A Decent but Disappointing Brion Effort
Ann | Cincinnati | 08/14/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Jon Brion is my undisputed musical hero. He is a brilliant classical composer, pop songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. There is nothing, and I mean, nothing that this man can do. So why does he keep getting worse with each project?
Back in 1999, he was involved in roughly four projects that helped define my musical tastes and quite literally changed my life. First, he produced Fiona Apple's When the Pawn, one of the best albums of all time. Secondly, he composed the Magnolia score, one of the best movie scores (trust me, superlatives are fitting with Brion) and a damn fine piece of modern composition on its own. Thirdly he produced (and co-wrote at least some of) Aimee Mann's songs from the Magnolia soundtrack. Fourthly, he wrote, played, and self-released a solo album, Meaningless, a truly unique and fresh album in its songwriting and production. Ever since, Brion's work hasn't been as good.
First came the Punch-Drunk Love score, a disappointing blend of Hawaii kitsch and insipid MGM-inspired romance themes. Then the throwaway Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind score (the praise for which still mystifies me). Then Fiona Apple's unreleased Extraordinary Machine album, which is the work of a luminous songwriter and an overcooked producer high on bombast. Now the I Heart Huckabees score. While a definite improvement over the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I Heart Huckabees is a haphazard and unsatisfying work.
There are five complete pop songs: "Knock Yourself Out," "Didn't Think it Would Turn Out Bad," "Over Our Heads" "Revolving Door," and "Get What It's About." These songs have melodic themes that reoccur throughout the rest of the instrumental tracks. For instance, "Cubes" is "Over Our Heads" with mallet percussion and other instruments. Additionally, there are a reoccuring Latin theme ("Strange Bath, "Strangest Times") and a main theme called "Monday" ("Later Monday," "Monday (End Credits)").
I have two hypotheses about why the instrumental score doesn't work as well as it should. Firstly, it could be that Brion's themes (Latin, Monday, and the ones he extracts from his pop songs) are not complex and interesting enough to warrant compelling instrumental arrangements. The obvious and tired melodic choices Brion makes in "Over Our Heads" and "Didn't Think It Would Turn Out Bad" would support this idea. A second possibility is that the problem lies not with the theme, but with the execution and arrangement. What supports the second guess is the track "Omni." It is a clever and buoyant piano jaunt through Brion's "Knock Yourself Out" song, showcasing Brion's beautiful piano playing in the ragtime style. "Knock Yourself Out" is by no means a brilliant or terribly interesting pop song, but "Omni" works wonderfully because of the arrangment. How come the others don't?
Besides "Omni" there are other redeeming qualities to the score. Even Brion's worst moments as a pop songwriter are still better than 99% of other music out there, and the catchiness (albeit vapidity) of the pop songs is undeniable. Additionally the Latin-themed songs feature cool instrumentation and percussion. Particularly "Strangest Times" thrives on a visceral percussive energy. Brion is also a killer guitar player. More songs featuring Brion's raw and sheer talent as a musician would have been welcome.
Jon Brion needs to shape up his career. His next project is producing Kanye West. If, like me, you weren't swept up into the Kanye craze, this could be another disappointing chapter in a career that isn't reflecting the talent of the artist in charge."
Feel Good Tunes
R. Ellingson | northwest by northwest, MT | 02/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you know your stuff you hear all kinds of influences in this CD. The Beatles particularly Rubber Soul period come to mind. All this music is simply wonderful. Lots of melody (thank good it's making a comeback)and intelligent changes. A great mix and smartly intertwined motifs reamerge here and there among the original stand alone tunes. Jon Brion is brillant. I recommend this CD to anyone with taste."