Wes Anderson is to our generation as Orpheus is to Greek mythology. The American Laundromat Records double-CD tribute I Saved Latin! acts as a grand shrine, a particularly blatant devotion to the director. And as far as a cultural influencer professing his unique worldview, Anderson really is about as zeitgeist as it gets. Of course, it’s bizarre to liken him to a Greek god, but the way in which people view his work frequently involves either fierce loyalty or passionate antipathy… with very little space in between. Watching his films involves very little neutrality because Anderson’s capacious curiosity and the definitive style he’s cultivated represent a sense of human normalcy that either resonates with you or doesn’t. The way he uses music to amplify a scene is like sitting in front of a window and watching the function of his brain unfold, a tactic not dissimilar to when people use music to augment their mood. Anderson has used some of the most influential music in the last century (The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Cat Stevens) to stretch moments and spaces where words cannot possibly reach.
The best way to describe Juliana Hatfield’s cover of Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” and Matt Pond’s take on Nico’s “These Days” (both featured in The Royal Tenenbaums) is to use the scene when Zissou finally confronts the Jaguar Shark, and Eleanor says, “It is beautiful, Steve.” And take it from someone who regularly places her possessions at the Altar of Anderson: Just try listening to this compilation with an enormous amount of neutrality. Exactly as the title would suggest, this is a tribute to Anderson rather than to Nico or Smith. The act of taking these songs from their original context rather than the filmic ones may send Wes worshipers into a maniacal frenzy, as the tunes are already deeply embedded in certain scenes so much so that you may find it difficult to imagine the songs having existed prior. But creativity is ubiquitous, not just in filmmakers, and an artist paints from their own original color palette.
We see this in PHOX’s “The Way I Feel Inside” (originally by The Zombies). This six-piece band from Baraboo, Wis., render the most endearing timbral quality on the vocal, so that it immediately depicts a band who truly understand the intent of the original. They not only covered the track, but also paved a new pathway for the song to truly thrive with a fresh lick of color. A similar slant is expended by Anna-Lynne Williams from the band Trespassers William during Nico’s “Fairest of the Seasons”; considering how challenging it is to rid the listener of both Nico’s harrowing lower-register vocal and the Tenenbaums, Williams impresses. There is something about this version that conjures a sense of serenity that Nico’s register never achieved. The Kinks’ “This Time Tomorrow”, which originally saw Bill Murray beating Adrian Brody in a foot race in Darjeeling Limited, is tackled here by Telekinesis, and when they say “when the world below doesn’t matter much to me,” it feels as genuine as if they wrote it themselves.
There are some serendipitous moments, as well, if you look a little closer. Before changing their name to Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, they were known as Archer Avenue, the street where the characters from The Royal Tenenbaums lived, so their inclusion in the mix feels necessary, even cosmic. Their cover of “Ziggy Stardust” doesn’t dilute or emulate Bowie, but takes time to visit and shine a light on its smoldering intensity. They manage to make the song punchier by toning it down, an ode to composition rather than temperament. However, when The Bobby Fuller Four’s “Let Her Dance” gets a 2014 makeover via Freelance Whales, complete with fortuitous, string-swept folk harmonies, it works as both a nod to the ’60s and an emotional through-line that connects and grounds this inspired track within the compilation.
Some may find issue with covering certain “untouchables” like the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” or John Lennon’s “Oh Yoko!”. In addition, Wes Anderson’s world often seems so pure and untainted — best kept in its original design. And to that end, there are covers here that make me spasm like a fish on a hook; Escondido’s take on “Strangers”, Kristin Hersh’s “Fly”, and Elk City’s “Play with Fire” feel too deliberate, almost forced.
Still, if we take in these songs with only a sidelong glance towards the true Anderson (a difficult task, to be sure), then rarely has he ever sounded so freely celebratory — and who knew that it would suit him this well? Unfortunately, though, if we were ever in the game for re-soundtracking his movies using this compilation, I fear that color palette would read more like Duchamp than Monet. This tribute sounds like a piece of art nowhere near the end of its long journey; here’s to the next chapter.
Essential Tracks: “This Time Tomorrow”, “Fairest of the Seasons”, and “The Way I Feel Inside”