Album Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (2013)

I never thought I’d say this, but I actually really miss the Twilight franchise.  I’m not talking about the movies, because we all know they were awful (though I will admit to missing Robert Pattinson, but that’s another thing entirely), but I miss the soundtracks.  Each one was an eclectic mix of indie rock, pop, and urban music and each was surprisingly much better than the respectful film they were complied for.  I discovered tons of new great songs and artists thanks to those soundtracks, and I must say a new Twilight soundtrack has been sorely missing from my music collection.

There have been a lot of comparisons between the Twilight and The Hunger Games franchises, and I’m usually the first to say that there’s no real comparison at all (The Hunger Games movies/books surpass the Twilight ones by light years).  However, the only thing I can say in comparison of the two is that The Hunger Games seems to have picked up where Twilight left off with providing quality indie-rock music soundtracks.

While the first Hunger Games soundtrack focused on a more folk-rock sound, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] is a wide variety of indie rock and pop tracks from both new and more well-known artists.   The majority of the songs weren’t actually used in the film (with the exception of the tracks by Coldplay, Of Monsters and Men, The Lumineers, and Imagine Dragons), but the tracks were selected to represent the overall feeling and mood of the film and they do so almost perfectly.

The disc opens with a song from one of my favourite bands, ColdplayAtlas was written by the band specifically for the Catching Fire soundtrack, though the sweeping ballad would’ve fit in perfectly on any of Coldplay’s studio albums.  The lush sound is augmented with violins, heavy piano, and, naturally, Chris Martin’s trademark falsetto.  Though the song is beautiful in and of itself, the lyric video that was released to promote it is equally stunning; it’s a gorgeous HD masterpiece of stars and constellations which soar through the screen in perfect time with the music.  The song was also nominated for both a Grammy and a Golden Globe this year.

It’s hard to follow-up such a big song, but indie folk-pop band, Of Monsters and Men, do pretty well with their contribution, Silhouettes. The mid-tempo ballad is highlighted by lead singer, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s distinctive vocals, and the track boasts a memorable chorus (“It’s hard letting go/I’m finally at peace, but it feels wrong/Slow I’m getting up/My hands and feet are weaker than before”) which fits in perfectly with the film’s melancholy mood.   Meanwhile, indie-rock band, The National, offers up another original song for the movie, Lean.  It’s a decent enough track, and even though I like The National, I have to be a bit objective and say once you’ve heard one broody ballad by them, you’ve heard them all.  This is especially true considering that Matt Berninger’s baritone doesn’t change much from song to song.  Criticism aside, the song is okay and fits in well with the soundtrack (again, lyrics like, “Love will lead us all to smithereens/Dying is easy, I believe my love, for my love relieves me” fit in well with the movie’s somber mood), but it’s definitely not the band’s best or most memorable song.

The same could pretty much be said of Christina Aguilera’s ballad, We Remain, though I’m afraid my critique is a bit harsher for her contribution.  The song is actually jarring amongst the other tracks on the album; the over-the-top pop power ballad is a definite change of pace on the album, and not necessarily a welcome one.  I’m going to be honest here:I grew tired of Aguilera years ago. One can only listen to her belt out the same big notes so many times before it gets boring.  At the height of her career in the early 00’s, Aguilera was the big voice in pop music (with Mariah and Whitney MIA, and the Britneys of the world barely able to hold a tune), but now she’s up against singers like Adele, who not only has the same powerhouse vocals to match hers, but has a more interesting sound, overall.  Even if a pop ballad like We Remain fit in on the soundtrack (and I reiterate: it does not), it’s still the same vocal performance we’ve been hearing fromAguilera for years, and it’s just unnecessary.  My point is that the time of Aguilera’s overwrought pop ballads has come and gone, and this song plays as a sad reminder of that.

