OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG! It’s officially THE WEEK of THE HUNGER GAMES movie release, and for the first time in a long time I’m freaking beside myself with The Waiting and The Wanting! Neither the wizard kids nor the moody girl with the sparkly blood-sucker boyfriend could do what author Suzanne Collin’s killer Appalachian chick done did: make me an Uber Fan. I can’t remember the last time I was an Uber over anything. Maybe I got a little kooky about the first Badly Drawn Boy album. Before that, Ally McBeal. That’s it.
But here I am, three books into a dystopian fantasy/science-fiction series—a genre I denounced in 9th grade after being forced to read 1984 and Brave New World back to back—and I’m transfixed by Katniss Everdeen. I grew up in the real-life approximation of District 12′s coal region at a time when stories featuring courageous, complicated teen heroines weren’t easily found on the library shelves. I’d love to send a copy of The Hunger Games back to my 14-year-old self. It would have blown the top of my head off. Figuratively speaking. Not Hunger Games speaking.
And now on the release eve of the soundtrack The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 and Beyond, I’m furiously cross-referencing the track list with the sneak peaks available on The Internets and, once again, my mind is blown.
First of all, THE CIVIL WARS, FTW! I’m possibly the last person on the planet to learn about this Grammy award-winning duo, but when I heard The Civil Wars play two weeks ago on A Prairie Home Companion (shut-up), I pulled my minivan over to the side of the road so I could give a standing ovation right there in the breakdown lane, whooping and hollering to Barton Hollow and having myself a one-woman revival. And when Entertainment Weekly posted a 90-second snippet of the The Civil Wars’ song “Kingdom Come” from The Hunger Games soundtrack, any fears over the movie not capturing the tone of the book lifted away with opening notes of Joy Williams’ and John Paul White’s fearsome lullaby.
The Civil Wars then perform the second miracle of making me adore Taylor Swift by providing back-up vocals on Swift’s soundtrack single, “Safe & Sound.”
Damn girl, I’m not sure whether you’re supposed to be the ghostly angel of dead tributes or the Appalachian Ophelia, but I do know this: whoever paired this song with those musicians is a certified genius. Each rising harmony is so sensually intricate, so closely intimate, so dead sexy in sustaining the grasping, breathless moment before la petite mort that I’m not sure I shouldn’t cover my pre-teen daughter’s ears. This song does with three voices and a guitar what most pop divas need sweaty back up singers and a cone bra to do: be sultry and provocative. Or maybe I just have a dirty hillbilly mind.
The second Swift song on the soundtrack, “Eyes Open,” is pretty much immediately forgettable. Its another song that sounds like any other song in the vein of something written for an American Idol winner as a follow-up to a lackluster debut single. Maybe Swift can get away with recording generic Top 40 anthems because she’s young and lovely and astoundingly popular. But Taylor, if your pop princess fans don’t follow you into your thirties and forties, I promise you, we folksy-bluegrass-country music types are absolute tarts for middle-aged women with cry-break vocals who can sing their way around a mandolin and a fiddle. Think about it.
The Decemberists’ “One Engine” is familiar and likable, mostly because for the first fifteen seconds I thought I was listening to U2′s “Two Hearts Beat As One.” And frankly, I’m okay with that. If U2 wasn’t going to record an old, U2-sounding new track with reluctant revolutionary lyrics for this movie, someone had to do it.
Kid Cudi’s “The Ruler & The Killer” is scary as hell. I’m pretty sure that my 13-year-old would be as unnerved by this song as with any death scene in the PG-13 movie. Creepy, menacing, and bad moons rising. Exactly what would be playing during a child carnage scene, whether in The Hunger Games arena or during the Columbine shootings.
Miranda Lambert brings back the foggy mountains, dark hollers, and first recognizable banjos in “Run Daddy Run.” Listening as someone whose own family stories include mine cave-ins and dynamite blasts, this soundtrack not only reinforces the mood of the story, but speaks as an added layer of narrative in the understanding of just who Katniss is: a necessarily strong child leading a brutal life.
One song I looked especially hard to find online — but failed — is the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ “Daughter’s Lament.” The Carolina Chocolate Drops are a national treasure. I’m thrilled they were chosen for this project, and I’d purchase the soundtrack on their contribution alone, song unheard.
As it is, I’ll have to wait until March 20 along with everyone else.