Music Review: Various Artists, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 Soundtrack"
by Rachel Jaffe
Published: November 30, 2008
Get a woman to dish about her favorite pair of jeans, and you'll get an earful. It's not just the obvious, like size and color. She'll know the style, the source, and possibly the year it was made. She'll know what they accentuate, and what they disguise. And whatever she paid for them, she'd pay twice as much again for the jeans that make her look like her ideal self -- and maybe act that way too.
So it's not surprising that Ann Brashares's young adult series The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants struck a chord with her readers. The central conceit is a pair of magical jeans that fit and flatter each of four friends, and which, when the worn, act as a catalyst for life-altering events. The first of four books was published in 2001, and while they were a big hit in the young adult world, it was after the release of a major motion picture in 2005 that the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants became a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. (Hillary Clinton was even able to joke about her own "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuit" at the Democratic Convention this year.)
The first movie version of the Sisterhood was a bright, simple confection starring two rising young actresses -- Amber Tamblyn of Joan of Arcadia and Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls -- and two relative unknowns -- Blake Lively and America Ferrera. By the time of the sequel, Tamblyn's and Bledel's stars had started to fall, while Lively and Ferrera were starring in two of the hottest series on television (Gossip Girl and Ugly Betty, respectively). That movie (recently released on DVD) also had a different tone from the first -- darker, more mature, with more inter-sisterhood struggles than in the first.
So how do you put out a soundtrack album that will appeal to fans of the bright Sisterhood brand, will reflect the more somber nature of the second film, and -- like the pants -- somehow "fit" whoever listens to it? It may be an impossible task, but Warner Brothers gives it a good effort.
The soundtrack is populated primarily by lesser-known artists. The opening song is the infectious "Rock & Roll" by Eric Hutchinson. Hutchinson is a local boy for me (Washington, DC area), and I've been a fan of his since 2003, when "Rock & Roll" came out on his album That Could've Gone Better. While I prefer the original, slightly more up-tempo version, this is still a great song, with an irresistible reggae beat.
"Rock & Roll" is immediately followed up with a new song by Michelle Branch, written for this soundtrack. "Together" is a sweet, charming song celebrating friendship -- well-suited for the Sisterhood ethos. ("We belong together/Like the moon and stars at midnight/And we'll be strong forever/Because we belong together.")
But just when you start thinking that this is a pure pop album, the mood starts to shift. There's James Otto's "Sunset Man," a country song about a man persevering after his wife leaves him. There's Missy Higgins's "Warm Whispers," a lovely, moody song of loss and longing. My favorite song of the album turned out to be Jack Savoretti's "No One's Aware." I'd never heard of Savoretti before, but I was utterly swept away by his gentle romantic song and his heartfelt singing.
And then, when the album is in danger of being an emo downer, come a series of upbeat rock songs -- Craig David's "Friday Night," Noisettes' "Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)" and Hot Hot Heat's "5 Times Out of a 100." Oddly, the soundtrack ends with the moody "You Are Mine," by Mute Math, and Aqualung's "Strange & Beautiful," which, while good songs, are sort of downbeat to close with -- I would probably have saved Michelle Branch's song as the closer.
This soundtrack had me think, on an intellectual level, what goes into putting a soundtrack together. Songs in isolation have a different impact than they did in the film. Many of these songs were background, and didn't even register at the time I heard them. Others come across entirely differently. Cyndi Lauper's iconic "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" was mocked in the movie, but here it reasserts itself as the universal declaration of high spirits and feminine strength that it was intended to be.
Will this album, like the magic pants, suit everyone? Probably not. But it will fit a surprising number of music fans, while still keeping a sense of the movie's spirit.
|The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 Soundtrack
|01. Rock & Roll - Eric Hutchinson
02. Together - Michelle Branch
03. Sunset Man - James Otto
04. No One's Aware - Jack Savoretti
05. Warm Whispers - Missy Higgins
06. Friday Night - Craig David
07. Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit) - Noisettes
08. 5 Times Out of 100 - Hot Hot Heat
09. Girls Just Want to Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper
10. You Are Mine - Mute Math
11. Strange & Beautiful (I'll Put a Spell On You) - Aqualung