Album Review: Once (Music From The Motion Picture) (2007)

My friend, Amy, has clued me in to some pretty good music recently. She burned me Neutral Milk Hotel’s last CD over winter break, and she’s responsible for my brief (though still wonderful) obsession with Peter Bjorn & John (reviews of both albums coming soon, I promise). So when she handed me a copy of the Once soundtrack, I had no problems giving it a listen, even though I hadn’t seen the film yet.

I still haven’t seen Once. I know the movie tells the story of two struggling Irish musicians (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) who fall in love (on a side note, Hansard and Irglova are lovers in real life, and the sappy side of me definitely finds that incredibly adorable and romantic). I know I’ll probably enjoy it- thoroughly, in fact- but I’m almost afraid to see the movie now after listening to the soundtrack for the past few months. To be honest, I’m really just worried that the movie won’t be nearly as fantastic as the soundtrack is.

And the soundtrack is very fantastic. All of the songs are written and composed and performed by Hansard and Irglova (with the exception of one track). The disc has an acoustic/indie rock feel to it that’s perfect, and all of the songs are so masterfully sung, written and composed, that the album has become a staple on my iTunes.

The disc starts off with the slow ballad, Falling Slowly, which coincidently, just won an Oscar. It’s easy to see why, too- Hansard’s soothing vocals (with just a hint of his Irish accent, which is very thick when he speaks) and Irglova’s quiet accompanying vocals are beautiful. The lyrics are just as touching (“I don’t know you/But I want you/All the more for that/Words fall through me/And always fool me/And I can’t react/And games that never amount/To more than they’re meant/Will play themselves out”), and I’ll admit that the song is one of (okay, many) on the disc that brings me to tears on days when I’m feeling extra emotional.

One of my favorites comes up next with If You Want Me. Irglova starts off the song with the opening verse, and we are truly introduced to her voice with this song. She sounds a bit like Bjork, but her vocals are honestly more pleasing to listen to. Her accent (also Irish) is more pronounced than Hansard’s, but only adds more charm to her voice. Anyway, it’s again the haunting sound (this time Irglova takes up the helm of singing lead while Hansard sings backing vocals), and the expertly written lyrics (“When I get really lonely and the distance calls its only silence/I think of you smiling with pride in your eyes; a lover that sighs/If you want me satisfy me”) that makes me fall in love with this song each time I listen to it.

When Your Mind’s Made Up is probably one of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time. The melody is more up tempo than some of the songs before it, but the track continues in the album’s formula of a stunningly beautiful melody, vocals, and touching lyrics. I think it’s the simplicity of the album, however, that really makes me like it so much. This song, for example, is pretty bare- just vocals (Hansard singing lead, Irglova backing/harmonizing), drums, guitar and piano. The refrain is simplistic as well (“When your mind is made up/There’s no point trying to change it/When your mind is made up/There’s no point trying to stop it”), but when you really stop and think about it, is making a pretty big and definite statement, especially in regards to relationships and love.

By this point in the album, I’ve fallen completely in love with Glen Hansard’s voice- and it’s a good thing, as the next song focuses completely on his vocals. Lies is another tortured ballad, which I very much enjoy listening to. Even though I’ve never seen the movie, the songs all have a way of telling a story and this song is no exception. Again, the lyrics touch me (“I think it’s time, we give it up/And figure out what’s stopping us/From breathing easy, and talking straight/The way is clear if you’re ready now/The volunteer is slowing down/And taking time to save himself/I could see you’re only telling/Lies, lies, lies/Breaking us down with your/Lies, lies, lies/When will you learn”), and Hansard’s delivery is appropriately emotional and pained. Will the perfection ever end?

Apparently not. Next up is Gold, the only song on the album not by Hansard or Irglova. Instead, Irish-rock band, Interference offer this upbeat, Celtic rock number, that’s a great addition to the album. The sweet lyrics (“And I love her so/I wouldn’t trade her for gold”) and gorgeous instrumentation towards the end of the song are excellent.

