Much like the ultra modern 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, we get a sense that the days of flapper skirts and bootlegging depicted through the lens of a greyscale are just a faint memory. For a soundtrack so densely saturated with pop-culture and trend, The Great Gatsby endeavors to traject the original story’s concepts of hope and hopelessness, haves and have-nots and in many ways, it does.
It’s only right that a Jay-Z track opens up the album as he also doubles as the soundtrack’s executive producer, though the privilege of this position was likely more for his relevance in pop culture and less about his extensive knowledge of 20th century literature and the Age of Prohibition. “100$ Bill” is an embodiment of the film and album concept and even serves as a slight juxtaposition of nouveau riche culture both now and then—what will always remain is the insecurity and incessant desire for relative significance masked by opulence, bravado, and greed. How apropos that Jay-Z’s (or do we mean Jay Gatsby’s) post American Gangster narrative fits this bill. And “100$ Bill” doesn’t slip through the cracks. On the surface lies minutes of mindless chatter, bragging, and trash talk, but there’s an inkling that beneath the boom-boom-kat’s there may be raw feeling we’re not allowed to see. Even with empty lyrics, when the bass hits and the staccato snares clap with the ominous opera vocals that precede the jazz era horn solo, you’ll realize that “100$ Bill” is undoubtedly the hottest, most significant record on the soundtrack.
The recurring themes on the album are of the ornate, illustrious, and showy, and you’ll find The Great Gatsby includes some odd features to convey this. Q-Tip even makes an appearance on “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)” albeit with Fergie and GoonRock on an EDM track. It’s fun.
We’re happiest about Coco. O of Quadron appearing on the soundtrack. “Where The Wind Blows” is a little boring, but her vocals deserve mention.
“Back to Black” is Andre 3000 and Beyoncé’s audacious cover of Amy Winehouse’s track and it’s a pleasant surprise to hear Queen B. lull in a softer indie voice and not the usual overbearing, vibrato laden belt. Dare we say that it’s actually quite good? The song could still do without the extra bit of runs and natural roundedness of Beyoncé’s vocals that she likely had trouble killing, though.
In terms of the real indie (not indie imposters, sorry, Bey) Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” may be the core of the album. It so evocatively represents the yearning and emptiness that symbolizes anything Gatsby. The xx’s “Together” is similar. The breathy vocals on both tracks give you the sense of unbearable longing for something beyond reach. And as a body of work, that’s what The Great Gatsby represents.
This soundtrack adequately illustrates the emotional range of the film and its characters by use of randomized artists and abrupt tempo and mood changes that signify the many ups and downs of the painfully wealthy. At times, the songs may seem incongruent and inconsistent, but embedded within the fluctuating instrumentation remains the sentiments of conceit, opulence, self-absorption, and self-consciousness of the hideously affluent.