Sunday, May 31, 2009

222. Say Anything... (1989)

It was 20 years ago today. Jethro Tull won the first Grammy for Heavy Metal performance and hundreds of demonstrators were killed by troops in Peking's T'ien-an-Men Square.

This is the fourth in a series of 5 reviews of seminal (well, depending on your definition of the word seminal) albums from 1989. View the first three here, here, and here.

Now...

The soundtrack is an artform. A really good soundtrack can be enjoyed equally by those who haven't seen the parent film and by those who have. For the latter, the soundtrack is akin to a really good mixtape. For the former, it's a memento, an evocation of the film. The soundtrack for the 1989 Cameron Crowe film Say Anything... is a really good soundtrack.

Case in point: I bought it without having seen the movie, intrigued mostly by the diverse combination of artists represented. I enjoyed the soundtrack enough to watch the film, and at that point it was all over. I loved the movie, absolutely. My fondness for the soundtrack only grew after seeing how the songs slotted into the film, some simply as background noise, others as accompaniment to major plot points. From then on, listening to the soundtrack gave me the same nice feeling I had when I watched the movie.

The album opens with the movie's theme song, All For Love by Nancy Wilson. In case that name isn't familiar, she's one of the sisters in the band Heart, and she's also Crowe's wife. Not only did Wilson contribute this song, but she also provided instrumental music for the film. All For Love is a ballad with a big '80s sound, and it achieves that cheesy-but-enjoyable balance of so many of that era's songs. Even so, Crowe originally commissioned The Smithereens to pen a theme. That song, A Girl Like You (which later appeared on the Smithereens album 11, and became a minor hit), besides being a better song, would have fit better with the rest of the soundtrack.

That's not to say that the soundtrack has a consistent sound. In most cases, all the songs have in common is their high quality. Genre-wise, they're all over the map, from rock to power pop to punk to ska to electropop. Consider that after Wilson's power ballad comes Living Colour's dynamic Cult of Personality. The band, one of the first African-American rock groups, was new on the scene at the time, but had no shortage of confidence or talent. From there we get One Big Rush, a bit of rock guitar pyrotechnics from virtuoso Joe Satriani. In the film, main character Lloyd Dobbler listens to the song while he psyches himself up to cold call his crush, Diane Court.

Cheap Trick's You Want It is next, and though it's not anywhere near the best of their songs, it does represent a return to power pop form following their sappy 1988 smash The Flame. The rock portion of the record closes out with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' funky Taste the Pain, which Lloyd Dobbler rocks out to on his cassette deck in his Malibu on the way to graduation.

The record's second side begins with the money song, In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel. Even people who haven't seen the film can tell you that Lloyd Dobbler holds up a boom box to play this tune in an attempt to win Diane Court's heart back. It almost didn't happen. According to Crowe and star John Cusack, they almost chose To Be A Lover by Billy Idol to be the boom box song. Though choosing All For Love over A Girl Like You was an iffy decision, this was definitely the right one. Since we can never truly know, I feel safe claiming that the scene (and the film) would not be anywhere nearly as fondly remembered without Gabriel's song. But at the same time, the film made the song as much as the song made the film. In Your Eyes was 3 years old in 1989, and had only been a modest hit upon its release (getting to #26 on the Billboard Hot 100). It gained another life thanks to Say Anything....

From there it's all gravy. Depeche Mode chimes in with a live version of their 1984 song Stripped. It's not one of their most memorable tunes, and the fact of it being live takes away some of the creepy mystery, but it's still a good addition to the soundtrack. Fishbone, a ska rap band (and one of Cusack's favorites; he can be seen in a Fishbone t-shirt at the end of the film) offers the fun Skankin' To the Beat. Minneapolis' Replacements are here too, with Within Your Reach. It's from 1983's Hootenanny, when the band were in the midst of their shambolic period, but Within Your Reach is surprisingly mature and controlled, presaging the band's later, more commercial, output.

The soundtrack wraps up with Keepin' the Dream Alive by Freiheit. This McCartney-esque song has always been a bit of a mystery to me, so I did some research. Apparently in their home country of Germany the band is known as Munchener Freiheit. This song is from the second of their three English-language albums, 1988's Fantasy. It was a big hit in Europe where, strangely, it's regarded as a Christmas song. At any rate, it's a pretty good closer, fitting with the theme and events of the film quite well.

And actually, it's not quite the end. The album contains a bonus track in the form of a rap from the famous Gas 'N' Sip scene ("Lloyd, Lloyd / All null and void / Listen to the truth / Tryin' to avoid / Lloyd", etc.). It always brings a smile to my face.

In fact, you could say that about the soundtrack as a whole, as well as the movie itself. Really, they're inseparable, just as they should be.

Grade: A+
Fave Song: In Your Eyes

4 comments:

Sugar Hill Roots said...

Paul,

Would like to get in touch with you. Is there an email address I can reach you at?

Paul Allen said...

Yes. My e-mail address is paul.allen@gmail.com.

david said...

Truly great soundtrack, but I'm surprised, in the review, that you didn't mention the liner notes, which take the form of a story by a Seattle area DJ. Unique and interesting way to introduce the songs and artists. Thanks.

Paul Allen said...

David, thanks for bringing that up. The liner notes are awesome. I re-read them every time I get the album out.