Note: I should have posted this before now, as the album has been out quite a while.
From the first time I saw test footage and creature designs from ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ a few years ago, I was pretty skeptical with regard to its child friendliness. With its release, by all accounts it is a movie for adults about being a child, rather than an adventure movie for children. I think the soundtrack will be different things to different people, an album for kids that will remind them that sometimes it’s ok to be lonely, a reminder to adults of what being a kid is like: in other words, a companion to or audio version of the film.
The album starts out with a clip from the film, an exchange between Max and his mother, with her answering his greeting by saying ‘I could use a story’. This choice by (lead musician here) Karen O. is an excellent one as it sets up the role reversal we’ll be experience through the rest of the record, Max telling us of his adventures in the land of the Wild Things, while we metaphorically sit at his bedside.
The album has gotten a lot of press, being an indie rock, dream-team braingasm. Besides Yeah Yeah Yeah’s front woman Karen O. the group includes other members of the YYY’s, Bradford Cox from Deerhunter, Aaron Hemphill of the Liars, The Raconteurs’ Jack Lawrence and Dean Fertita of the Dead Weather, not to mention a children’s choir providing backup and general noise. Because of this, we’re give a dream infused, sometimes cheery, often bittersweet soundscape to navigate. The tracks are each named for scenes in the movie (and the book, which I’m more familiar with, not having made it to the theatre at this writing). The initial track, ‘Igloo’, apart from the the audio clip I’ve mentioned, is an excellent intro, starting with simple humming, slowly adding instruments and leading almost directly into the second, raucous first single, ‘All is Love’. ‘Love’ starts off with a quiet moment, as if finishing the tapered end of ‘Igloo’ before blasting off with a yell of “1, 2, Ready, Go!” and launching in earnest. We’re given our first real taste of the children’s choir on this track, them yelling along with O’s more melodic vocals, driven by simple, fun lyrics.
This yelling lends itself on several tracks, be it the Wild Things’ own at the beginning of ‘Rumpus’ or the orgiastic groaning and screaming on ‘Animal’, which starts with Forrest Whittaker’s dangerous threatening of Max and dissolves into cacophony by the end, a miss that in this case takes one out of the musical thread.
Misses are rare on this album though. The reprise of ‘All is Love’ focuses more on the children’s choir, which somehow turns it into a wistful, shorter reflection of the original. The story is ending. Max is preparing to return home. This feeling intensifies on ‘Food is still hot’, the last scene of the book and our penultimate track here. The song, with O’s understated humming again in place of lyrics, is warm and comforting, a musical hug that leads into the final track, ‘Sailing Home’, an upbeat, onomatopoeiatic number that I can only imagine plays over the end credits.
I’ve only scratched a few of the songs here, passing by the dreamy cover of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Worried Shoes’ or clap-along numbers like ‘Heads Up’. The album is an interesting experience, a smattering of happy tracks interspersed with notes of melancholy that hide just below the surface. You’ll find yourself listening to it again and again, a favorite story book to be returned to.