SoundTreks | Marie Antoinette – Disc 1
When Sofia Coppola’s deliberately anachronistic and assertively moody biopic of Marie Antoinette was released in theaters in 2006, it was lauded ever go gently by sleepy critics who loved its lavish production design, but couldn’t necessarily jibe with its poor-little-rich-girl themes. Many saw the film as a self-portrait painted by the director, herself raised in a bourgeois lifestyle by a super-wealthy family of film industry insiders. Wealthy people have problems too, of course, but it’s difficult for a hardscrabble middle-class audience member to relate to that.
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As such, many tended to dismiss Marie Antoinette. Which is a pity, because the film is an emotionally rich mood piece of lost childhood, and the inability to connect with anything “normal.” No place is this notion more vividly represented than in the film’s excellent two-volume soundtrack record. The OST of Marie Antoinette is one of the coolest of the last decade, and if you’re into mood New Wave and ultra-slick outside sadness pop, then you can’t do much better than this one.
Since the soundtrack came in a two-disc set, this article will be split down the middle. The second disc will be covered in one of SoundTreks‘ future installments. As for now, let’s listen as see how hip this ultra-hip OST still is.
Track 1. “Hong Kong Garden (Strings Intro)” – Siouxsie and the Banshees
When the internet virtually destroyed the music industry, parts of the rock firmament ossified. Certain songs became eternally old and square while others were cemented as being permanently fresh. As such, if you had cool taste in music in, say, 1995, you could listen to those same bands in 2016, and still be considered cool. Siouxsie and the Banshees is one of those bands. Siouxsie, one of the three central goddesses of ’80s alterna-Rock (Joan Jett and Dale Bozzio being the other two) represents the perfect mixture and teen girl angst and outsider cool. This is the perfect artist and the perfect song to kick off a record like this, as it will lead into the heavily represented era and the rock tone. Plus, that string into gives the record a classic feeling, so it won’t be so weird when Vivaldi pops up later.
Track 2. “Aphrodisiac” – Bow Wow Wow
While Bow Wow Wow is best known for their cover of “I Want Candy” (which we’ll see later on), it should be remembered that hummable bubblegum pop was not their central forte. They, like so many other bands of the era, began as a rougher punk-ish band, and “Aphrodisiac” better represents their sound. They also tap into the moody girl-power tone of Marie Antoinette perfectly. In the movie, Marie is depicted as, yes, a poor little rich girl who uses her wealth and capacity for parties as a way of shoring up her friendships and “real” down-to-earth relationships. The wealth, oddly enough, is the best escape from her wealth.
Track 3. “What Ever Happened” – The Strokes
The Strokes didn’t form until the late ’90s, and they’re one of the bands of the early 2000s (a notoriously bad time for pop music, as explored in last week’s SoundTreks), but their dreamy, pleasant droning rock sound seems to stem naturally from the moody New Wave of the previous two tracks. The Strokes were clearly influenced by the more pensive music of a previous generation, so their sound is most certainly not a clash. The Strokes were the fist band I ever heard described as “shoegazing” music; that is: music that you listen to in public, but don’t dance to, as you are too shy and sensitive for the energy of actual dance. If you’ve ever been to a Goth club, you know the phenomenon. Intense, loud, moody music from bands like The Smiths and The Cure, a disco-lit dancefloor, and maybe one or two dancers.
Track 4. “Pulling Our Weight” – The Radio Dept.
This may be the most representative sound of Marie Antoinette, and of Sofia Coppola films in general. The melodies may be mildly upbeat, but the echoey vocals and gentle machine under-hums belie an immediate, half-remembered dream quality. Coppola’s films tend to feel dreamy and wistful, and her musical choices denote that. The Radio Dept. is a Swedish pop collective who were unknown in the U.S. until the release of this soundtrack, which features three of their songs. Disc one had two of them, so we’ll see them again.
Track 5. “Ceremony” – New Order
New Order is the perfect post-punk music for sad bastards. They are the perfect blend of electro synth pop from Europe, and a particular harder-edged shred that manages to be energetic in an ironic way. It’s well known that the band’s lead singer, Ian Curtis, committed suicide at the age of 23, lending all of New Order’s music an additional tragic flavor. One doesn’t listen to New Order to celebrate, and we’re beginning to feel that Marie Antoinette’s life of parties wasn’t a “woo-hoo” life. It was one that could be barely escaped in small ways.
