There are few endeavors so polarizing as an attempt to retell a story that finds itself on the short list of literary pieces that can be described as the great American novel. Baz Luhrmann no doubt went into this project with the understanding that he would be unable to please everyone. Attendees at Gatsby-themed parties everywhere waited in anticipation to see what this director would do with their most beloved rags to riches to ultimate demise tale. Admittedly, finding a middle ground between those yearning for a purist reinvention of “The Great Gatsby” and those hoping for a modern reboot is next to impossible.
Luhrmann made his choice apparent in bringing on hip-hop mogul Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter as an executive producer on the project. The soundtrack heavily reflects this decision, as it moves away from the fancy-footed Charleston and ignores the oh-so-seductive waltzes of the 1920s that ruled Jay Gatsby’s larger-than-life West Egg bashes. Instead, the music creates an atmosphere in which we are hip-grinding — writhing towards our vision of whatever “green light” lies just beyond our reach.
It is Luhrmann’s prerogative to go all out in attempting to appeal to the millennial generation. The story fits after all, as Fitzgerald himself considered his generation to be one where “restlessness approached hysteria.” If he were present today, I feel like he would come out with the same observation, and perhaps doubly so. As we become more and more integrated into the material world around us — try counting the number of times you check your phone next time during lunch — there is a growing sense that we are becoming more and more lost. Just as lost as Gatsby was in his realm of wealth and mendacity. The question remains as to whether this album can relay the image of a generation adrift, but also grow into something that can leave listeners with the feeling of being found.
With that said, the soundtrack certainly makes noise. The artists represented include longstanding industry standouts like Beyoncé, Andre 3000 and Jay-Z himself, along with artists that have managed to break into the mainstream from recent independence such as Florence + The Machine, Lana Del Rey and The xx. In a way, the lineup reads like a dream sampling of the old guard and the nouveau riche of the music industry; unfortunately, the execution is flawed and disjointed.
As a generation that has been bombarded with constant stimuli, and has now come to thrive on the perpetual stream of media flung in our direction, the album is fitting. Jack White junkies in need of their ragged, howling fix can find it here. Same for the Del Rey aficionados who need the echoing reminder that part of our human impermanence is the fear that we will be forgotten and alone as we spiral down our mortal coils and steadily lose the light we had in our youth. Swing fans that have always wanted a reason to get “Crazy In Love” have no reason to avoid the Beyoncé anthem any longer once they hear the orchestral rendition featuring Emeli Sande.
Each song has something to offer, but the tracks themselves do not grow. The soundtrack serves to entertain and satiate certain emotions, but as the musical accompaniment to a story about a man with everything but nothing real, it leaves something to be desired.