Album Review: Moulin Rouge! Music from Baz Luhrmann’s Film (2001)

The idea of reworking old Nirvana, Madonna, The Police and Elton John songs and placing them in a musical sounds pretty horrible, but somehow Moulin Rouge! makes it work. Baz Luhrmann’s lavish musical (released in 2001) tells the story of a poor British poet, Christian (Ewan McGregor), who ends up falling in love with the star of the Moulin Rouge cabaret, Satine (Nicole Kidman). While the movie has easily become one of my favorite musical films (right alongside The Music Man, Oklahoma!, The Phantom of the Opera and RENT), I just recently purchased the soundtrack and found it to be just as pleasing as its’ cinematic counterpart.

The album begins with David Bowie singing a rendition of the Nat King Cole classic, Nature Boy. I’m quite a fan of this song in general (I have four different versions of it on my computer- not including this one), but Bowie does a terrific job covering it. His voice is soft in the beginning, but towards the end, as the orchestration builds, his vocals are strong and powerful and set off the perfect mood for the movie. An ongoing theme from the movie is first presented in this song with the lines, “The greatest thing/You will ever learn/Is just to love/And be loved/In return”.

The mood picks up with Lady Marmalade performed by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and P!nk. This song was pretty much unavoidable when it was released. The combination of Aguilera, Mya and P!nk’s voices works well, and Lil’ Kim’s rap is even a nice touch. The girl’s version of Patti LaBelle’s song is both fun and sexy (and it even went on to win a Grammy), and fits in perfectly with the opening cabaret scene in the movie.

Because We Can starts suddenly with loud cheering and a throbbing bass line. Fatboy Slim offers up this techno/electornica piece, which is so crazy and over the top that it ends up being incredibly fun. Latin singer, Valeria, sings a remake of Rhythm Of The Night which is at times annoying, but still listenable (however, to be fair, I’ve never been a fan of this song at all).

One of the best things about the movie and soundtrack is that the stars did all their own singing- and were good at it. Sparkling Diamonds is Satine’s introductory song, and Kidman does a beautiful job of singing the upbeat track. The song begins with a lively rendition of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend before evolving into a few lines of Madonna’s classic, Material Girl. Once again, the idea of the two songs working together probably sounds ridiculous, but the production is done so well that both songs fit seamlessly together.

Next up is Christian’s solo, Your Song. Yes, the Elton John song. Like Kidman, McGregor does a wonderful job with the song and has quite a terrific voice (But unlike Kidman, he had singing experience in the past). The song is pretty similar to the original, except as necessary to be adapted to a musical, is far more dramatic, with soaring vocals and long instrumental breaks. Italian tenor, Alessandro Safino, leads his gorgeous voice to the track, making it one of the standout songs on the album.

Kidman’s solo, One Day I’ll Fly Away, is also a treat. The soft ballad is a better example of Kidman’s vocal talent; stripped down orchestration and the focus of her vocals prove that she’s quite capable of singing in a musical. The song is used to explain Satine’s longing to eventually leave the Moulin Rouge and become a “real” actress, and Kidman conveys this emotion perfectly.

Elephant Love Medley is another one of my favorite songs on the album and in the movie. The track begins with Christian quoting lines from Sinatra and Beatles songs (“Love is a many splendored thing/All you need is love!”) before segueing into a melody of popular love songs. Like Sparkling Diamonds, the song seamlessly fuses pieces of over 15 songs, including Up Where We Belong, Lover’s Game, One More Night, Don’t Leave Me This Way, Silly Love Songs, and Heroes. And it still all makes sense in the context of the musical. Kidman and McGregor’s voices blend well together, and they’re both funny and sweet as Christian tries to convince Satine that “[they] should be lovers”. Both the scene and the song are my favorites in the movie, and think this was the point of the musical where I fell utterly in love with Moulin Rouge.

