King Creosote, the stage name of Kenny Anderson, is a musical wunderkind, having released over 40 albums in less than 16 years from his home in Fife, Scotland. Considering his roots, it only seems fitting he is involved in this media project. From Scotland With Love is not a traditional album, but an original soundtrack to a BBC2 documentary film of the same name which has been deemed by most critics as marvellous. There is no dialogue in the movie, only 75 minutes of collected footage and photographs showing a Scotland from a bygone era, set to Anderson’s music.
The album opens with Something To Believe In. Let the Beatles comparisons roll in, with its heartbreaking chord change and trembling, gorgeous falsetto in the chorus. The next track, Cargill, sounds like Keane with more fierceness, and the ghost of The Cranberries lingers about. Miserable Strangers carries the brit-pop stylings of What’s The Story, Morning Glory?, with its pop-punk chord progression, xylophone and strings lending majestic flair while backing vocals lend said Oasis vibe. Originally named Fighting And Shafting, the gem For One Night Only breaks up the rest of the album’s decidedly mellow flavor with a much needed kick of adrenalin. Featuring fast percussion, driving guitars, and evoking Broken Social Scene’s song Of Stars And Sons (also used as backing for a cinematic night-on-the-town in the 2006 film Half Nelson), Anderson croons punk with ease.
Bluebell, Cocklebell, 123 begins with a choir of children singing dark material in the way old nursery rhymes are subject to be about. One Floor Down is best heard as an an old dance number, and Crystal 8s is a short instrumental in the songs. All the songs are very pretty, and Anderson’s voice is so sweet that it may struggle to sell harder, rougher emotions, but for a project laced with nostalgia and the gentle touch, this works to his advantage.
The one low point on the album is Yargs, a song more appropriate for a movie Bar Mitzvah than anything culturally specific to the Highlands. The flutes and windpipes are well done, a lovely electric guitar is plucked at the end, but the song could probably have worked better as an instrumental than with any vocals. As it is, it doesn’t quite gel. This isn’t so much the fault of the artist or the material, but because it sounds like polka, which supports the main criticism about polka: no matter how good the polka, it’s still polka.
In a different context, such as its usage in the film, Yargs isn’t a bad song, but this brings up a greater issue with From Scotland With Love, and OSTs in general: music made for film is different than standalone music, especially where criticism is concerned. The reason Bob Dylan’s The Man In Me was given new life by the Coen Brothers is because cinema’s basic interplay, between image and sound, created new context and meaning (the opening credits bowling montage of The Big Lebowski) for the semi-forgotten New Morning track and without said associations, the song’s perceived value and enjoyment would probably be less, or at least given a different flavour (from Jeff Bridges’ The Dude to, perhaps, personal experience). However, other film scores and songs work perfectly well, regardless of how far they’re placed outside their original home (for instance, Smile by Charlie Chaplin). As a standalone album From Scotland With Love is good, but found wanting in areas of length and substance. As a soundtrack to a film, it’s wonderful. The context to choose is the listener’s.