Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thoughts on 'Alegría the Film' Soundtrack

Just look how lovely that artwork is (Source: Cirque du Soleil Musique).
I wanted to write about this album because I just received a copy with that gorgeous artwork. I originally bought the CD around 5 years ago and was pretty pissed off that the version I received was an older issue with different artwork - so now, around 7 years later I saw this image pop up and I spontaneously bought another copy from eBay.

The soundtrack for Alegría the Film was written in 1999, by longtime Cirque collaborator Benoit Jutras. The soundtrack CD is a mix of an original score, extracts from Cirque du Soleil's Alegría (of which this movie was inspired by) and several songs that include the vocals of Canadian singer Irène Marc. While some of the arrangements on this album are a little over the top, the whole score is extremely memorable, with some beautiful melodies and a few terrific songs.

The incredibly underrated Jutras is in his typical element here, creating pieces that have his signature fusion of ethnic instruments with a romantic array of strings with extremely memorable melodies. Although he borrows chords and arrangements from other shows ('Frac's Room' has the same chord progression as 'Nostalgie' from O), and his instrumentation and arrangement is occasionally innocuously sappy, on a whole the score is extremely pleasant music and functions well as a stand alone album.

The performance of Irene Marc is a little more uneven. She boasts a wonderful voice - it embodies a raspy texture which would be appropriate for the Alegría score and it really shines on the accompanying songs. My issue with her is her diction, there are about half a dozen points in the album where, due to her sultry lower register, I can't decipher what lyrics she is singing in at least a dozen places on the album. Not that it makes much difference, since the lyrics that are audible are hit and miss, sometimes sloppy and at other times a revelation. I adore the resigned and melancholic material on 'Love Leaves Someone Behind' ("Irony falls on my seeking to find/the story that leaves no-one behind") but then the absurd phrasing on 'Let Love Live' ("I wanted change, not answers to. Questions like "why. can't they get what they need?"") and the cliched 'Child In His Eyes' ("There's so much love, courage, knowledge and hope. We all live, love, and [create?] in vain") are pretty cringeworthy - but still somehow better than anything Jim Corcoran could write. In the end it's largely irrelevant since Cirque soundtracks usually have incredible melodies with disastrous libretto, it's just a shame they've come so close.

A really disappointing aspect of this album was that the songs have been bizarrely over-produced compared to the original mixing in the movie. I can't handle 'Let Love Live' and it's classic 50s porn click-track backing, and its flamboyant instrumentation of plodding piano and the giant string section. The worst bit is that there were some lovely arrangements of the song that were featured in the movie, until it was ruined by over-producing. The same can be said about 'Child In His Eyes', which originally was a subtle acoustic rendition with an accordion in the credits, now features an electric guitar duel in the middle and synths run wild throughout. My major gripe with this soundtrack is that it does not include the original haunting and ineffably beautiful  rendition of Alegría that is featured in the movie - instead the album opens with a gloomy acoustic rendition, which is pretty ironic considering the meaning of Alegría is happiness, elation and jubilation. While the instrumentation is okay, Marc ambitiously tries to conquer two whole octaves and falls atrociously short of the mark (hah).

The uplifting instrumental 'Let Love Live' and the elegant and subtle 'Herv' are highlights of the album, and the finest moment of the album goes to 'Love Leaves Someone Behind', a wonderfully evocative ballad lamenting the consequences of love. While the lyrics of 'Mountain of Clothes' are encrypted in Marc's joyous, rocking wails, the song is also noteworthy for its awesome melody and light rock beat.

Overall the soundtrack is enjoyable. It's regrettable that some of the songs have been overproduced and the lyrics are a bit bland and innocuous, but there are some beautiful Jutras melodies  and a few really catchy songs. The CD has been out of print for about 10 years, but if you come across a copy of it for $4 on eBay, it's totally recommended.

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