Album Review: Across the Universe (Original Soundtrack) (2007)

Of all the movies I saw last year (and trust me, there were MANY…when you’re under 21 in Reno, there’s not much to do besides going to the movies!), Across The Universe was easily one of the best.

The movie takes place in the early 60’s and tells the story of Jude, a young ship builder/hopeful artist, whom travels from Liverpool to the United States to find his estranged father. While in the States, he ends up meeting Lucy, a free spirited young girl, and her brother, Max, who is drafted to the Vietnam War. Lucy and Jude fall in love, but their love isn’t enough with the war over their heads. While Lucy becomes a full-force activist, Jude remains pretty apolitical, putting a huge strain on their relationship.

The film has several components which make it great- stellar acting by a fantastic cast, awesome production/direction, and of course, the actual idea of a love story/musical built around classic Beatles’ songs.

The Across The Universe soundtrack provides solid proof of just how good the music from the movie is. All of the original songs have been re-worked and sound just as great (and in some cases, possibly better) than the originals. The cast also does a lovely job of singing (particularly Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, Martin Luther McCoy, and Dana Fuchs). Even though I bought the soundtrack in the fall, it’s still on heavy rotation on my iTunes.

The movie and soundtrack both begin with Girl. The track is a lesser known Beatles’ song (released in 1965 on the Rubber Soul album), but provides the perfect narration for the beginning of the film (“Is there anybody going to listen to my story/All about the girl who came to stay?”). The song also gives us our first taste of Jim Sturgess’ (who plays Jude) singing voice, which is quite lovely. He actually sounds a lot like fellow British actor/occasional singer, Ewan McGregor, which is definitely not a bad thing.

Things pick right back up with Hold Me Tight. The song has a swing/50’s dance feel to it that’ll make you want to at least bob your head if not get right up and start dancing in your room while listening to it. The song is used in the film to illustrate the two main characters’ (Lucy, played by Evan Rachel Wood and Jude) different lifestyles in the United States (Lucy) and the UK (Jude). Wood’s voice is mostly highlighted throughout the song, and while she doesn’t do anything remarkable vocally, she still ends up sounding extremely pleasant.

Sturgess gets another song to himself with All My Loving. The song is used in the film as Jude says goodbye to his girlfriend and heads off to the States. Sturgess’ voice is again a treat to listen to in this easy going and breezy song.

The album changes pace a bit with I Want To Hold Your Hand. The song’s treatment is vastly different from the original- the music is slowed down a lot, and this time, the song is sung by a female. T.V. Carpio, who plays Prudence, has a strangely appealing voice. It’s not exactly the strongest, or even the prettiest voice I’ve ever heard, yet her vocals draw you in just the same. The scene in the movie is also another that stands out, and this song is easily one of my favorites from the movie and soundtrack.

With A Little Help From My Friends has the addition of electric guitars, adding in an appropriate rock vibe to it as Jude meets his future best friend, Max (Joe Anderson) for the first time. The song has a fun and playful feeling to it which works really well. Meanwhile, Lucy sings It Won’t Be Long, as she anticipates her boyfriend coming home from Vietnam. The song is another upbeat and bouncy number that’s fun to listen to.

The soundtrack comes to a somber point with the poignant, Let It Be. This classic number gets a Gospel reworking, which is quite appropriate. The first half of the song is sung by a young boy (Timothy T. Mitchum) who ends up dying in the midst of a civil rights riot, while the latter half of the song is performed by a woman singing at his funeral (Carol Woods). The song is also is used to depict the funeral of Lucy’s boyfriend, who dies in Vietnam. Both the song and the scene in the movie move me to tears each time. Woods’ voice is truly stirring, as well as the gospel choir that backs her at the end. I’ve always been a fan of this song, but this version gives it even more depth and meaning.

Joe Cocker lends his legendary gravely voice to Come Together. Cocker is well known for singing another Beatles’ song in his career (With A Little Help From My Friends), but he does a wonderful job on this version of Come Together, as well. Speaking of gravely voices, we get our first taste of Dana Fuchs husky rocker sound in Why Don’t We Do It In The Road. This song doesn’t even seem like a Beatles’ song at all (it was released on The White Album), but fits in perfectly with the character of Sadie, Jude and Max’s rockstar friend and roommate.

If I Fell is up next, and is performed by Wood. The ballad gets a soft and sentimental touch, as Lucy ponders if she could safely fall in love with Jude. Again, Wood’s voice isn’t anything outstanding, but her tone is very pretty and she is again, quite pleasant to listen to.

I Want You (She’s So Heavy) is yet another of the album’s standouts. Half of the song is used to explain the lust between several characters in the film, while the other half is used as a clever play on Max being drafted (Uncle Sam posters point to Max and sing, “I want you/I want you so bad”). The best part of the scene for me, however, is when the song transitions into the line, “She’s so heavy”, and is illustrated by Max and other young army men carrying the Statute of Liberty. The symbolism is dynamic and stirring, and makes this scene easily one of my favorites in the entire movie.

