As you can see, I like writing motion picture soundtracks. This is most likely because they are a combination of the two different mediums. You'll have probably seen the film first and therefore the songs usually remind you of the movie. This is true of the Magnolia soundtrack, yet the process by which the film and the soundtrack were made is somewhat backwards. Director Paul Thomas Anderson explains, "I sat down to write an adaptation of Aimee Mann songs. Like one would adapt a book for the screen, I had the concept of adapting Aimee's songs into a screenplay."
This is quite unusual; in most cases, original songs are made to compliment the movie, or already-released songs that fit the vibe of the film are dispersed throughout the picture. In this case, the songs were the basis of the film. Obviously, there must be something extra special about the songs for such an excellent movie as Magnolia to come of them. What is so special about these songs is fairly simple. They are real. They are unpretentious. I could not agree with P.T. Anderson more about her lyrics, in the quote, "She is the great articulator of the biggest things we think about
: How can anyone love me...why the hell would anyone love me?"
These are only a couple of examples of the ingenious simplicity and realness of her lyrics. In the song Wise Up, she sings, "You got what you want, now you can hardly stand it, by now you know it's not going to stop, it's not going to stop until you wise up." I could go on, but you get the point. Throughout the album, Mann conveys non-anecdotal feelings of loneliness, sadness, vulnerability, and confusion. Don't be mistaken into thinking this album is merely a collection of whiney songs that make you depressed. Aimee Mann writes beautiful songs that anyone can relate to; songs that are open to interpretation. Her use of figurative language is poetic, but still completely genuine.
Bear in mind that Mann is not just an amazing songwriter. Perhaps the only thing that surpasses her lyrics talents is her singing. In a world dominated by female pop stars like Beyonce, who sprinkle melodies with flaunty scale runs and vibrato, Mann proves that there are still singers out there who leave the melody to serve its purpose. You can always sing along with Mann, just as the main characters do in one of the film's pivotal sequences. Her voice is smooth and gentle, and has a very motherly quality to it.
As for the instrumentation, naturally it is written by Aimee Mann. It usually consists of a bass, piano, guitar, and drums, with occasional keyboards or strings. The harmonies just always fit wit the singing, and the bass is a real driving force behind the album, especially on the song Momentum
Not to be overlooked are the last three tracks, two which are Supertramp's classics Goodbye Stranger and Logical Song. The very last song is a brief selection of the original score, by composer Jon Brion. Compared to the Aimee Mann songs, they aren't spectacular, but they are still an enjoyable listen.
The genre that best fits this album is probably adult alternative, so I filed it under Alt/Indie. I suppose you could call it pop as well, which might put off people who are intolerant of anything mainstream. I say pop because it accessible to almost anyone. The word "pop" isn't necessarily indicative of crowds of idiotic teenagers at school who who listen to Hilary Duff. Don't imagine anything of those "rock topic" artists like Lindsay Lohan or Kelly Clarkson. Think more along the lines of Norah Jones or Fiona Apple.
The Magnolia Soundtrack is a unique yet simple look at the fallacies of human beings, and the pain and suffering that accompanies withered relationships. As I said, it can be accessed by almost any demographic or fans of any particular genre. What makes it so universal is its direct approach to making beautiful songs about everyday things. Aimee Mann is a wonderful musician, with an enigmatic ability to write such heartfelt songs. I have enormous respect for her, and a great love for this little collection of songs.