Record Review - 2 January 02 2002

These two recent soundtracks are variations on the typical Hollywood/record company tag team ploy of cut-and-pasting soundtracks to push fledgling new artists while pumping up the bank accounts of existing ones — sometimes regardless of whether the music is used in the movie. Both albums also work without the associated visuals, and are sequenced to cohere musically, which is not a typical trait of the genre.

Sean Penn's I Am Sam project boasts 17 folk/pop singer/songwriters, who weigh in with predominantly unplugged Beatles covers. Nick Cave talk-sings a surprisingly toothless "Let It Be" to Paul Westerberg, whose "Nowhere Man" seems to relate suspiciously to his own lack of recent studio output. Over-earnest by-the-numbers renditions from Sarah McLachlan ("Blackbird") and Eddie Vedder ("You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"), along with a practically unrecognizable Black Crowes doing "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the Stereophonics emoting through a snoozy "Don't Let Me Down," will send you clambering back to the originals for comfort. While everything's per- formed with the utmost respect, these versions seem stale and tired, pleasant yet forgettable.

Vanilla Sky is a far more eclectic outing, joining moody, previously available and obscure tracks from Jeff Buckley, Red House Painters, Sigur Ros, Radiohead and the Monkees with newly recorded McCartney and R.E.M. tunes, neither of which are particularly interesting. Writer/director Cameron Crowe has a knack for understanding quality music — as he kept reminding us throughout the self-indulgent Almost Famous — and the album flows like a good mix tape by introducing us to new sounds while maintaining the atmospheric vibe essential to the film.??