Monday, January 10, 2011

Music Album Review: True Blood: Music from the HBO Series Volume 2

An inspiring soundtrack, one that follows the blueprint for a TV series soundtrack perfectly.

True Blood hit our screens (not literally, although I wouldn’t be surprised too far down the line) in 2008, following Twilight and The Vampire Diaries as the newest breed of vampire themed television series' and movies to pave way. The difference between True Blood and the aforementioned two however is the grimy, sexy and very gory Southern state atmosphere, with the makers deciding not to aim for the young teenager audience but would rather give us a TV series that adults would be more accustomed to. It’s been very successful, not in the vein of Twilight, but it’s received critical and commercial acclaim, so much that it has three series’ under its belt. The thing that stands out most for me about True Blood however, is the music, it has a tremendous soundtrack, one that it’s quite obvious a lot of thought has been put into.

I’ve heard both this soundtrack, and the first series soundtrack. The first series also had some fantastic stuff in the programming, with Jace Everett’s now cult classic “Bad Things” paving the way for country music to be cool again. Also on the programme were songs by Marilyn Manson, The Eagles of Death Metal, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. That’s why when I got the actual CD, I was most disappointed. None of the previously mentioned artists feature, bar Jace Everett, and none of the songs on the CD I can actually remember as part of the great background music heard in the show. I think Gary Calamar, the music supervisor, really missed the ball with the first soundtrack.

However, I got the second series soundtrack roughly the same time as the first, and I’m telling you, there’s a huge difference in the quality of the soundtrack for both series’. Let’s start my review on the second series soundtrack.

The album starts off with "Howlin' for My Baby" by M. Ward (who has worked with Zooey Deschanel in the past), a track full of rock ‘n’ roll nostalgia. That is, until the fantastic riff comes in at the end of the bridge, a riff Jack White would be proud of. It really sets the tone for the album and is actually the album in a nutshell – a mixture of modern alternative metal, country and rock ‘n’ roll.

The second track, “Evil” is a very different sounding Jace Everett working with C.C. Adcock and does possibly one of the most dirty sounding songs of all time. It’s fantastically raunchy, with a mucky baseline behind the chorus of kids saying the title track. It's not the same country artist who's signature song has become a global cult hit.

The third track is a song by the ever-ambiguous Beck, doing one of his most diverse songs, full of electronic guitars and a thudding base. Beck’s voice is scarcely heard through most of the track, with the singer preferring his music to do the singing mostly.

After the three opening tracks, the album takes it down a notch with "Clairvoyant" by Robbie Robertson, a song that Lionel Ritchie would be proud of. This change in genre and sound really shows Gary Calamar's diverse album collection, choosing to continue this trend of new and old music, with track five, a proper jazzy and soul number by Jr. Walker and the All Stars. Track six is the fantastic Screamin’ Jay Hawkins at his best with Frenzy, the sleeper hit from the fifties. So that’s three newer artists followed by three older artists.

The musical trip Gary Calamar wanted us to go on with this soundtrack was never going to be easy or steady. This roller-coaster ride then starts to take another twist in the direction of some alternative country with Lucinda Williams, Buddy and Julie Miller and Chuck Prophet, with the latter also using funk and soul in his music. It’s a tremendous selection of songs, chosen in an order that really makes sense. 13th Floor Elevators is next with a Rolling Stones inspired song called “You’re Gonna Miss Me”. Eels, being the ever odd band, make an appearance with the gothic sounding “Fresh Blood”.

After these tracks however, we start to really enter the obscure, with a lot of references to the actual series. Track twelve is a tribal dance track quoting from the series (“I know what you are…”, “What are you?”) over and over again to mesmerising Indian music. A very odd track follows called “New World in My View” by a DJ named King Britt, accompanied by Sister Gertrude Morgan. In this song, Gertrude rambles on about Christianity, she talks of an inspiring story how her religion will fit in a modern day world. This is not directly part of the series, but the concept of religion, and more emphatically, the potential corruption of Christianity is evident in the series. The album finishes with a nice step back into normality with Bob Dylan doing a decent track named “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”. What a rollercoaster eh?

And rollercoaster is definitely the right word for this album. It’s got some fantastic stuff on this CD, and it covers all the bases for what a soundtrack to a TV series should – songs from the programming, songs inspired by the series, songs that have reference to the storyline, everything. However it falls short towards the end, with some of the songs, albeit working for the TV series, just aren’t good enough quality tracks.  But the beginning, definitely the first half, is chock-a-block full of ditty and dirty licks. It’s a vast improvement over the first soundtrack, and if you want to listen to some American bands that you may or may not have heard before, past and present, I’d recommend you get this. It’s an inspiring soundtrack, one that follows the blueprint for a TV series soundtrack perfectly.

Rating: ****
Stand out tracks: Bad Blood by Beck, Evil (is Going On) by Jace Everett and C.C. Adcock, You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp) by Chuck Prophet

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