Check it out... if you're a fan of the slow and minimalistic tendencies of frequent Paul Thomas Anderson collaborator Jonny Greenwood, and desire a more thematically diverse, instrumentally varied effort from the man
Skip it... if you despise the slow guitar, strings and percussion of a composer like Gustavo Santaolalla, as Greenwood's contributions are reminiscent of such slow and demanding material that it's quite striking
"It's straight-forward, entertaining and always moving at a forward pace with its multiple themes."
Paul Thomas Anderson is undeniably one of my favourite directors, producing astonishing hits consistently, such as the sensational 2012 picture The Master, which captured the post-World War II era with acute precision, whilst also possessing story, characters and a tone that garnered heart, sentimentality as well as sheer brutality. His latest work, Inherent Vice, is a sensual, beautiful and detailed affair, full of stories which aren't necessarily coherent, but entirely engrossing. A plot isn't necessarily at the core of the picture, but more so a mood. It's as if we're consumed by a haze of slow pacing, interesting characters and hilarious slapstick. The film entirely immerses itself in its early 70's period, and not only remains accurate to a point in terms of production design, but captures the tone and nostalgia of such a time. Whilst its reception has been considered relatively divisive by critics and audience members alike, the vast majority have still deemed it a positive affair, Anderson's work a relaxing and nonchalant effort standing out from the many biopics and Oscar-bait pictures of the year; namely Angelina Jolie's disappointing Unbroken. Recruited for another consecutive Anderson collaboration is Jonny Greenwood, who has composed numerous films from P.T.A's directorial canon. His work for Inherent Vice has generally been received with widespread positivity, and for good reason. It's a leisurely-concocted homage to the slow moving and uncaring vibe of the early 70's alternate scene, and features some of the most surprisingly well-developed material of the past year.
Whilst Greenwood's style has been applauded for his previous endeavors alongside Anderson, this particular outing has received a strange quantity of approval over others. It contains many of the same features that Greenwood has explored in prior works, but proves less translucent, minimalist and undeveloped. Inherent Vice still contains the minimalist quality that seeped all throughout and within The Master and There Will Be Blood, but maintains a more consistent palette of flavours, styles and thematic concepts, and never trudges into complete obscurity. It's straight-forward, entertaining and always moving at a forward pace with its multiple themes. But above all, as much as Greenwood dedicates time towards developing particular phrases or forms of instrumentation, what makes the score is the same component that allows the film of which it represents to shine; a certain tone and mood that completely immerses the listener in the world of sleaze, sex and marijuana that Anderson was attempting to fully inhabit. Is it the most wholly coherent piece of composition provided in the comedy genre for last year? Most certainly not! Bear McCreary's exceptional work for Knights of Badassdom bests most. That said, Inherent Vice is one of the most accessible and easily appreciated works of 2014.
Like the film, the score contains numerous flavours, but instead of dedicating itself to every individual concept and idea, it relegates much of its time to developing what Anderson and Greenwood respect as the most necessary of ideas and characters in the musical form. Whilst the main protagonist of the picture, "Doc" Sportello, is investigating convoluted, elaborate and indecipherable plots, the screenplay continually makes reference to there being little value in where the film stretches during these periods. Instead, it desires to tell a story about a much more straight-forward relationship; that between Doc and his former lady Shasta, the female who instigates the entire plot; one which involves numerous kidnappings, insane asylums, boats and political protesters. Not to mention narcotics. An abundance of the latter. Greenwood's work is reminiscent of such a story, as despite its wide assortment of ideas and musical implementations, it always returns to its humbling and slow thematic material centred around Shasta and Doc. It's what drives the story and the characters, so it seems only logical for it to drive the musical counterpart.
These concepts are introduced and explored within the numerous Shasta-based cues. Heading the album is 'Shasta', a piece which features slow, mysterious and unsure clarinets fitted alongside some light string work. The result is a piece which seems to perfectly resemble Doc's initial reaction to Shasta's appearance at the beginning of the story. He's confused, shaken up and questioning. The second major affair in this series is 'Shasta Fay', which still contains much of the slow and unsurety of the prior inclusion, but also features a more sorrow-filled clarinet performance. There is a hint of regret and sadness, and the entire cue reflects a certain desire for fulfillment. It's a seven minute long collation of some of the most touching instrumentation and work that 2014 has had to offer. It's slow, willful and sentimental, and offers one of the highlights of the score. The finale to this trilogy of pieces is 'Shasta Fay Hepworth', a cue which continues the utilization of the clarinet, but introduces more prominent uses of violins and violas, as well as an assortment of other woodwind instruments. It's as slow as the two prior installments, but this cue contains more happiness and unfiltered elation. There is certainly a form of pain and anguish hidden amongst the much lighter material on offer, but it's not nearly as prominent as it was within what Greenwood had initially gifted us.
If one doesn't sport a taste for the slow and emotional approach towards Shasta's character, Greenwood incorporates far quicker and varied instrumentation within the rest of the score. 'Spooks' features an immensely entertaining narration from Joanna Newsom (who narrates not only portions of the album, but much of the film) over the top of some wonderful rock hybrid, featuring delightful bass, drum kit, keyboard and electric guitar, forming a quality homage to the light 70's rock scene. It is serene and wistful, and most certainly another highlight to be noted. 'The Golden Fang' features a mysterious central thematic idea, performed on strings, keyboards, xylophone, guitar and other instrumentation. It is a piece which builds to its inevitable climax with a slow but sure speed, and the eventual satisfaction is enough to keep one impressed. Much of the score also features minimalist guitar work, reminiscent of a Gustavo Santaolalla work (perhaps one of the better ones, such as last year's The Book of Life). 'Amethyst' is a sweet, heartbreaking affair performed on gorgeous guitar, harmonica, light strings and the like. Its simplicity is perhaps the most resonant feature in the cue, and it wraps up one of the main character arcs in the story with gusto.
Also featured on the album are numerous songs utilized within the film, and unlike numerous other soundtracks featuring a blend of both songs and score, Inherent Vice actually implements these songs to positive effect. Forget Guardians of the Galaxy's Awesome Mix: Volume 1. The wide array of obscure and more recognisable tunes on offer in this here release from the early 70's proves undeniably effective, and ties in well to Greenwood's contributions. Can's 'Vitamin C' is perhaps the most applaudable inclusion, and one that shall undoubtedly lead to research into a musical time period which I haven't submerged myself in as much as I probably should have. So whether one is assessing Inherent Vice on its merits as a score solely, or they appreciate a soundtrack featuring both songs and Greenwood contributions, one should not be disappointed. It's slow and focused more so on tone and instrumentation than anything, so if you appreciate that kind of description, Inherent Vice may just be for you. This is a nostalgic, sexy, slow and sentimental release, that features some of the most easily accessible material of Jonny Greenwood's illustrious career, and certainly comes recommended from myself. You can purchase Inherent Vice on Amazon or iTunes, here and here.