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Album Review
Where The Wild Things Are Soundtrack

Where The Wild Things Are Soundtrack
by Karen O and the Kids

Interscope Records

Review Date
2nd November 2009
Reviewed by
Lukas Clark-Memler

Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are was an unprecedented achievement. Here was a book that was written for children, yet equally enjoyed by the adults reading it to them. This was a book that completely transcended all age levels and possessed different meanings to those reading it. Young children were swept up in Max’s adventures and would forever more don a wolf suit and make mischief of one kind, and another. Yet to the older eye, the world Sendak had created was compelling and provocative and would need hours of psychological analysis to fully appreciate and understand.

This is a book that has sold over 19 million copies worldwide, has been translated into 15 different languages, has won numerous awards, and is arguably the most celebrated, cherished and respected children’s book ever written. So a movie version of this literary juggernaut was inevitable. Disney allegedly tried to secure the rights for a film, never expecting to be declined by the author. We have Maurice Sendak to thank for saving this beloved classic from turning into an animated, over-sweetened, commercialised monstrosity. For years the idea of a movie drifted around in the backwaters of Hollywood, until Spike Jonze, with Sendak’s blessing, began the process of making the 10-sentence book into a feature length film.

Now for me, good music is integral to the overall feeling and aesthetic of a film. How can one think of Ghostbusters without humming its eponymous theme? And would Jaws really have been as scary without its ominous two-note composition? Yet the concept of a true film score is becoming more and more a dated concept, giving way to the modern soundtrack – which is essentially a collection of previously recorded singles that supplement the movie. And so it's been a genuine pleasure, amidst the clichéd and generic soundtracks of today, to experience the return of original film music — more score than soundtrack.

This album commences with a whispered request for a story; and so begins the daring and mesmerising harmonic accompaniment to a timeless tale. Karen O, of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s fame, put together an ensemble cast of indie superstars performing together under the moniker: Karen O and The Kids. The Kids include, members of: The Dead Weather, Deerhunter, The Raconteurs, The Bird and the Bee and Queens of the Stone Age. Also featured, is a children’s choir that helped contribute to the youthful soundscapes.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this album is its versatility and wide spectrum of material. The polarities of children’s emotions are explored - from roars and shrieks of utter pre-adolescent abandon, to morose pleas of belonging and betrayal. The nostalgia and naïveté of Sendak’s tale is beautifully encapsulated on the record, and even the most cynical listener has to be impressed with Karen O’s aptitude for relating to her inner youngster. Karen captures the exuberance and bewilderment of youth, along with the joy and sorrows. She manages to create music that reminds us of a time when the world was a limitless place, and impossible was simply an unidentifiable word in the dictionary. And she does it in a way that doesn’t patronise or seem condescending to the children watching the movie - whilst satisfying the adult and hipster audience. It was a very difficult and precarious endeavour, and Karen O pulled it off with flying colours.

Though the album plays smoothly and almost chronologically as a whole, the most notable and popular track is, without question, “All Is Love.” Karen O’s vocals mix and intertwine with yelps from children, against a backdrop of ebullient guitar lines. “All Is Love” is a rambunctious, playground chant, as much as it is a majestic display of unadulterated optimism. “All Is Love” is a song that revels in purity and innocence without recourse to self-righteousness.

Though indeed this record is a companion to the film, and will complement and enhance the moviegoer’s experience, it holds its own as an album, and is completely listenable without visual stimulus. The real accomplishment of this album is not simply its ability and deftness to capture the raw emotions of Maurice Sendak’s beloved tale, but its skill at bringing those exact emotions to a different medium, without losing effect – and adding some newfound passion and joy along the way.