Let me preface any negativity in the ensuing paragraphs by saying that I adore Jon Brion. His previous scores for Punch-Drunk Love and the brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have rivaled any other recent notables in their creativity and beauty. As a pop producer, I think all albums should go into one of two piles: one to be produced by Nigel Godrich or one to be produced by Brion (just listen to the Brion-produced first Rufus Wainwright album). The point is, a film with a Brion-only soundtrack demands high standards. And against those standards, Brion’s musical contribution to David O. Russell’s fantastic I Heart Huckabees falls just a bit shy.
The main problem with the soundtrack — which features Brion’s original score and several pop songs he wrote that didn’t actually end up in the film — is that his ridiculously lush orchestral style is largely out of place. Attempts to insert his usual flourishes of strings and harp feel false when filtered through the streamlined retro-marketing of the Target-esque Huckabees Corporation. In a few instances, everything makes sense: The “Monday” series, basically the movie’s main theme, is a simple organ melody with modest accents that actually fits the film’s quirky yet colorful motif. But the rest of the production, especially on the pop selections, feels as out of place as that lone tree in the Huckabees parking lot.
Huckabees‘s other downfall is the presence of Brion’s mostly unused pop songs. His songs are fine, if a bit uncomfortably reminiscent of the Beatles, but they get jammed in their dullness. Brion’s nasally voice singing, “It’s something unattainable that you can’t live without/ but now the unexplainable has you riddled with doubt” on “Knock Yourself Out” is more than a little bit of a letdown from such a fantastic musician and composer. Musically and lyrically, these tunes are especially disappointing in their one-sidedness. For a complex film that ostensibly drills the idea of existential crisis but really just stands to mock those who say they have all the answers, it would seem that the music should be so multi-angled.
Most the scored tracks are derivative of these throwaway songs, and these little instrumental sections speak to how unwise it was to include the full songs in the first place. “Omni,” the minimal, instrumental counterpart to “Knock Yourself Out,” is ten times as enjoyable a listen as the original because the song’s real gem — its melody — is presented with greater clarity. Such is the case with almost every other bit of instrumental material: “Cubes” interpreting “Over Our Heads,” the string-quartet version of “Didn’t Think It Would Turn Out Bad.” These pieces make this soundtrack enjoyable, even if their origins were less than impressive.
Regardless, the Huckabees soundtrack represents Brion’s strengths and his weaknesses. Along with Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, who works on Wes Anderson’s films, Brion is leading the pack of pop-bred film composers who are gaining more and more relevance in the world of film scoring. And his talent is still apparent on the Huckabees album, even if his slight weakness as a songwriter is fully exposed.