How to Lose a Fanbase in 50 Minutes
You’d think The Chemical Brothers would know better than to get wrapped up in film music involving more than mailing in a remix or a B-side. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons spearheaded a forgettable various-artists soundtrack for the forgettable movie London a few years back. Art-house thriller Hanna, however, boasts not only critical love for intelligent action but a bona fide megastar (Cate Blanchett), comeback kid (Eric Bana), and breakout performance (Saoirse Ronan as the titular teenager). It’s a movie that probably could survive without the Chemicals’ themes behind it; as it is, the music surely can’t survive without the movie.
Complete film soundtracks seem best left to composers of orchestral and ambient music. It’s orders of magnitude tougher for mainstream artists to make music that speaks to their own strengths, carries a cinematic story, and stands on its own artistic merits beyond the context of the movie. Daft Punk attempted to translate their stadium-sized electronica to the silver screen for Tron: Legacy and largely succeeded. The Chemical Brothers follow their lead for Hanna and pratfall their way through it.
They select from a menu of childlike sounds and somber atmospheres to forward the tale of a young girl lost in a world of missing parents, government conspiracy, and awesome violence. Of course they do—these are necessary touch points, but typical ones. The opening and closing versions of “Hanna’s Theme,” as well as the diptych “The Devil is in the Details”/”The Devil is in the Beats,” are the only four tracks to lend any continuity to the soundtrack through the repetition of such sonic elements.
Drum parts with little time to develop and whooshy incidentals occupy most of the sonic space here. The duo include so-called songs no longer than 11 seconds, and have the temerity to resequence some of the music for no good reason. (“Container Park,” for example, refers to a fight scene but not one near the end of the film, as the soundtrack suggests.) Then there are tracks like “Quayside Synthesis,” frustrating in that its scratchy bells and beats couldn’t be fleshed out on a proper Chemical Brothers album.
Only the vocal version of “Hanna’s Theme” even feels like it could have come from their back catalog, and just then as weak filler. The Chemical Brothers made music for Hanna, sure, but unlike and apart from the movie they make no grand statement. One gets the sense they should have gone whole hog one way or the other—fan-challenging ambience, or a targeted application of their loops of fury. We got a little of both, so in effect we got neither.