Irglova returns to the soundtrack with the slow ballad, The Hill. Just the opening piano bars of this track alone make me want to cry, and not just on my “overly emotional” days. The lyrics are just as sad (“I’m sitting here weeping while the hours pass so slow/And I know that in the mornin’ I have to let you go/And you’ll be just a man once I leave to know/For these past few days someone I don’t recognize/This isn’t all my fault/When will you realize”), and even though the song verges on being almost too dreary and depressing, it’s still a hauntingly beautiful number.

Glen marketa derry 2006
Fallen From The Sky is an upbeat and cheerful song, and a stark contrast to the track before it. I’m pretty sure the opening bars are the same as a preset on my old Casio keyboard (and yes, I’m aware of the fact that I often make comparisons to cheaply produced music sounding like “Casio keyboard presets” but it’s a quirky pet-peeve of mine, okay?!), but even that’s forgiven once Hansard starts singing on this breezy number. You can’t help but bob your head and sing along by the chorus (“You must’ve fallen from the sky/You must’ve come here in the pourin’ rain/You took so many through the light/And now you’re on your own/If you need somewhere to fall apart/Somewhere to fall apart”), and the song is one of the many highlights on the album.

Hansard sings the next block of songs himself, and they’re all pretty good. Leave is performed only with acoustic guitar, and the stripped back sound allows more focus on Hansard’s vocals. His voice is rough and the emotion he’s trying to convey comes across clearly as he verges on screaming the last words of the songs. Trying To Pull Myself Away is an upbeat number reminiscent of Coldplay or Snow Patrol that’s very likable. The chorus begs of you to sing along (“Trying to pull myself away/I’m caught in a pattern and I can’t escape/Trying to pull myself away”), and chances are you’ll have the song stuck in your head after hearing it. All The Way Down has some of the most heart-wrenching lyrics on the album (“Some fight you gave/And I pushed you away from me/And in the morning when you turn in/I’ll be far to sea.”), and though Hansard’s performance is far more understated this time around, the song is still another treat.

The album’s title track, Once, appears as another duet between Hansard and Irglova. It’s amazing how well their voices blend together, and this song is no exception. Though the two of them sound great together, the first few minutes of the song go by without leaving much of an impression. Finally, the song picks up towards the end and the repetition of “Hear the sirens call me home” again brings to mind Coldplay.

The soundtrack comes to a close with Say It To Me Now. The number is a solo for Hansard, and is another gem. This time around, the song is written as a plea to God (“And if You have something to say/You’d better say it now/Cause I’m picking up a message Lord/And I’m closer than I’ve ever been before/So if you have something to say/Say it to me now”) and Hansard sings the words so powerfully, and almost angrily, that I wonder if the ending in the movie isn’t a happy one (I hope it is- the optimist in me hates to see a sad ending). The song ends abruptly with one last guitar note, and then the album is over.

Anyone who’s ever had a difficult breakup will be immediately drawn to this album (and I was in the middle of a pretty bad one when Amy gave this CD to me, so I know from experience). But the Oncesoundtrack is more than good post-breakup music. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are incredible musicians, and each song on the album tells its own story. I can’t stop listening to the music on this disc, and nor do I plan to- Once is easily one of the best CDs released in 2007.

Rating: 5 stars

Track Listing
1. Falling Slowly – Glen Hansard/Marketa Irglova
2. If You Want Me – Glen Hansard/Marketa Irglova
3. Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy – Glen Hansard
4. When Your Mind’s Made Up – Glen Hansard/Marketa Irglova
5. Lies – Glen Hansard
6. Gold – Interference
7. The Hill – Marketa Irglova
8. Fallen From the Sky – Glen Hansard
9. Leave – Glen Hansard
10. Trying To Pull Myself Away – Glen Hansard
11. All the Way Down – Glen Hansard
12. Once – Glen Hansard/Marketa Irglova
13. Say It To Me Now – Glen Hansard

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8mtXwtapX4]
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