CD Review of Music from the Motion Picture Once by Various Artists
Recommended if you like
Van Morrison, David Gray,
The Waterboys
Label
Canvasback/Columbia
Various Artists:
Music from the
Motion Picture Once

Reviewed by David Medsker

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T
he publicist that repped this album surely hates me, as I’ve had this album since it was released in May…and refused to listen to it until I saw the movie in which these songs play a significant role. Seriously, how do you listen to the music before seeing the movie? Imagine listening to “You’re the One That I Want” before seeing it in context (and by context I mean smoking hot Olivia Newton-John in skin-tight black leather). I wanted the movie to be completely new to me when I watched it, so the soundtrack sat in a pile collecting dust for a good six months.

Then I saw the movie, and went running for the soundtrack.

The music of “Once” is amazing, better than the movie for which it was written. Primarily the work of Glen Hansard, the movie’s star and frontman for Irish rockers the Frames (their former bassist John Carney directed the movie), the songs are the textbook definition of achingly beautiful. Even more impressive is that several of the songs are often soaring above the clouds at the same time.

The studio is pushing the first two tracks, “Falling Slowly” and “If You Want Me,” for consideration in the Best Original Song category of the Academy Awards. This has to be due to eligibility rules, because three of the album’s (best) songs were originally released in 2006 on The Swell Season, an album by Hansard and Czech pianist Marketa Irglova (Hansard’s co-star in the movie), thus making them ineligible. Ironically, “Falling Slowly” is one of those three songs, so if they can push that song for the Oscar, then there is no reason for not instead choosing “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” the movie and album’s clear highlight. Beginning with an acoustic guitar and a couple plinks on the piano, the song slowly builds until it explodes in a vocal fury. Hansard should win both an Oscar and a Grammy for his work here, but will probably get neither. Sad.

Make no mistake, “Falling Slowly” and “If You Want Me” are fabulous as well – the falsetto-happy former recalls Catherine Wheel singer Rob Dickinson, while the latter, sung by Irglova, could have been from a really good Dido record – but there are few songs that can stand up to “When Your Mind’s Made Up.” “Lies,” however, is one of them. Another Swell Season hand-me-down, the song’s string-kissed chorus, with yet another heartbreaking vocal by Hansard, is spine-tingling.

Curiously, the track listing is not at all in line with the order in which these songs appear in the movie. The movie’s opening song, the heart-on-sleeve acoustic tearjerker “Say It to Me Now,” during which the two lead characters meet, is the album’s last song. “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” the big Act III showstopper, is the fourth of 13 tracks. Hansard and Carney clearly had an idea of how the songs should be sequenced; why on earth doesn’t the soundtrack pay any regard to that? In the movie, the songs build in scope as we watch this Dublin busker meet an ideal creative partner and ultimately get a chance to show his stuff in a studio. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is front-loaded like your typical pop album. It isn’t necessary.

As flaws go, however, that is a rather acceptable one. A great album out of order is still a great album, and Once is one of the best albums you will hear in this or any other year.

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