In the world of movie soundtracks, everything seems to work on the pass/fail system. For every soundtrack that succeeds on its own, there are five more that fall on their faces. Occasionally, there is that soundtrack that manages not only to work perfectly in the movie, but also is great in itself. Whether it’s the use of original work (Ghost Dog), licensed songs (Crooklyn), or a combination of both (Vanilla Sky), these soundtracks sometimes manage to eclipse the actual movie in popularity. The soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s film Broken Flowers comes dangerously close to joining this group, but ultimately it falls short of its intended destination.
For this soundtrack, Jarmusch went to great lengths to put together a selection of songs as moody, mixed-up and distinctive as his main character, played by Bill Murray. Most apparent is the Ethiopian motif that runs throughout the soundtrack, including multiple selections from the legendary Mulatu Astatke. While gaining recognition for years from the jazz heads, he has remained in obscurity amongst the mainstream audience. Tracks such as “Yegelle Tezeta” and “Yekermo Sew” have an incredibly distinctive sound that set Astatke’s songs apart from the rest on this soundtrack.
But that isn’t the only thing that makes this soundtrack worthwhile. Carefully placed gems, such as Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” and the Greenhornes‘ “There Is an End” help solidify Jarmusch’s reputation for putting together solid soundtracks. But there are also a couple of hiccups along the way. Dengue Fever’s “Ethanopium” grooves along as nicely as any other track on this, but it is a remake of “Yegelle Tezeta,” and on a twelve-song soundtrack, it comes off as redundant. The Brian Jonestown Massacre‘s “Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth” is a listenable song, but it clashes against the old, gritty feel of the other tracks. And as good as Astatake’s contributions are, they are a little too similar in sound.
Although laudable for rejuvenating an interest in Ethiopian jazz, the soundtrack to Broken Flowers can’t quite join the company of the soundtrack elite. A classic soundtrack must have the ability to stand on its own, even for those who have not seen the movie. Fans of the movie will definitely appreciate this soundtrack, but those who have yet to see the film may not identify with the songs in the same way.
‘Broken Flowers’ Web site