Love him or loathe him, it’s impossible to argue director Quentin Tarantino knows how to pull the strings when it comes to ensuring his films get maximum attention upon release. Alongside an inevitable dash of controversy, and the usual spot quizzes on what has been ripped off (or “influenced”) from where, the soundtrack is an invaluable tool for making sure every one of his films is keenly anticipated.
Unleashed well in advance of the film release and assembled with the same kind of boyish nerdism that runs rampant through Tarantino’s imagery, the official soundtrack to Django Unchained follows the pattern he has been developing since his arrival with Reservoir Dogs more than two decades ago. However, for the first time, he has included four songs composed for the film, alongside his now traditional blend encompassing the well-known, obscurities and movie dialogue.
Neo-soul artists Anthony Hamilton and John Legend are inspired choices with their respective tracks Freedom and Who Did That To You?, even if Hamilton’s Freedom does carry more than a hint of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, whose music was purloined wholesale from the soundtrack to Viva! Django, the sequel to the original Django film.
With Tarantino, it’s fair to assume that is no coincidence, nor is the inclusion of a dramatic new ballad from soundtrack maestro Ennio Morricone featuring a sumptuous vocal from Italian pop singer Elisa Toffoli. In typically brazen style, “the DJ director”, as he has been called, also includes two old Morricone pieces stripped out from earlier films, as well as other recycled soundtrack fare from acknowledged greats of the genre such as Jerry Goldsmith, Luis Bacalov and Riziero Ortolani. With the movie yet to screen locally, it’s impossible to say how inspired these choices are in situ, but given his resources, it is, at the very least, cardinally lazy that Tarantino resorts to such brazen plundering.
100 Black Coffins, the last of the commissioned tracks, is the oddest, featuring ex-prison warden rapper Rick Ross reciting cartoonish rhymes over a track that cleverly marries Morricone-style spaghetti western whistling and orchestration with rattling southern hip-hop “trap” beats. In keeping with the entire soundtrack itself, it’s smart as a whip but feels simultaneously a step too far and perhaps a shade too obvious for a director whose deserved reputation is predominantly built on immaculate reconstruction and canny appropriation.
DJANGO UNCHAINED, Various (Universal).
Despite mixed, at best, reviews of the film, the soundtrack to Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD (Verve/Universal) deserves time on its own merits. The way Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaolalla’s scored pieces slide alongside the original contributions shows a nuanced touch, in direct contrast to the “punch in the face” smartass postmodernism of Quentin Tarantino and his ilk. With timeless and poignant contributions from Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Son House and the oft-overlooked scat sensei Slim Gaillard, this soundtrack truly succeeds in recreating the atmosphere, in ways the film apparently doesn’t.
Any of today’s soundtrack scoring artists looking for a reference to how you go about it properly would do well to investigate the TROUBLE MAN: 40th ANNIVERSARY EXPANDED EDITION (Hip-O Select) by Marvin Gaye. With 29 unreleased tracks added to the original issue, there are copious worthwhile alternate versions alongside the complete full score. Recorded in 1972, just a year after What’s Going On, this is Gaye at his pioneering best, and for once the different takes and microscopic excavations justify their release, further emphasising why this score has been a sampler’s delight and collector’s favourite for years, even if the film was a lemon.