Music has always played such a massive role in the films of Paul Thomas Anderson. He had the foresight and the knowledge to recognize the genius of Jon Brion well before he became Kanye West’s homeboy, enlisting the former Til Tuesday/The Grays auteur to score his directorial debut Hard Eight, which then led to his work on such subsequent PTA classics as Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love. So speaking of Magnolia, who could forget Aimee Mann’s long-overdue star turn as a solo artist on that soundtrack as well on the strength of such gorgeous pop songs as “Wise Up” and “Save Me”. Boogie Nights? Forget about it, not only for the utilization of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” during the insane drug deal scene gone awry but also for Anderson’s nod-and-wink to his generation by having Mark Wahlberg sing Stan Bush’s “You Got The Touch” from Transformers: The Movie when he was in the recording studio trying to cash in on Dirk Diggler’s post-porn fame.
However, even since Anderson linked up with Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood to provide the music for 2007’s There Will Be Blood, he had since found the Ennio Morricone to his Sergio Leone. And the pair’s third collaboration for the filmmaker’s headtrip of an adaptation of author Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 noir novel Inherent Vice is by far their best yet. The film, set in Los Angeles circa 1970 during the Charles Manson murder trials, is ripe terrain for great source material. And, indeed, Anderson and Greenwood do a great job diving deep into that year’s infinite pool of sonic wonders, delivering a wild menagerie of cuts.
The selections on the soundtrack range from Can’s “Vitamin C” to Minnie Ripperton’s majestic “La Fleur” to Neil Young’s “Journey Through the Past” along with such 60s-era chestnuts as the Marketts’ surf classic “Here Come the Ho-Dads” and Chuck Jackson’s 1962 soul nugget “Any Day Now”. Each of these songs are supposed to mirror the inner ear of the film’s chief protagonist, private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello, played by new PTA go-to Joaquin Phoenix in one of his strongest roles since Walk The Line. And intertwined between the grooves is Greenwood’s dense, Penderecki-meets-Franz Waxman orchestrations that go beyond what he did on either There Will Be Blood or The Master, perfectly capturing the mood of not only the movie, but the book as well.
But the cherry on top is the version of the still-unreleased Radiohead song “Spooks” featuring Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey of Supergrass and Joanna Newsom, who also has a role in the film, doing a spoken word interlude. With Inherent Vice, Greenwood and Anderson have established an adventurous new bar for future director-composer tandems to achieve in the years to come.