Various Artists

In one of the sharpest scenes from Terry Zwigoff’s amazing new film Ghost World, a clueless barfly sits in silence as Seymour, the endearingly geeky record collector played by Steve Buscemi, rambles about the differences between the chord structures of blues and ragtime compositions. “If you like traditional blues, you’ll love Blueshammer,” the barfly blurts with an unknowing smile when he’s done. Then her highly touted band takes the stage and breaks into “Pickin’ Cotton Blues,” its performance a crass mix of rock-ruined slide guitar, self-aware grimaces and wildly inappropriate (from an all-white band) slavery-referencing lyrics. It’s a dead-on satire of all that’s wrong with contemporary blues, made even more poignant by its all-too-true depiction of a veteran black artist being forced to open for these tradition-raping upstarts. But outside of the film, it’s not much fun to hear “Pickin’ Cotton Blues” or “Graduation Rap,” the mercifully brief cipher delivered with sub-Spice Girls soul by three of lead character Enid’s classmates.

Thankfully, those intentionally bad numbers represent the only duds on the Ghost World soundtrack, which Zwigoff has bolstered with decades-old selections from his personal record collection. Opening with Mohammed Rafi’s rollicking garage/surf number “Jaan Pehechaan Ho,” the best opening-credits fit since Pulp Fiction forever married itself to Dick Dale’s “Misirlou,” the Ghost World album unearths more than a dozen valuable obscurities. Its lost classics — sparsely orchestrated tunes on which nimbly picked guitar lines and wailing vocals duet with the crackle of needle on vinyl — make Blueshammer (and its real-life ilk) seem even more ridiculous. By including timeless takes on loneliness and lost love from the likes of Skip James and Robert Wilkins, Zwigoff also points out the folly of assuming that depictions of alienated youth must be accompanied by maudlin tunes from the latest teen-targeting pop acts. And David Kitay’s score, the beauty of its crystalline keys and strings tempered by its haunting melody, provides a perfectly bittersweet ending to both an emotionally complex film and to a soundtrack that pines for a classic era while it bemoans the worst of music’s current crop.

Categories: Music