What happens when you mix one part modern hip-hop, two parts 1920s jazz, and a whole heap of yearning, soulful ballads? Well, if you’re Baz Luhrmann and crew, you get Music from Baz Luhrmann’s Film The Great Gatsby, executively produced by Jay-Z and featuring artists such as will.i.am, Jack White, and most prominently, Lana Del Rey. According to one interview, Luhrmann, director and co-writer the 2013 film, stated that his purpose in mixing early 21st Century music with that of the early 20th was to “elicit from our audience the same level of excitement and pop cultural immediacy toward the world that Fitzgerald did for his audience.” By bringing the frenetic, ecstatic feel of the Jazz Age into current musical forms, Luhrmann, Jay-Z and all of the featured artists manage to create a soundtrack that not only is one of the best parts of the film, but also draws fresh connections across decades of music into an exhilarating experience for listeners.
For starters, the use of muted trumpets, saxophones, and rag-time piano parts is FREAKING AWESOME! I just cannot get over how bouncily the beat of the “Crazy in Love” remix (courtesy of Emeli Sandé and The Bryan Ferry Orchestra) makes me dance; nor can I stop obsessing over the snappy swing of will.i.am’s “Bang Bang” and the restless energy that it instills within me. Keep in mind, this opinion is from someone who doesn’t dance. The music is just that infectious, and I attribute this in part to its expert mix of modern electronic beats with older, acoustic instruments. Listen to the beautiful, prominent banjo appearance in “Love Is the Drug,” as well the trumpets and saxophones peppered throughout tracks like “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” and the piano stylings of “Where the Wind Blows.”
However, a huge element of the soundtrack is its use of modern musical forms to frame the throwbacks, however awesome they may be, and capture the audience through its cultural immediacy. Two tracks feature Jay-Z (one of which includes Kanye West) rapping over driving, modern beats without musically alluding to the era of the film. Also, in “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody,” performed mainly by Fergie, electronic blasts and an undulating party beat slither forward with only minimal nods to ’20s instruments. These types of moments are used to great effect in the film, tilting the Jazz-Pop combination toward the contemporary side in order to convey the feel and atmosphere of the scene.
The third major element of this soundtrack is the melancholy ballads, of which Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” is the most prominent. These soaring, brooding songs provide the feeling of conflicting sadness and hope that is prevalent in Jay Gatsby’s story, and they serve as potentially the most lasting moments on the album. My personal favorite is “Kill and Run” by Sia; listen to those absolutely sexy chord progressions and tell me you don’t feel something. Also, check out “Over the Love” by Florence and the Machine, as well as Lana’s track and you’ll be feeling the movie whether you’ve seen it or not.
Overall, I think this album is an incredible synthesis of distant musical ideas. As someone who appreciates musical mixing, I look at this soundtrack and see new horizons being reached, new emotional heights achieved, and something fresh that everyone can enjoy. While some of the tracks lack the substance and length that I would personally enjoy, I think that this album is an amazing work of exploration, and I highly, highly recommend it.