Fun cameos by Bono and British comedian, Eddie Izzard, are also a great touch to the movie/soundtrack. Bono lends his voice to a psychedelic version of I Am The Walrus and later on to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Both songs are great, and Bono actually does a wonderful job in the film. Izzard sings the nonsensical tune Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite, and is used in the film to help illustrate what the characters experience on an acid trip- which finally helps me make some sort of sense of the song 😉

My ABSOLUTE favorite song on the album is easily, Because. First of all, the scene in the movie is gorgeous. The main characters collapse in a wheat field after their acid trip, and lay down on their backs to form a circle in the middle of the wheat. The friends and lovers are all holding hands and it’s just such a “free love”/hippie type thing to do; I’m determined that my friends and I need to replicate this scene one day. Anyway, musically, the song is also the best. Almost a capella (save a few light strings), the focus is on the vocal harmonies of Sturgess, Wood, Anderson, Fuchs, Martin, and T.V. Carpio. All the vocals are spot on, and the song is simply stunning. Maybe it’s the singer in me, but I can never get enough of listening to (and singing along with) the perfect harmonies in this song.

Sturgess sings lead vocals in both Strawberry Fields Forever and Revolution. The first of the two is quite similar to the original, but is performed in the movie as a duet between Sturgess and Anderson, and is used to parallel Jude’s struggle with creativity and Max’s struggle in the war. Revolution is sped up a bit, and has a rock vibe to it, creating an angrier sound than the original. Though I do enjoy this version, I think the music takes the lyrics too literally, whereas the original Beatles version is more subdued and has a more emphasized meaning.

Martin Luther McCoy is one of the few actual singers in the film (Fuchs is the other), and it’s obvious during his smooth rendition of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. The song is one of the few Beatles tracks written by George Harrison, and has a sultry, R&B feeling to it on the soundtrack. McCoy’s voice is lovely, and the song is another stand out.

The title song, performed solely by Sturgess, is sadly a bit of a letdown. Though Sturgess’ vocals are great as usual, the rendition isn’t much different than the original, and I’ve heard far better covers of this song by other artists anyway (both Fiona Apple and Rufus Wainwright have done wonderful covers of this song). The song isn’t bad, though- it’s just not good enough to stand out, really.

My second favorite song on the album is Anderson’s only solo song, Happiness Is A Warm Gun. Anderson’s voice draws you right in- his vocals are soft and understated, yet strong at the same time. I’ve never actually heard the original version, but the one in the film is amazing. The song starts as a slow ballad, before transitioning into a pseudo-rock song with the lines, “I need a fix/’Cause I’m going down”. The tune makes another transition with the chorus. Actress Salma Hayek has a cameo in the movie as Max’s nurse, and she also accompanies Anderson during the choruses, which works really well.

Wood returns with Blackbird. This version doesn’t stray far from the original, but it’s Wood’s broken and heartfelt delivery that makes the song so good. Her vocals are hushed and raw, which fits perfectly with the scene in the film. And what would this movie be without Hey Jude? Anderson and Sturgess pair up for the classic song, and again stick closely to the original version. The scene in the movie is a pivotal one and is another that usually draws me to tears.

The movie comes to an end with the entire cast performing All You Need Is Love. The song is used to tie up the film, in a way, and while I won’t give the ending away, I’ll say the scene is yet another emotional one. While Sturgess and Fuchs do most of the lead vocals, the rest of the cast provide backing vocals and the song is a lovely end to the movie and soundtrack (however, the CD actually ends with the aforementioned Bono cover of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, which is played in the film over the end credits).

All in all, the Across The Universe soundtrack is amazing. The film is already high on my list of favorite musicals, and having the soundtrack full of all the great songs from the movie is a must. Fans of the film, the Beatles, or just good music, will love this CD. Also, if you do buy the soundtrack, be sure to buy the Deluxe Edition (which is what I’ve reviewed here). The Deluxe Edition is two discs and includes a few bonus instrumental tracks, and at only a few bucks more is a much better deal than the standard soundtrack which only includes highlights from the movie.

Rating: 5 stars

Track Listing

DISC 1:
1. Girl – Jim Sturgess
2. Hold Me Tight – Evan Rachel Wood
3. All My Loving – Jim Sturgess
4. I Want To Hold Your Hand – T.V. Carpio
5. With A Little Help From My Friends – Jim Sturgess/Joe Anderson
6. It Won’t Be Long – Evan Rachel Wood
7. I’ve Just Seen A Face – Jim Sturgess
8. Let It Be – Carol Woods/Timothy T. Mitchum
9. Come Together – Joe Cocker
10. If I Fell – Evan Rachel Wood
11. Dear Prudence – Evan Rachel Wood/Dana Fuchs
12. Flying – Secret Machines
13. Blue Jay Way – Secret Machines

DISC 2:
1. I Am The Walrus – Bono/Secret Machines
2. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite – Eddie Izzard
3. Because – Evan Rachel Wood/Dana Fuchs
4. Something – Jim Sturgess
5. Oh! Darling – Dana Fuchs/Martin Luther McCoy
6. Strawberry Fields Forever – Jim Sturgess/Joe Anderson
7. Revolution – Jim Sturgess
8. While My Guitar Gently Weeps – Martin Luther McCoy
9. Across The Universe – Jim Sturgess
10. Helter Skelter – Dana Fuchs
11. Happiness Is A Warm Gun – Salma Hayek/Joe Anderson
12. Black Bird – Evan Rachel Wood
13. Hey Jude – Dana Fuchs
14. Don’t Let Me Down – Dana Fuchs
15. All You Need Is Love – Dana Fuchs/Jim Sturgess
16. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds – Bono

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D92Lyxj7U7Q]
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