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Review by Brad Green:
I haven’t seen the film, but the plot seems to be attracting comparisons to John Fowles’ The Collector. This information induces in me a rather equivocal level of interest, because Fowles happens to be one of my favourite authors and The Collector happens to be my least favourite of his books. On the other hand, what does grab my attention is the suggestion that the narrative actually starts out like The Collector and morphs into something far stranger, almost surrealistic – like Fowles’ The Magus perhaps.

I guess I should trot along to a screening to find out, because the soundtrack certainly suggests something out of the ordinary. Sprawling in style and uneven in entertainment value, it doesn’t quite stand up as a CD in its own right, but it does boast exceptional moments and encourages the idea that its purpose is to support an intriguing set of images and narrative twists. 

At the top of the track order is one of the best and also one of the more conventional cues. While I happen to consider that a goodly portion of Crowded House’s material stepped further from the influence of the Beatles than many critics concede, Not The Girl You Think You Are sounds most definitely like it might have been penned by Lennon and McCartney. In fact, it would fit quite snugly into their more mature catalogue of the late-sixties, and only a notch below their top shelf achievements. The performance too, especially the tight vocal harmonies, is so slick that listening to it on a walkman while jogging is not to be encouraged – unless you’re prepared to risk having your feet slide from under you. 

After this splendid if conservative start, we find an unusual collection of blues numbers, ballads, an opera excerpt, half-a-dozen cues from Plan 9’s variegated score and a long cue comprising nothing but samples of ocean waves. 

The blues tracks are nothing to write home about, comprising a banal shuffle with ballsy tone but little bite, and a faster swinger mainly distinguished by its distorted harmonica intro and solo. Less readily categorised is the song Anchor Me, which features a measured minimalist arrangement, a seductively ponderous beat, an impressive vocal range and a reluctance to get to the chorus. The reason for this becomes obvious when the naff refrain eventually arrives, fatally inhibiting the song’s initial potential. 

Dividing these songs from the Plan 9 tracks is Un Bel Di Vedremo from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, which would lay strong claims to being Opera’s most accessible moment. It’s greatness lies in the fact that its availability to even pop-oriented ears results from Puccini’s skill as a melodist as opposed to any compromise in artistic gravitas.

After the operatic interlude, the soundtrack takes a decidedly unusual tack with Plan 9, a Kiwi trio who have contributed to a number of films including Lord Of The Rings, establishing a broad and at times unsettling soundscape. In between some spooky experimental sounds; some pleasant instrumental ambience; some conventional piano and strings; and a cue of dissonant chords and ethereal voices; they too proffer a song – a top tune that, unlikely as it may seem in this context, could almost serve as a show-stopping ballad for a musical but with the theatricality tastefully subdued. My only gripe is that this winning number pulls up at a mere two minutes, whereas a few tracks later the CD closes with no less than 8 minutes worth of “Distant Waves”. Personally, I don’t measure the merit of music by the minute, but on an album of only 12 tracks (of varying success), customers with an eye to value might consider they’re being taken for a surf. 

Published December 11, 2003

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TITLE: Perfect Strangers
SCORE: Plan 9
ARTISTS: Crowded House; Don McGlashan; Barry Saunders; Hammond Gamble; Dame Malvina Major

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