Loudon Wainwright III
Strange Weirdos: Music From and Inspired by the Film Knocked Up
andy Newman’s pop songwriting for films established the archetype for modern soundtrack albums. His ability to shed introspection for pure and poignant character development allowed him to create musical worlds that easily complemented the nuances of a screenplay. Loudon Wainwright III is built in Newman’s mold. He writes detailed stories about diverse personae, evoking the subtle heartbreak and fallibility of the cinema’s most endearing misfits. Like Newman, his songs are filled with cynical wit and confrontational bite that often contrast with his straightforward musical approach. There is a subversive quality to this music; barbed lyrical observations are coated in an easily digestible pop/folk arrangement—a sound that is accessible to all with a depth that rewards repeat listens. So: why the hell has he never done a soundtrack before?
His chance comes now with Judd Apatow (of The 40 Year Old Virgin fame). Wainwright has a bit of a history with the director. He acted in his popular sitcom Undeclared and made a cameo as the minister in The 40 Year Old Virgin. Apatow has even cited Wainwright as his favorite songwriter.
All of which makes it truly a shame that Knocked Up is a major market film release and its soundtrack apparently requires a certain level of adult contemporary banality to remain accessible to the herds of frat brothers and teenage boys who will pack its theatres. It’s this allowance to that demo that fills out the album with a series of roots rock clunkers and throwaway tracks that contrast starkly with the album’s more intimate and refined efforts. “X or Y” is a pointless blue-eyed soul romp, playing up the cutesy ambiguities of pregnancy while “So Much to Do” distorts the 12-bar blues into a fit of middle-aged whining. These songs seem to have been emotionlessly churned out for the sole purpose of the film and it’s obvious that shaping music to fit an established plot has removed the sparks of inspiration and insight that typically adorns his best work.
Tellingly, the album’s most successful moments have nothing to do with the Knocked Up plotline. They are sincere and self effacing, dripping with sentimentality and brutal honesty. Written by Peter Blegvad, “Daughter” revisits the buoyant introspection of his classic early album Attempted Mustache. A tight backing band, led by Richard Thompson, huffs and puffs behind a voice that despite its age is still youthful and dexterous. The lyrics recall the pleasant moments of fatherhood and the raising of a daughter—easily interpreted by Wainwright, who has three daughters of his own.
“Grey in LA” and “Valley Morning” are apt portrayals of the bizarre cultural circus that is Los Angeles. Wainwright recalls the monotony of everyday life, but finds poetry in the sun-soaked landscape filled with illegal immigrants and skateboarders. He mournfully sings of the governator, “Our leader is an actor who speaks with an accent, who’s able to procure our love,” and the city’s delusional inhabitants “But life is a movie out here in the valley, what else were we all thinking of?” On these two songs his lyrics are at their most lucid and intelligent, possibly revealing a better, more focused album lying beneath the film score filler.
Reviewed by: Matt Kivel
Reviewed on: 2007-06-27