Friday, October 10, 2008

Soundtrack Review: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

Following up the popular 2005 film from director Ken Kwapis, which transferred Ann Brashares’ best-selling young adult series of books to the big screen, Blake Lively, Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera, and Amber Tamblyn reunited once again in this year’s delightful sequel, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.

Set during another fateful summer, we catch up with The Sisterhood’s foursome after their first year of college. We find them dealing with that instantly relatable feeling of trying to reconcile the concerns and friendships of their youth with their new busy lives studying and living in various places. As those who are of a certain age are readily aware, it’s a tough transitional time where friendships are put to the test, but the girls all continue loyally shipping the worn pair of blue jeans to each other in the hopes they will slide not only into the denim but the miraculous good fortune the jeans are purported to inspire.

While cinematically, the film’s screenwriter Elizabeth Chandler had her work cut out for her, trying to piece together the plot from Brashares’ three sequels to her original phenomenally popular original, director Sanaa Hamri took on double duty by not only helming the film but also becoming an executive producer of the film’s soundtrack.

Following up the terrific original soundtrack, Hamri and the album’s co-producers Broderick Johnson and Andrew A. Kosove along with music supervisor Julia Michels had their first enormous streak of luck when the talented Michelle Branch “reached out to [them] early in the process as she was interested in writing a song,” for the film. As the press release continues, Branch was so inspired from viewing an early cut of the film that the Grammy Award winner penned the song, “Together,” which would end up playing during the film’s final credits. Although its lyrics seem a bit too on-the-nose, Branch channels the extraordinary bond the young women share in her ode to friendship which appears as the second track on the album, following up Eric Hutchinson’s addictive, lyrically infectious up-tempo opener “Rock & Roll."

With a lineup as diverse as the four girls themselves, no musical genre is left unexplored as the album offers selections for those who are a little bit rock or a little bit country and everything in between, to misquote the old Osmond number. Making the most out of working within Warner Brothers for both the film and the soundtrack, excellent contributions from those signed onto the label are included but instead of flowing together with ease, at times, the soundtrack encounters a few rough patches in trying to serve up something for everyone, namely with the inclusion of James Otto’s twangy “Sunset Man,” which sounds like it would’ve been much more at home on the soundtrack to Flicka rather than in this contemporary film that’s set primarily in the east-coast of the United States.

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Two beautiful and dreamy tracks — Jack Savoretti’s “No One’s Aware” and Missy Higgins’ “Warm Whispers” slow down the album’s tempo by offering us a lush, romantic aura of lyrics inviting lovers to travel together and take to the sea before Craig David wakes us up with “Friday Night.” A quintessential teenage party song — while the lyrics are clichĂ©d and mostly consist of a hook asking “What’s goin’ on?,” it makes a wonderful lead into the decidedly punk inspired tracks “Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)” and “5 Times Out of 100” by Noisettes and Hot Hot Heat which after Hutchinson’s open, earned the most repeat listens on my stereo. When played back-to-back, the inclusions of the Noisettes and Hot Hot Heat’s seem to comprise the “Tibby” section of the album, as those familiar with Amber Tamblyn’s rebellious character might note. As a die-hard fan of Tibby from both films, I found myself thrilled by her musical representation.

However, again the soundtrack throws us a curveball by moving away from what one would accurately expect and dropping Cyndi Lauper’s classic girl-power anthem “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” on listeners. After two decades, it still grabs us even more than Gwen Stefani’s 90’s anthem “Just a Girl” but I doubt that Generation Y feels as strong of a kinship to the song as those of us who remember it playing on the radio, making it seem a bit superfluous and out of place.

Preferring to close on a whimper rather than a bang, Mute Math’s pleasant but forgettable “You Are Mine” builds a nice bridge to Aqualung’s more musically impressive “Strange & Beautiful (I’ll Put A Spell On You)” and while it is one of the better tracks, ending the disc with it made the album feel a bit unfinished. While shuffling the order of the tracks may have helped considerably, possibly a better solution would’ve been to drop the excess weight of certain tunes that don’t completely gel with the others or sound like they belong in the universe of the Traveling Pants and replace it ones that — like the perfect pair of jeans — fit just a little better.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 Track-Listing
1) "Rock &Roll" — Eric Hutchinson
2) "Together" — Michelle Branch
3) "Sunset Man" — James Otto
4) "No One's Aware" — Jack Savoretti
5) "Warm Whispers" — Missy Higgins
6) "Friday Night" — Craig David
7) "Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)" — Noisettes
8) "5 Times Out Of 100" — Hot Hot Heat
9) "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