical everything but the kitchen sink production. An old fashioned sax and clunky percussion give the song a festive tone that mocks the confused words. With an oboe and piccolo among the instruments, Brion creates an elegant, dreamy mood on Build That Wall. Anderson made dialogue of the first line of Mann's Deathly: "now that I've met you, would you object to never seeing each other again." Mann sings of abject fear of the pain that can follow kindness. Deathly has a mournful tone with restrained but sweeping guitar from Michael Lockwood and keyboards from Patrick Warren, the bandmate of Mann's husband Michael Penn. Driving Sideways is about a couple that can't work together or get where they want to get. The sad music is produced by Penn's producer Brendan O'Brien who also plays a slide guitar solo, which is strangely reminiscent of Old Man River. You Do is a quiet song with a nice vocal from Mann, trying unsuccessfully to convince a friend that her man will never properly appreciate her. In the movie, Anderson's love of Mann's music goes too far with his use of Wise Up. He forces all the major characters, including Jason Robards who plays a man on his death bed, to sing her song which says their pain will not naturally stop and leaves unclear whether death or taking control of your life is the answer. On the soundtrack, Mann makes better use of the song with a very spare arrangement that's basically just Benmont Tench's simple piano. Mann's songs, and the movie, finish on a slightly optimistic note with Save Me. Mann still hopes for a romantic savior and sees giving up on love as a sadder alternative to pain. The music is hushed and moving, building slightly, mirroring the slight increase in the lyrics' optimism.

Mann's songs are coherent, mature, and sad. They easily stand up on their own without reference to the movie. Mann doesn't have a bad song on Magnolia. Including a good, thoughtful remake of Three Dog Night's One and an instrumental there are nine Mann songs. The rest of the soundtrack is filler including two Supertramp hits which are fairly prominently in the movie. If Magnolia doesn't satisfy your hunger for new Aimee Mann music, you can buy Bachelor #2, which includes three songs featured on Magnolia and ten other new songs, from



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