Kidman and McGregor pair up again for the very next track, Come What May. The song is the only entirely original song in the movie (however, it was originally written for Luhrmann’s film William Shakespeare’s Romeo Juliet. Despite the fact that it was previously unused, the song was disqualified from a nomination for an Oscar). Kidman and McGregor’s voices sound beautiful together as the two lovers confess their undying love for one another. Though the lyrics border on being a bit cliche and corny (“I’ll love you until the end of time/Come what may/I will love you/Until my dying day”), Satine and Christian’s love for one another is so convincing that you’ll overlook the lyrics to root for their love to endure.

Another one of my favorites is El Tango De Roxanne. Take away the tango, and you have a reworking of Roxanne by The Police. Once again, its odd how well these modern classics fit in a musical that takes place in the late 1890’s, but the lyrics provide a parallel with Christian’s feelings with Satine’s role as a courtesan. While McGregor sings half of the song, and sounds great as usual, the star of the song is clearly Jose Feliciano who starts off the tango. His strong and gravelly voice provides plenty of suspense and drama in this tense scene of the musical. Hindi Sad Diamonds samples Chamma Chamma, a song from a Hindi movie, and actually sounds like it would fit in perfectly in a Bollywood film. Kidman’s parts in Sparkling Diamonds are remixed into the song, and the fast-paced song is fun and simply makes me want to dance whenever I hear it.

Some of the songs used as background music are also present in the soundtrack. Bono’s sultry reworking of Children Of The Revolution is included, as well as oddly satisfying remake of David Bowie’s song Diamond Dogs courtesy of Beck. Rufus Wainwright stands out with his rendition of the French song, Complainte De La Butte. His voice is simply beautiful, and though I haven’t listened to much of Wainwright’s work prior to buying this soundtrack, after hearing the song I’m more than willing to tap into some of his other music.

While these songs are included, some of the numbers from the actual movie are excluded. Jim Broadbent and Richard Roxburgh’s rendition of Like A Virgin is missing, as well as The Pitch– the Spectacular Spectacular theme song. Another of Broadbent’s songs, The Show Must Go On is also absent. I’m not quite sure why the album wasn’t extended to 18 tracks to add these three songs, but I honestly believe it was a strategic move to make more money- a few months after this soundtrack was released, a second one was released that included these missing tracks.

Anyway, the album comes to a close with a remix of Nature Boy. British electronica band, Massive Attack, are on hand to provide their trademark sound to the remix and the result is a funky and futuristic sounding song. I’m usually not a fan of remixes tacked onto the end of albums (usually they just prove to be unnecessary and a waste of space), but this one is a welcome exception.

The Moulin Rouge! soundtrack, like the movie, is absolutely wonderful. The selection of songs used to tell the story of Satine and Christian’s romance is perfect, and Kidman, McGregor and the other artists on the soundtrack are amazing. The musical couldn’t be what it is without this great collection of songs, and now you can listen to them all without having to even turn on your DVD player.

Rating: 5_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Nature Boy – David Bowie
2. Lady Marmalade – Christina Aguilera/Pink/Mya/Lil’ Kim
3. Because We Can – Fatboy Slim
4. Sparkling Diamonds – Nicole Kidman/Jim Broadbent/Caroline O’Connor/Natalie Mandoza/Lara Mulcahy
5. Rhythm Of The Night – Valeria
6. Your Song – Ewan MacGregor/Alessandro Safina
7. Children Of The Revolution – Bono/Gavin Friday/Maurice Seezer
8. One Day I’ll Fly Away – Nicole Kidman
9. Diamond Dogs – Beck
10. Elephant Love Medley – Ewan MacGregor/Nicole Kidman
11. Come What May – Ewan MacGregor/Nicole Kidman
12. Le Tango De Roxanne – Ewan McGregor/Jose Feliciano/Jacek Koman
13. Compliante De La Butte – Rufus Wainwright
14. Hindi Sad Diamonds – Nicole Kidman/John Leguizamo/Alka Yagnik
15. Nature Boy – David Bowie/Massive Attack

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4PxlqBzXlM]
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