Moulin Rouge is a stunning experience. No sooner have the curtains rolled back (in theatre and on screen), than all our senses are taken on a breathtaking experience. Movement is a definite theme, ladies and performers of all shapes and sizes are girating their bodies while the camera pans dizzyingly between and within sets so quickly sometimes that we can't quite make out all that is happening. Visually everything is stunning and aurally the mix includes a huge range of styles. In the Bohemian quarters of Montmartre in Paris, we seem to find a cultural mix ranging from French and Spanish through English and American to Indian.
The vast majority of the songs in this musical are oldies that have been around for a while. This trick works a treat because Ewan McGregor's character Christian, the song writer, can then conceive lyrics which stike a chord with the audience because they are so familiar. He comes up with the right lyrics all the time because they are part of our culture and seem to have a timeless appropriateness to the occasion. Clearly the musical has not been composed from scratch as an original, but put together like a jig-saw where the pieces of all sizes have come from a vast catalogue of existing songs (even from "The Sound of Music" and some hints of the traditional Can-Can tune by Jaques Offenbach) and then molded and arranged to suit the occasion. There were many players involved in this process of identifying and arranging songs. Principal among these is Marius de Vries in the role of musical director, with previous credits as musical supervisor for "The Avengers" and "Romeo + Juliet", or composer for "Eye of the Beholder".
Craig Armstrong (who has worked with Marius de Vries before on "Romeo + Juliet") was awarded a Golden Globe for the original parts of the score, and Chris Elliott was involved in the arranging and orchestrations. Baz Luhrmann (the director, co-writer and co-producer) also won a Golden Globe for "best film musical or comedy", his previous experience in directing opera for productions of "La Boheme" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" proving invaluable. As Music Supervisor, Anton Monsted had the horrendous task of tracking down and negotiating licences for all the musical material. (It is easy to imagine the wheeling and dealing that might have been involved.) Moulin Rouge was clearly born from the collaboration of a large number of talented individuals, too numerous to mention them all. The result is a coherent whole linking many artistic disciplines into an entertainment that is immensely satisfying and moving. The cast is first rate, with singers like Kylie Minogue as the Green Fairy you see when you've drunk too much Absinthe, and several actors not normally associated with singing parts.
The soundtrack album starts with Nature Boy sung by David Bowie which frames the entire movie, introducing Christian and his loneliness. Then we have Lady Marmalade sung by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink. This version of the song is very familiar from its phenomenal success in the charts with its suggestive lyrics "Voulez-vous Coucher avec Moi?". Because We Can (Can-Can) performed by Fatboy Slim is a bouncy, thumping, sample-ridden, extravaganza depicting the wild Bohemian setting. With Sparkling Diamonds we are introduced to Nicole Kidman as Satine the star of the Moulin Rouge giving the glitzy, sparkling (and only slightly seedy) side of the show with a Marilyn Munroe style "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" with a little bit of "Material Girl" Madonna. Rhythm of the Night sung by Valeria is a foot-tapping, latin-based pop song with a few token Spanish lyrics.
The musical and soundtrack then move into a more serious mood, with Your Song sung by McGregor and Alessandro Safina. This is a cover version of the Elton John number (with song-writing collaborator Bernie Taupin), and represents the heart of the male lead. Children of the Revolution is the Marc Bolan song, given the vocoder treatment and sung here by Bono, Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer. One Day I'll Fly Away (written by Will Jennings and Joe Sample, based upon the opening notes of Peter Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers" from The Nutcracker) as performed by Kidman as Satine is the female heart of the movie showing the tragic human side to her character's profession. Diamond Dogs is sung by Beck and was written by David Bowie.
If you haven't seen the movie (and we recommend you do before listening to the soundtrack), then you should understand that the "penthouse" Love Nest where guests are entertained in the Moulin Rouge is a bedroom built into a statue in the shape of an Elephant. This symbolism allows certain Indian elements to be included in the movie. The Elephant Love Medley takes place in this room, and is a very clever dialogue (or foreplay) between the main characters made out of the lyrics of well-known songs including "All you need is Love", "I was made for loving you baby", "One more Night", "In the Name of Love", "Don't Leave me this Way", "Silly Love Songs", "Up Where we Belong", "Heroes" (written by David Bowie and Brian Eno) and "I will Always Love You". Come What May is a moving duet between the two leads, well-performed and nicely arranged. "El Tango de Roxanne" is a great tango version of the Sting original, with guitar, solo violin and gravelly voice, with an excellent contrapuntal build-up giving the required feeling of tension.
Complainte de la Butte sung by Rufus Wainwright is a French song with a simple accompaniment. Hindi Sad Diamonds sung by Nicole Kidman, John Leguizamo (as the artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec) and Alka Yagnik is in a modern Bollywood pop style with a little bit "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" thrown in. It is worth noting that in playing Toulouse-Lautrec (whose leg growth stopped following an accident in childhood), actor John Leguizamo spent some time on his knees. This is exactly how the same part was played in the original 1952 movie of Moulin Rouge with soundtrack by Georges Auric. With Nature Boy the film comes full circle with David Bowie again and Massive Attack, finishing as it starts but with McGregor now sadder and completely disillusioned, emphasised by the more complex music and sound-effects. To finish off the album we have another "thunderpuss radio mix" of Lady Marmalade.
As ever, an album like this must make certain compromises compared with the movie. The songs were adapted and re-recorded for this format, in order to join breaks or remove dialogue. Placido Domingo (as the Man in the Moon) was not available to record his parts for the album so his voice is replaced by another Tenor. None of this is detrimental to the album, but the one disappointment is the omission of some key songs (such as "Like a Virgin" and "The Show Must Go On"). For some soundtracks this might be OK but for a musical like Moulin Rouge it feels like something is missing. We miss out on much of the astonishing performance of Jim Broadbent (whose Golden Globe was not for this role but as supporting actor in "Iris") as Zidler, the owner and Master of Ceremonies at the Moulin Rouge. While these omissions might have been caused by technical or clearance difficulties, cynics will guess that the record company wanted to keep back some numbers for a second album with music "from and inspired by" the movie. If this first album had included all the song material, by ditching the second superfluous version of "Lady Marmalade" or making it a double album, it would have been perfect. As it stands it is still very good but with that one reservation.
The first CD of the Moulin Rouge soundtrack is available from the following links: Amazon.co.uk in the UK, or Amazon.com in the US. There are at least two different covers for this album depending on where you buy it. As predicted at the time of this review, a second CD is also now available and the DVD is the expected treat.
The Moulin Rouge sheet music (for piano, with vocals, lyrics and guitar cords) can also be recommended, and it is available from The MusicRoom in the UK. This is not just a re-issue of the original songs, but the arrangements used in the movie itself. With the exception of the repetitions of "Nature Boy" and "Lady Marmalade", this matches the soundtrack album faithfully note for note, with all the music in the same keys. This gives you the opportunity of playing along or singing along with the album. As can be expected the more traditional song material translates better into Sheet Music form than the dance styles or rap, but is nonetheless very well produced. We couldn't find this item at SheetMusicPlus in the US, but this store does have the sheet music for individual songs including One Day I'll Fly Away, Come What May, Lady Marmalade and Your Song.