Soundtracks are like Christmas albums: ephemeral, sloppy, overrated. A complete waste of time--plastic and nasty--whereon unknown bands play for unsuspecting moviegoers or established acts unload their leftovers for extra royalty checks. Soundtracks are for the zealous consumer who wants the complete shopping experience: Watch the movie--buy the soundtrack--rent the video--buy the video--buy the assorted merchandise. As forgettable as the movies they appear on, most of them make perfect fodder for used CD store bargain bins or that venerable position in the far right corner of your collection.
Well, subUrbia is not one of those. Whether it was a rare planetary alignment or The Man went mad, the songs selected here are top-notch; a few of them would make great singles for fantasy radio stations or fine jukeboxes across the land. And there's not a single Red Hot Chili Peppers song here, which is recommendation enough.
Richard Linklater's latest observation on American youth is graced with a fine soundtrack. The man responsible for Slacker and Dazed and Confused is co-producer of the soundtrack, and the array of songs here sounds as if he's trying to redeem himself for telling us in the past that slacking and '70s retrogression are cool, duuude.
Sonic Youth--who also did the score--leave their artistic pretensions aside and contribute two real songs and a rhythmic instrumental that ooze with the casual cool of Daydream Nation and Goo, as does Thurston Moore's solo "Psychic Hearts." The droning breathlessness of "Bullet Proof Cupid" by Girls Against Boys is a reminder of how underrated this manic combo is. The Butthole Surfers' "Human Cannonball" comes at you like your funny uncle you haven't seen in 10 years. The Flaming Lips orbit around their own planet--as usual--sending down beams of delicious genius. U.N.K.L.E.'s "Berry Meditation" trip-hops sublimely in the midst of all the big names, begging for recognition. Elastica and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus do a meaty lo-fi hybrid. By the album's end, you even forgive Boss Hog for destroying a classic like "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" with their faux white-trash cheekiness or Superchunk for trying to be a low-rent Sonic Youth.
The album closes perfectly with the lounge-y melodrama of Gene Pitney's 1961 hit "Town Without Pity." Too bad that the sounds coming out of the windows of real suburbia--a place that's truly merciless--are mainly courtesy of Snoop Doggy Dogg and Offspring.