Regarding the Spoon contributions to the ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ soundtrack, producer Brian Reitzell had this to say: “It created a kind of sonic thread that had just the right amount of nervy melody and rich, simplistic tone.” After seeing the film, his comment rings true.
For the most part, those are the songs that share the closest relationship to what happens onscreen. This may also be a result of the fairly large role they have. If you’re intimately familiar with the band’s catalogue, it almost creates an element of distraction in the theater. On several occasions, you might find yourself thinking something along the lines of, “Hey…Wait just a minute…That’s ‘My Mathematical Mind’…Righteous.” Fortunately, the Spoon songs tend to occur during stretches with little to no dialogue, where they become a sort of focal point anyway. Without being versed in their work, you would just notice that their precision and stark arrangements complement the story quite well.
The compilation itself has its strengths and weaknesses. Although it jumps across varying time periods, the sequencing works. Each recording is methodically grouped with adjacent tracks in a way that minimizes jarring transitions as much as possible. That being said, both Maximo Park’s ‘Going Missing’ and The Upsetters’ ‘Dubbing In The Back Seat’ fail to find common ground with the rest of the songs. I don’t recall either of them from the film, and it’s hard to imagine where a perky post-punk number or a laid-back reggae jam would have gone. Given its prominent use during the reckless toothbrushing scene, ‘I Turn My Camera On’ would have been a more obvious choice for inclusion here. On ‘Mind Your Own Business,’ Delta 5 display just how much can be accomplished with a steady kick drum and a brazen attitude. The following track, ‘Bottles & Bones (Shade & Sympathy)’ shows laudable restraint, as Califone keep the arrangement largely subdued until the electric guitar enters well into the fourth minute. Despite these points of interest, however, their relevance to the rest of the album is in question as well.
Maybe if I like Spoon so much, I should marry them (or, alternately, just go listen to Kill The Moonlight), but Britt Daniel is essentially responsible for nearly half of this soundtrack. It makes for cohesion problems when you try to fit numerous disparate selections around such a substantial foundation. One good example of a film soundtrack mostly driven by a single artist is Magnolia, and Stranger Than Fiction would have been improved significantly if it similarly relied less on the conventional compilation formula. It certainly seems as though it wanted to go that way. There are a few non-Spoon songs (namely The Jam’s ‘That’s Entertainment (The Demo Version)’ and Wreckless Eric’s ‘Whole Wide World’) whose placement over pivotal junctures was integral to the film. They would still have a place on the disc, a la the two Supertramp songs on Magnolia.
The Britt Daniel/Brian Reitzell instrumental pieces are simple, guitar and keyboard-based sketches that establish a calm and eerie tone. Of the three, ‘Writer’s Block’ is the most dynamic, gradually swelling with layers of atmospheric sounds, while ‘Auditor’ charms its way through a catchy groove with endearingly cheesy synthetic instrumentation. The remaining instrumental tracks, ‘La Petite Fille De La Mer’ by Vangelis and ‘In Church (Cyann & Ben Version)’ by M83 perfectly articulate the hesitantly somber mood that underlies much of the plot. The former is an orchestral ballet with hints of spanish guitar, and the latter, a dreamy, organ-based track punctuated by wordless vocal samples.
Overall, this album makes for a pleasant, if somewhat disjointed, listen. It works as background music, which is fine for what it is. It’s definitely worth hearing for the instrumental songs and the latest Spoon offering. Other than that, you can draw the occasional parallel between the newer music and the tracks from the 70s and 80s. Within the context of the film, the music works extremely well, and much of it is included, but this collection is weighed down a bit by inconsistency.
– William Cremin