Album Review: The Hunger Games Soundtrack
The problem with most soundtracks is that the shifts in mood and genre which take place in a film don’t necessarily work out of context, and with all of the in-between stuff cut out. What you get then is very rarely a true album experience. You get a collection of songs with no apparent relationship, and that’s it. Usually.
The Hunger Games (Songs from District 12 and Beyond) is a compilation featuring a fairly broad assortment of artists across different styles and disciplines, with a couple of pleasant surprises. What makes this a great soundtrack is that most of the songs were written exclusively for it, and they have a very strong theme binding them all together, which does transcend those genre hops and seems to solve the problem of soundtracks seeming like disjointed radio playlists.
Taylor Swift has two tracks here, and to my total surprise, they are far and away my favorite Taylor Swift songs. ‘Safe & Sound’ is beautifully sung, with Appalachian inspired guitars and ethereal strings. Her second offering, ‘Eyes Open’, leaves this theme behind but surprises in another way, a hard rock song (for Taylor Swift) with a very Katy Perry vocal style, which works remarkably well.
For the most part it is the seed of Appalachian music which finds its way into the inspiration for these songs, and that’s what elevates the record to a cohesive experience worth listening all the way through. You are unlikely to find any other modern collection by popular artists with quite this much mandolin and banjo, and never is that stronger or more apparent than on Miranda Lambert’s ‘Run Daddy Run’. The Carolina Chocolate Drops bring the a capella-style ‘Daughter’s Lament’, showcasing the mountain singing of Appalachia.
Even Maroon 5 sound completely unlike themselves here. ‘Come Away To The Water’ features a version of Adam Levine which is still irritatingly sexy, but he has a very dark quality to his voice here, sounding like a slightly feminine Chris Cornell.
It’s surprising how seriously all of these musicians took the project, and how much artistry is brought to the table–in many cases, more than would be present on their own albums.
Unexpected songs, like Arcade Fire’s stunning ‘Abraham’s Daughter’, the dark and atmospheric ‘The Ruler And The Killer’ from Kid Cudi, and a completely new and powerful sound from Glen Hansard on ‘Take The Heartland’, make the album a unique vehicle. It should be something of interest to a large variety of music listeners, without really alienating anyone with jarring shifts in sound.
The tracklist is rounded out with songs from The Secret Sisters, Neko Case, Punch Brothers, The Decemberists, The Civil Wars, Jayme Dee, The Low Anthem, and Birdy. The sixteen songs run just under an hour, and there are no real low points, nor is there any filler to speak of.
It’s certainly a better-than-average soundtrack. It really works as an album and a standalone experience, full of darkness and anxiety, with an American civil war motif. There is a good mix of high profile and lesser known artists here as well, so if you like any of the featured acts this may be a great place to check them out among their contemporaries to find new music.