Album Reviews

Various – Brokedown Melody

(Island) UK release date: 13 November 2006

Can soundtrack CDs work as standalone collections? Their whole raison d’etre is that they’re second billing to the pictures. So we can’t expect them to be coherent collections of music.

That said, people buy a heck of a lot of them, presumably to bring back happy memories or, in the case of nostalgia releases like Dirty Dancing and the Singalong Grease, to enable fortysomething housewives to enjoy girl on girl karaoke sessions culminating in someone crying in their Lambrini over the life they dreampt they’d have when they were 16.

As undemanding driving music for people who worry they’re too old for loud music, A Brokedown Melody is a perfectly fine collection. Which is to say it’s a perfectly good collection for people who don’t really care about music anymore and are happy with a bland selection of acoustic pop songs with the occasional detour into reggae or soft focus Latin beats.

Extreme sport filmmaking exists in its own little bubble, and musically supports a schizophrenic range of bands from speed metallers to lounge music and laid back pop – just as the films range from sun-soaked meditations on the perfect wave to sub-Jackass showing off. A Brokedown Melody is an original soundtrack to the new surfing film of the same name, and it belongs to a classic surfing genre, a compendium of surfing, mood shots, exotic locations and wise words from the legends of the surf world. The film’s director, Jack Johnson, has managed to attract the likes of longtime surfer Eddie Vedder and The Beta Band to his project.

The music definitely is on the sunny end of the spectrum with breezy but undistinguished songs like The Road by Matt Costa and Johnson’s own Breakdown, which I’m assured is very popular among surfers. However as anyone who knows a dedicated surfer will quickly comprehend, surfers are into surfing; everything else comes a poor second.

The opening instrumental, The Cave by California’s Culver City Dub Collective is an unsuccessful marriage of accordion and bontempi organ rhythms but, as you listen, you realise that in retrospect it’s at least an attempt to do something different, as wave after wave of strummed guitars and soft cymbal sounds slowly lull you.

Anyone anticipating Vedder’s trademark husky vocals will be surprised and quite possibly disappointed by his light touch on the acoustic number Goodbye. The most exciting track is Doug Martsch’s Window, which at least has a lively slide guitar on it, followed by We Need Love by Johnny Osbourne, throwaway lyrics but a soaring vocal performance.

Perhaps I erroneously expect people involved in alternative lifestyles to have a more discerning ear for music and that is why I’m so disappointed by A Brokedown Melody. The perfect musical selection for people who’d buy Jamiroquai’s Greatest Hits, but not go as far as purchasing an original album in case it was a bit too leftfield for them. Dull, dud, soporific.

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