With his music for The Hours and Notes on a Scandal, Philip Glass seems to be carving out a niche for himself as a scorer of intensely dramatic films with strong female roles. Intense, dramatic and strong are all words that also apply to Notes on a Scandal's score, along with restraint: as with The Hours, the music conveys complicated emotional dynamics -- this time, between two teachers, one nearing retirement, the other a "wispy novice" -- with distance and silence as well as carefully placed moments of drama. Chilly but subdued pieces like "The History" have a subtle air of foreboding that turns into churning, nervous energy and sawing strings on "Confession" and "It's Your Choice." Even softer tracks, such as "Invitation" and "Good Girl," have an uneasiness and creepiness in their sinuous melodies that suggest the film's uncomfortable seductions. As majestic and beautifully played as this music is, it's far from easy listening -- but that's exactly its point.
The soundtrack to Christina Aguilera's silver screen debut Burlesque shines the spotlight on Xtina, who is in full-bore diva mode -- a return to the splashy swing of Back to Basics after the robotic R&B of Bionic. Of course, many of her collaborators from Bionic remain on Burlesque: Tricky Stewart is responsible for the glitzy dance, and Sia Furler co-writes the ballads, their contributions slotted between two Cher songs designed to push the narrative forward, two Etta James covers, a slice of heavy camp in the mincing “But I’m a Good Girl,” and a Nicole Scherzinger co-written interpolation of Marilyn Manson's “The Beautiful People” that provides a bewildering conclusion to this soundtrack. Some of this stuff is quite good, particularly when Christina swings her hips to Etta's lead, bringing to mind the zest of “Ain’t No Other Man.”
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
At the very least, director Baz Luhrmann has created something different here. His modern-day musical weaves new cover versions of songs from the past three decades into one story about a brothel in turn of the century Paris. Its an odd combination to begin with, and the soundtrack itself bounces back and forth between very hip, modern tracks from artists at the top of their game and big Broadway-style ballads from the cast of the film. Some of the most well-respected names in music signed on for the project, including Beck, Bono, Timbaland, and David Bowie. Fatboy Slim created a "Can Can" for the next generation with "Because We Can," and Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Pink, and Mya teamed up for a surefire hit with their naughtier version of Patti Labelle's "Lady Marmalade." In stark contrast to these edgy tracks, the album spends the rest of its time on love songs from Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman. They perform big-voiced, orchestra-backed versions of sentimental favorites like Elton John's "Your Song." The "Elephant Love Medley" strings together some of pop's sappiest hits, including "Up Where We Belong," "One More Night," and "I Will Always Love You." Perhaps to many people's surprise, Kidman and McGregor can really sing, and maybe in a different environment it would be easier to take these songs seriously, but standing here outside the context of the film and next to Beck covering David Bowie, they seem more comic than creative.
Brad Kohlenstein, Rovi
This delightful set features Louis Armstrong in 1968 (not 1966 as it states in the liners) performing ten tunes associated with Disney films. One may not expect much from such songs as "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," "Whistle While You Work," and "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," but Armstrong's joyful vocals and occasional emotional trumpet really uplift the material. His rendition of "When You Wish Upon a Star" is touching, and few of the songs (including "The Bare Necessities" and "Heigh-Ho") have never sounded livelier and more fun.
Scott Yanow, Rovi
The original soundtrack to Ridley Scott's Gladiator features an original score composed by Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer and Golden Globe nominee and former Dead Can Dance member Lisa Gerrard. The duo's dramatic music incorporates traditional orchestral elements, ancient and indigenous instruments, and Gerrard's haunting vocals to create a timeless and evocative backdrop for Scott's tale of an avenging gladiator in ancient Rome.
Heather Phares, Rovi
“The Game Has Changed” is the name of one of the tracks on Daft Punk's score to Tron: Legacy, and it also fits Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo's music for the film. When it was announced that the duo would score the sequel to one of sci-fi’s most visionary movies, it seemed like the perfect fit: Their sleek, neon-tipped, playful aesthetic springs from their love of late-‘70s and early-‘80s pop culture artifacts like "Tron". However, "Tron: Legacy" takes a much darker, more serious approach than the original film and Daft Punk follows suit, delivering soaring and ominous pieces that sound more like modern classical music than any laser tag-meets-roller disco fantasies fans may have had. Tron: Legacy's legitimacy as a score may surprise listeners unaware of Bangalter’s fine work on 2003’s Irreversible; while that score actually hews closer to Daft Punk's sound, it showed his potential for crafting music beyond the duo’s usual scope. Working with the London Orchestra, Bangalter and de Hominem-Christo fuse electronic and orchestral motifs seamlessly and strikingly. “The Game Has Changed” may be the most dramatic example: It starts with a wistful wisp of melody that sounds like a ghost in the machine, then swells of strings and brass and buzzsaw electronics submerge but never quite overtake it. Elsewhere, “Recognizer”'s pulsing horns and synths and “The Son of Flynn”'s arpeggios and strings are so tightly knit that they finish each others’ phrases. Daft Punk get in a few clever nods to Wendy Carlos' Tron score, from “The Grid”'s blobby analog synth tones to “Adagio for Tron”'s mournful sense of lost wonder. However, for most of Tron: Legacy, they’re concerned with pushing boundaries. It’s not until the score’s second half that the duo’s more typical sound emerges on “Derezzed”'s filter-disco and on “End of the Line,” where witty 8-bit sounds evoke ‘80s video games. These tracks come as welcome relief from the tension Daft Punk ratchets up on almost every other piece, particularly “Rectifier” and “C.L.U.” Encompassing the past, present, and future of sci-fi scores, Tron: Legacy feels like it grew and mutated from its origins the same way the film’s world did. Without a doubt, it’s a game-changer for Daft Punk.