Within one second of the public's first viewing of Baz Luhrmann's take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, it's clear music will be a centerpiece.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, saying "New York ... 1922 ..." over the Kanye–Jay–Frank Ocean track "No Church in the Wild." After first listen (and viewing), it didn't make any sense, and that hasn't really changed with subsequent viewings. The song, while quite effective as the backing for 2012's Safe House, seemed like an odd pick for our first impression of a film adapted from one of our most celebrated American novels.
The man who, as we've learned, does whatever he so pleases, has executive producer credits on both The Great Gatsby and its accompanying soundtrack. He's no stranger to this job title, which inevitably makes one stop to think Wait, so what did he do, exactly?, but this venture, unlike previous ones (video game NBA 2K13, Broadway show Fela!), seems more purposeful — and personal. And no, not just in the sense that both he and the titular protagonist rose to prominence using the alias "Jay," deal with being new-money individuals who seek to break into old aristocratic circles, and LOVE TO THROW SHIRTS.
Looking at the track listing on paper, and then listening to songs as they become increasingly available, it's clear that, yet again, we are looking at another Jay-Z passion project.
That's not good or bad. It just is.
Take the Jay-headed Made in America festival, for example. Looking at the lineups (2012: Jay-Z, Pearl Jam, Skrillex; 2013: Beyoncé, Nine Inch Nails, Deadmau5), the premise is clearly to have "something for everybody," but they also seem designed to bring these disparate acts together for the sheer sake of proving to others that he's eclectic (see: every mix CD anyone has every burned for a crush, ever).
That balance and curation of a collection of artists seems to also be the inspiration for The Great Gatsby's soundtrack, for better and for worse.
Track 1: Jay-Z, "$100 Bill" (Snippet)
Starting the soundtrack with his own track, while smart and effective (since the snippet is good), gives the project a touch of his American Gangster concept album, in the sense that the film isn't about Jay, but don't tell Jay that.
Track 2: Beyoncé and André 3000, "Back to Black" (Snippet)
If you somehow have never heard the original version of this song, perhaps this new version will strike your ear as intriguing. But as one someone who has, this is hard to digest, even from my favorite rapper and my favorite Sasha. It's not bad, it just feels wrong. Like the Weeknd deciding to cover Luther Vandross, or some other off-the-mark musical acid trip.
Track 3: Will.i.am, "Bang Bang"
Will.i.am, on how this song (also featured on his upcoming album, #Willpower) came to be:
"Jay-Z sends me a text message saying 'Yo, I've been working on this Great Gatsby, you got anything ... different?'"
And then, Will's take on the song:
"It's like if Louis Armstrong was right now into electronic music."
Imagine Will.i.am remixing the score of Chicago. The product of that horrible decision would be "Bang Bang." In 90 seconds, it goes from "All That Jazz" to "Scream and Shout" to the Epic Sax Guy. This isn't horrible, but it's not great. I mean, there have been worse things. Like the next track, for example.
Track 4: Fergie, Q-Tip, and GoonRock, "A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)"
So, just for a second, ignore that this song is too over-the-top. Or the fact that Fergie, Q-Tip, and GoonRock are on a song together for The Great Gatsby soundtrack. The issue all humans should take with this is that the song is called "A Little Party Never Killed Nobody," which, if we're following plot lines, seems more appropriate for Project X than The Great Gatsby.
JAY GATSBY DIED FROM PARTY ROCKING.
As the soundtrack progresses, it's hard not to get the feeling that Mr. Carter read this book the same way I did in 10th grade, that being excessive underlining for the first 25 pages and then relying on conversation eavesdrops for clues on how the story ends.
Track 5: Lana Del Rey, "Young and Beautiful"
I don't know if this will turn non-Lana fans into believers, but for those of us who like her, this is one of her better efforts. Also, just with regard to the film, this song is a nice reprieve from Dubstep Gatsby. If Gatsby were a musical, this song would fit in the film, which cannot be said for any of the four previous tracks.
Track 6: Bryan Ferry and the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, "Love Is the Drug" (Snippet)
Call me old-fashioned, but I wish the overwhelming majority of the soundtrack sounded like this. While there is much to gain from modernizing a story, hearing Jay's voice slightly breaks the illusion that the songs you're hearing have anything to do with a story published in 1925.
This is a great track, with Bryan Ferry and his orchestra sprucing up a 1975 song from his old band, Roxy Music.
Track 7: Florence + the Machine, "Over the Love"
No one has ever complained about new music featuring Florence Welch's majestic voice. And it's nice to hear a Gatsby reference in the lyrics (the "green light") that doesn't feel forced down your throat.
It's just good to know someone read the book. It really is.
Track 8: Coco O. (of Quadron), "Where the Wind Blows" (Snippet)
While this is admittedly a very short snippet, it still seems to stay in line with the middle portion of this soundtrack, composed of songs that, lyrically or instrumentally, are best fit for the film. This is great.
Track 9: Emeli Sandé and the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, "Crazy in Love (Snippet)"
Why, Jay? Why'd you make this happen? I know you know this isn't OK.
Also, using Emeli Sandé, a performer at Made in America 2013? I see you, Jay. Know that I'm onto you.
Track 10: The xx, "Together" (Snippet)
There's no need to worry about this song. It's The xx. As of April 22, 2013, they're still incapable of making bad music. This small sampling continues this trend.
Track 11: Gotye, "Hearts a Mess"
This is probably the oldest recording on the soundtrack, orignally released on Gotye's 2006 album Like Drawing Blood. Good song, great video, curious addition to the soundtrack, but at least it's not Gotye singing "Bug a Boo."
Track 12: Jack White, "Love Is Blindness"
Finally, we've reached the best song on the soundtrack. I spent the first half of the first trailer scratching my head at the inclusion of "No Church in the Wild," but after that Jack White's U2 cover has been the most impressive song to be coupled with the film's visuals since promotions began.
This is Gatsby's version of Cloud Atlas and M83's "Outro." How good the film is remains to be seen, but songs like this can make even the shakiest movie seem like a future classic.
Track 13: Nero, "Into the Past" (Snippet)
It's hard to get ahold of this track by listening to a 30-second portion, but here is another act performing in Jay-Z's Made in America festival. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, it's just a thing that's happening and we all should be aware of it.
You know. "Business."
Track 14: Sia, "Kill and Run" (Snippet)
This soundtrack is weird. It's like when your hard drive crashes and you only manage to recover 14 random files.
Jay-Z turned those files into a soundtrack. For The Great Gatsby. There are hits and misses, but in the end, it's all undeniably Jay.