Review Summary: Here's to the ones who dream
Typically, infatuation with a soundtrack is a one-way street: go see the movie, enjoy the music, acquire the songs. That’s par for the course…but when you’re an avid music critic, those roles sometimes end up getting reversed. That’s how I found myself humming along to ‘City of Stars’, totally oblivious to the background or context from whence any of the songs came. La La Land
won nearly every possible award for a film, so the hype surrounding it was impossible to miss; factor in that it’s also a musical and you can begin to understand how I – along with many others – came to appreciate the soundtrack before witnessing a single scene from the movie. The rarest thing about this soundtrack isn’t that I heard it before seeing the film – it’s that the collection of songs is so beautiful and well-orchestrated that it easily stands on its own, movie or no movie. You don’t need
the visual component to enjoy these tracks, and if anything I’m worried that when I do see La La Land
, it won’t live up to the vast expectations set by this beautiful, irresistibly warm collection of tunes.
La La Land
exists in a vibrant musical setting comprised heavily of jazz and other classical influences. ‘Another Day In The Sun’ and ‘Someone In The Crowd’ feel like grand overtures, complete with some of the most upbeat percussive elements on the record and group choruses worthy of a Broadway stage. The aforementioned jazz influx also comes early and often, with offerings like ‘Herman’s Habit’ and ‘Summer Montage / Madeline’ recalling 1920s dance joints with their rich saxophones and trumpets all propelled by lively piano lines. Songs like these truly feel like they have a zest for life, and are enough to transport you to La La Land
. They wouldn’t be complete, however, without the addition of Gosling and Stone’s gorgeously intertwined vocals. Both actors put on a phenomenal vocal display, from the Sinatra-like show-tune ‘A Lovely Night’ to the romantically inclined, premium-cut ballad ‘City of Stars.’ That the latter song surfaces in three parts makes it all the more rewarding, and gives the soundtrack a sense of continuity – from Gosling’s initial rendition to the duet version, and finally with Emma Stone’s whistled outro on the final track. It’s a testament to how the soundtrack, and the people in it, evolve: from loneliness to being in love, and finally reaching a point where words are no longer needed to convey emotions. While ‘City of Stars’ marks a popular highlight and critic’s choice, the best vocal performance by either actor actually comes on Stone’s ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’ – starting as a gentle brushstroke of soothing vocal charm and culminating in the most sweeping, powerful melody of the entire soundtrack. It’s a defining moment for La La Land
Despite all of the swirling jazz, classical, and vocal aspects that characterize La La Land
’s brilliance, some of its most rewarding moments are minimal in stature. For as vivacious as the whole experience is, there are also gratifying exhales that enrich the music’s imagery. The gently cascading classical piano notes on ‘Mia & Sebastian’s Theme’ paint a picture of a city skyline, overlooking the horizon on a starry night with a glass of champagne resting carefully on the balcony’s edge. ‘Planetarium’ is a dreamy piece, floating buoyantly on its playfully elegant, almost flirtatious strings – quickly rising and falling as if to bat its lashes. Then there’s ‘Engagement Party’, another stunningly lo-fi piano piece that never fails to deliver emotionally while conjuring up images of a gentle ballroom sway. It’s tracks like these that make up the heart of La La Land
’s soundtrack, offering thoughtful moments of introspection and romance to balance out the jazzy, Broadway style of the more upbeat songs. Writer/director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz have struck a perfect balance here, and the result is not only a soundtrack for all moods, but also one that intensifies any particular feelings being experienced throughout. It’s truly a soundtrack capable of standing toe-to-toe with the classic musicals and films that come to mind from past decades.
There’s an argument to be made that without having experienced the visual component, there is no way to accurately critique the auditory half of things. There’s certainly some truth to that which I won’t bother denying, and seeing La La Land
is definitely on my list of things to do now that I’ve become so spellbound by its soundtrack. However, I’ll make the same recommendation to others that I would make to myself if I had the opportunity to start all over: if you’re intrigued by the music, just go for it – don’t feel obligated to see the movie first. With songs as melodic, romantic, and all-in-all beautiful as these, there’s almost no way to regret having heard the soundtrack. Of course, for those who have already seen the movie, I can only imagine that the songs of La La Land
are capable of carrying even more meaning, which is a prospect that I’m beside myself with excitement about. This soundtrack is an inspiring and at times blissfully ethereal piece of art...allow yourself to drift off to La La Land