Thankfully, Australian pop/indie-rock singer, Sia, appears on the album and shows us how a good pop song is done.  Elastic Heart also features The Weeknd (more on him in a bit) and Diplo, and the song contains one of the album’s most interesting sounds.  From the squelching synthesizers, and Sia’s warm and throaty vocals, down to the hypnotic refrain (“Well, I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart/But your blade it might be too sharp/I’m like a rubber band until you pull too hard/I might snap when I move close/But you won’t see me fall apart/’Cause I’ve got an elastic heart”), the song is pop music perfection.  I’ve been a big fan of Sia’s over the years, and even though she’s gotten mainstream attention and changed her sound a fair bit (her debut album was mostly laid back indie rock; her recent singles have been catchy pop tunes like “Titanium”), I still enjoy everything she releases and this is no exception.  Diplo and The Weeknd’s influence is admittedly a bit lost in the track- as far as I can tell, this is a Sia solo effort- but again, I have absolutely no complaints.

The Weeknd gets his own song, though, with Devil May Cry.  I’ve heard of The Weeknd (whose real name is Abel Tesfaye) a few times before, but this song is my first real sampling of any of his music, and it’s a delight.  The downtempo number is composed of very little production, leaving room for Tesfaye’s strong tenor voice.  The emotional ballad is the perfect vehicle for Tesfaye’s vocals, and he turns in a solid performance on the hauntingly beautiful number.

Abel Performs at OVO fest.

The rest of the album is still good, if not a bit of a mixed bag.  I really enjoy Imagine Dragons, but their offering to the album, Who We Are is fairly forgettable- sounding mostly like the stereotypical modern rock song you’d hear on a Top 40 station.  Indie music’s current darling, Lorde, does a cover of Everybody Wants To Rule The World in her famously monotone singing voice.  With that comment I probably don’t have to explain that I’m not really a Lorde fan, but I will say that her dreary rendition is different enough from the original to satisfy my rule about covers (which is: if you can’t make it different or improve upon it in some way, don’t bother), and I actually do enjoy listening to it.  The Lumineers are responsible for the aforementioned Gale’s Song, and the quiet folk ballad is the perfect companion to the character the song is named for; its hushed, sad melody goes well with Gale’s trials in the film.  Synth-pop singer, Ellie Goulding, lends electro pop track, Mirrors, to the soundtrack, while rock legend, Patti Smith, contributes to the soundtrack with Capitol Letter, a downtrodden folk ballad that would’ve fit in perfectly with the last film’s soundtrack.

The disc comes to a close with a song from Santigold, titled Shooting Arrows At The Sky.  The song wins the award for being the most obvious track for the movie, as it’s the only one the album with lyrics that are obviously about Katniss or the film itself (“He didn’t want it but didn’t recognize the call/I don’t believe it, they’ll write the ending for us all/Thinking about it, the captors around us all/So I’ll build me a bubble to build what I know will hold…/I’m fighting when you fallback/I’m shooting arrows at the sky”).  Lyrical content aside, the song is a fun, catchy number that allows the album to end an exciting high note.

Once again similar to the Twilight soundtracks, I’ll say that you don’t have to be a fan or even have seen the Catching Fire movie to enjoy the music on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack].  The album is a varied mix of pop/rock/indie music with several songs that make the disc worth buying.  The standouts are definitely the songs from Coldplay, Sia, and the Weeknd, but the rest of the mix (with the exception of Christina Aguilera’s track) is also outstanding and the soundtrack was easily one of my favourite albums from last year.

Rating: 5_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Atlas – Coldplay
2. Silhouettes- Of Monsters and Men
3. Elastic Heart – Sia – (featuring Diplo/The Weeknd)
4. Lean- The National
5. We Remain – Christina Aguilera
6. Devil May Cry – The Weeknd
7. Who We Are – Imagine Dragons
8. Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Ella Yelich O’Connor/Lorde
9. Gale Song – The Lumineers
10. Mirror – Ellie Goulding
11. Capitol Letter- Patti Smith
12. Shooting Arrows at the Sky- Santigold

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh3TokLzzmw]

This album was included in my Top 10 Albums of 2013.  Read my full list here.

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