Track 6. “Natural’s Not In It” – Gang of Four
Gang of Four is another English post-punk band, but they focused more on the “punk” part of the phrase, singing a lot of defiant, political songs, even while their sound evolved away from grungy trash rage. In a film that is ambivalent about high-end wealth, royalty, and other authoritarian institutions, Gang of Four and other such defiant political bands are perfectly appropriate. Are we looking at the perfect soundtrack record? Does every song reflect on the tone of the movie perfectly? Maybe so.
Track 7. “I Want Candy (Kevin Shields Remix)” – Bow Wow Wow
This is as close as we’re going to come to a party anthem in a film about parties. “I Want Candy” was originally performed in 1965 by a band called The Strangeloves, and written by the same team that did other ’60s bubblegum songs like “My Boyfriend’s Back.” “I Want Candy” is not about Candy, but a hot boy named Candy who, according to the lyrics, looks good wrapped in a sweater. This version, however, is a remix that softens a lot of the song’s more rollicking beats into a dreamy echo. I feel like the point of the remix was to show that the song is slowly dissipating. The party starts and slowly flies to pieces.
Track 8. “Kings of the Wild Frontier” – Adam and the Ants
The messiest song on the soundtrack, and perhaps the most genuine. The buzzing drone of the song is not the result of studio tinkering, but just low-budget recording. In an age of electronic effects, it’s always, always refreshing to hear something so great that is genuinely shabby. A bit of fun trivia pertinent to this soundtrack: Bow Wow Wow was formed by former members of Adam and the Ants who were lured away from their first band by Malcolm McLaren, an ambitious producer. So there is a strange pop history conflict folded subtly into the OST record for Marie Antoinette. You may not be able to hear it in the music, but having this knowledge colors the sound.
Track 9. “Concerto in G from: Concerto for Strings and Continuo in G major, RV 151 Concerto alla rustica: I presto” – Antonio Vivaldi
Who doesn’t love Vivaldi? One would assume the whole soundtrack to be period-appropriate light classical like this one, and that would have been fine, but I think modern audiences don’t have the same intimate relationship with Vivaldi as people living during his lifetime (that would be 1678 – 1741). Vivaldi is the liveliest of all composers, and I include Mozart in that statement. He composes to sunshine. His place right next to Adam and the Ants is less jarring than you’d think. This piece reveals the joy of the upper ends of courtly life. Not all of royal life was a drag.
Track 10. “The Melody of a Fallen Tree” – Windsor for the Derby
Functionally, Windsor for the Derby serves as well as The Strokes, but with a sense of aching romance. I know nothing about this band other than what can be found on Wikipedia, and even then, it’s not a lot. If you like this track, though, the band has nine studio records to explore.
Track 11. “I Don’t Like It Like This” – The Radio Dept.
Still dreamy, still the best representative sound of Marie Antoinette. To be honest, I usually don’t like this sort of sound; in previous installments of SoundTreks, I’ve blasted OSTs with too much of this (see the review of Paper Towns) I prefer much more upbeat energy to my music, relegating my relaxing dreams to old jazz – but the mood is so perfect here, I find myself appreciating it.
Track 12. “Plainsong” – The Cure
Because of course. If you start with Siouxsie and the Banshees, you end with The Cure. Or The Smiths. It’s the law.
Which is Better: The First Disc of the Soundtrack, or the Movie?
They are perfectly and evenly matched concerning tone, making this one of the nearly perfect soundtrack records. Too few movies just randomly sneeze songs together without any idea of what makes a solid album or mix tape. Marie Antoinette understands that. Indeed, the tone of the record is so strong, that it leads into the movie, and not vice versa. So I guess, ultimately, the soundtrack wins out.
But there is still a second disc to the soundtrack, so it’s looking like the soundtrack record might be poised to blast the movie itself out of the water. The movie is slight. The soundtrack is gigantic. Join us soon, dear readers, and we’ll come to the end.
Top Image: Columbia
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.