Whilst I can take or leave the film itself, the soundtrack to Stealing Beauty, released in 1996, is a total winner. It features an eclectic mix of songs old and (at the time) new, which complement each other fabulously.
It all kicks off with Hoover's 2 Wicky, which was enough to send me out to buy their album A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular, which I picked up at a record fair for something ridiculous like 20p...those were the days! Great album, by the way; you might find it by Hooverphonic, as opposed to simply Hoover...they have released under both names. Something to do with copyright and such I presume. The OST liner notes inform me that this one was written by Burt Bacharach, Hal David and others, although it really doesn't sound like it! It also features a sample from Isaac Hayes' Walk On By. We are greeted with a beaty, but downtempo treat...ethereal vocals over some fairly insistent bass and a refrain of "Wa wa" which, somehow, is not annoying in the least. This is a great song; listen if you like: Lamb, Mazzy Star (who show their faces later on here), Euro trip hop.
Next, sticking with the lazy Sunday afternoon chillout feel, we get Portishead's Glory Box. One of their better known tracks, this is lush strings, catchy backing beats and Beth Gibbons' distinctive voice. Glory Box is gorgeous, breathy and almost perfect...a song that could almost define the time in music (1994) in which it was released. Wistful, lonely, pining, ultimately defiant, and lovely throughout. Listen if you like: Everything But The Girl, Massive Attack.
Next up are Axiom Funk featuring Bootsy Collins with If 6 Was 9. This song was, of course, written by Jimi Hendrix but here, produced by Bill Laswell (who you may have heard with Sacred System), it is given a very 90s makeover. There are some pleasing guitar licks (as one would hope for with a cover of a Hendrix song), still present are the funky drumbeats, as with the soundtrack so far and this, in places, borders on psychadelic. There are also some nice Stevie Wonder-esque 'talky bits'. Listen if you like: Galliano, Morcheeba, perhaps even a stoned Lenny Kravitz, or that song Underwater Love by Smoke City.
For Track 4, we move into 'classic' territory with John Lee Hooker and Annie Mae. I'm sure there is little that I need to tell you about this song. The piano work is corking and totally makes the song. And of course the voice ain't half bad either! To me, on this track Hooker sounds (purposefully) confused and disorientated, like someone lost and searching for the woman for whom he is pining; when he sings "I can't live without you" I definitely believe him. Listen if you like: John Lee Hooker! Oh, ok, or Ray Charles, Dr John or Howlin' Wolf.
Cranking things up a notch, next we have Liz Phair's Rocket Boy, which served as my introduction to her music (she's great if you are not already familiar with her, particularly her lyrics, although her back catalogue can be a little patchy). This is great teenage music which, after all, is what the film itself is about (the film, although that is not what I am here to talk about, is worth seeing for the beautiful, sun-drenched Tuscan landscapes, but it is not a brilliant film in and of itself). Rocket Boy is all loud guitars and angsty female vocals, which is absolutely fine by me, and strangely fits in rather well here. Listen if you like: The Breeders, Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple.
Up next is a song which really needs no introduction - Stevie Wonder with Superstition. Was there ever a more captivating riff? This is funk mode Wonder at his very best. If this song was the only legacy that he left behind, it would be a remarkable legacy. As it is, this isn't even the tip of the iceberg...Wonder is a definite inclusion in my top five recording artists list (should I make one), and that is saying something! His wonderful soulful voice and superlative songwriting are enough for me to forgive him for the 80s. You know this one, so I'm not going to bother with a 'listen if you like'. This song should never end.
Well, except that the album then segues into Nina Simone and My Baby Just Cares For Me. Another song that it is really not necessary for me to be telling you about. Just a cracking song...and you know it. My personal favourite bit being the risque "and even Liberace's style". Where can this soundtrack go from here??
Billie Holiday of course! I'm in heaven! Here we have her singing I'll Be Seeing You. Bliss. I just can never get enough of her voice and dazzlingly idiosyncratic phrasing, her inbuilt feel for music. If you have never read a biography of Lady Day you really must (try Billie's Blues written by John Chilton); it adds such context to listening to that old voice, surely one of the best ever? Again this song is wistful, longing, pining...and just beautiful.
Back to a more contemporary selection, next up and with some big shoes to fill are Mazzy Star and their song Rhymes Of An Hour. I love the lazy ebb and flow of Hope Sandoval's voice, the laid back, even soporific, sounds that ooze into you and seep inside you head. This, whilst still a very good track, is not one of their better numbers in my opinion. Still, Mazzy Star fit the general lo-fi feel of this soundtrack perfectly. Listen if you like: Cat Power in her quieter moments, The Wailing Jennys, The Sundays.
Cocteau Twins and Alice are next. I love the Cocteau Twins...the floaty vocals, ethereal soundscapes, the harmonies. They are not for everybody, but the voice here is pitch perfect and crystal clear, almost operatic in places. The lyrics (as with much of their music) are almost entirely unintelligible, save for "Alice Alice Alice Alice". That suits me fine when it sounds this lovely, but others may prefer something a bit more structured-feeling. Alice, like many others on this OST, for some reason, makes me think of water...the song washes over you and leaves you semi-submerged, buoyant and floating, eyes closed, the sun on your face, with no external sounds to interrupt the reverie. Although quite a few of the tracks here are yearnful and plaintive, the overall feel is of a cohesive summertime chillout album.
The penultimate track is You Won't Fall by Lori Carson. I have to admit that I know nothing of Carson beyond this song, but it fits well here, particularly as a follow-up to the Cocteau Twins. Another female vocal, this time the backing a little more upbeat to provide a bit of a lift as we approach the end. This song is not particularly remarkable, but her voice is good and it is nice enough...just not one of the best here. Still worth a listen though...there really isn't a dud on this soundtrack. Listen if you like: Any number of female singer-songwriters!
Finally, we are bid adieu with Sam Phillips' I Need Love, which is less 'chillout' than a great proportion of the album (although we did get the upbeat respite of Superstition and Rocket Boy in the middle there), and which finishes off the playlist in a nice rosy way. Phillips, although you never really hear her mentioned anywhere, writes some great songs and some canny lyrics too...try her album A Boot And A Shoe.
These tracks work together surprisingly well and it's 51 and a half minutes that I reckon you will want to replay again and again...especially if you like (predominanantly) female singers. Which is why I suggest that you enter my Christmas competition to win your very own copy.
To be in with a chance, leave a comment telling me what is your favourite film soundtrack and why (a couple of sentences will suffice, it doesn't have to be a big long post like this...unless, of course, that is what you want to do!). You could even write a post over at your own blog, and provide me with a link to check it out. My favourite will get a shiny new Stealing Beauty CD (a real one, not a copy!) sent chez them!
I will judge and announce a winner in one month, so make sure you check back. This, of course, means that if you run a blog, you will get a little bit of free publicity if you are the winner. And if you don't, well, that's no reason not to enter now, is it?