Deeming Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace good or bad and
leaving it at that is as pointless as a purely textural analysis of the
songs of, say, 'N Sync. These droolingly popular media constructs have
too much discourse surrounding them to reduce the phenomena to mere
chit-chat on aesthetics. Furthermore, you can better gauge the desires
(and anxieties) of a nation through its most beloved films and records.
That's why my "cool" punk friend deserves a slap for refusing to see
"Titanic" simply because it's popular, effectively dismissing the world
around him as a place of alienation (but never wonder) and showing off
the long-known-anyway, bull-headed insularity of his "scene" in the process.
The soundtrack for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,
however, is a slightly different matter. Because it's a side dish to the
main textural course of the film itself, the soundtrack is easier, if
equally pointless, to discuss on an aesthetic level. I still think the
more interesting questions lie in how the soundtrack is used culturally.
For instance, some "Phantom Menace" video (no, I don't know the name)
recently played five times in a row on VH-1. That's practically tantamount
to announcing a format change, and even the most popular stars couldn't
command such exposure. But discussing records on an aesthetic level is
what I'm paid to do, so here it goes.
I was actually slightly positive about the soundtrack before hearing
it. I was hoping there'd be some fun disco like Sy Snootles' "Lapti Nek"
from "Return of the Jedi" (which actually got some airplay back in 1984)
or the "Cantina Band" song. Hell, I'd even welcome a track as cute as
"Ewok Celebration." But, alas, no such fun is to be had here. The closest
it comes to bustin' a move is "Augie's Great Municipal Band"
(RealAudio excerpt), a sprightly (I suppose) victory (I imagine) number
that comes at the end. It has a girlie chorus going "ya, ya" and some
brash horn charts. Everything else sucks total butt.
(RealAudio excerpt) is the first single (ha-ha) and made its radio debut
on April 27th. It's sung in Sanskrit! Did you hear it? I didn't. And
speaking of hearing, some of these cuts are so hideously ambient that
they're practically inaudible, such as my favorite (?) example, "Passage
Through The Planet Core" (RealAudio excerpt). Now and then, a
dramatic shift in volume shocks you out of your slumber. Kinda like P.J.
Harvey's Rid Of Me. Yeah, right. Oh, and titles like "Qui-Gon's
Noble End" sorta ruin the story, don't they?
None of this is to suggest that this music has already reached the end
of its aesthetic life. I await house-music remixes from the '90s equivalent
of Meco -- who discofied Star Wars in 1978 -- or a future rock star to
sing an X-mas version, like Jon Bon Jovi did as a child on Christmas
in the Stars.