Music Reviews
The Last Great Wilderness

Pastels The Last Great Wilderness

(Geographic) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

This might seem overly-harsh, but I always think that when a band makes a foray into film soundtracks their implied statement is as follows: 'this collection of b-sides, out-takes and incomplete doodles is what we're doing while we avoid writing a proper album'. This is, of course, a gross generalisation, and I realise that there have been some outstanding original soundtracks released by established artists. Who could forget Buffalo 66, Paris Texas, The Virgin Suicides and...hmm...err...all those other great ones that undoubtedly exist, somewhere.

Anyway, the point is, not many bands release soundtracks that stand alongside their usual output. Thus, I immediately viewed this release with some suspicion, which was heightened on learning that the producer was Tortoise's John McEntire, the man who almost single-handedly ruined Stereolab with his anodyne, all-devouring style. His aim as a producer (that is, to create a master race of bands who all sound exactly like Tortoise) is once again evident here, but luckily for us all The Pastels have been able to hang on to their melodies and resist the lure of onanistic free-jazz marathons for the most part.

Wilderness Theme, which appears in two forms on the album, begins things promisingly with its na? glockenspiel chimes and lazy trumpet slurrings, but after that we're given four brief (but, to be fair, quite pretty) snatches of incidental music that are just too insubstantial to really register. The best of these, Charlie's Theme, is a terminally laid-back haze of wistful horns and guitar, with the feel of a more optimistic Calexico track. The worst is Flora's Theme, which may as well not exist, clocking in as it does at 37 seconds, and 37 seconds of Enya-inspired ambience at that (see also Flora Again). As a concession to lovers of songs and tunes, there is a beautifully lackadaisical cover of Sly and the Family Stone's Everybody is a Star, and Jarvis Cocker pops up at the end for the jangling, summertime perviness of I Picked a Flower, which you'll surely be hearing on Radio 1 drive-time (at least until it starts pissing it down on a more regular basis).

Whereas a film like Midnight Cowboy (one of the best soundtrack albums ever, by the way) dips into long and fully-formed instrumentals for its incidental music, the brevity of the tracks here suggests that The Pastels composed them to be included whole in the film and thus there is little to really get your teeth into. Whilst I imagine that the subtlety and unobtrusiveness of Vincente's Theme or Winter Driving may work well with the film (and there aren't really any BAD tracks on here) unfortunately, when isolated, they don't stand up as anything more than pleasant background noise, neither rousing nor particularly mood-enhancing. In short, unless a) Geographic are offering this at mid-price, b) you're a Pastels obsessive completist or c) the elevator in your workplace has been playing Mantovani for the last twenty years, this is destined to dwell in the limbo of ok but inessential stop-gap projects released by great bands.