Suburbia OST

Sharps and Flats is a daily music review.

Published February 7, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

The soundtrack to Richard Linklater's film "Suburbia" is music for losers, brimming with the kind of teenage pathos that makes failure and rejection seem vaguely romantic  which is not necessarily a bad thing. Based on the play by Eric Bogosian, "Suburbia" is the story of five kids still stuck in their hometown wasteland a year after their high school graduation.

By making the soundtrack to his character's lives so compelling, Linklater gives them an antihero dignity that they don't have in Bogosian's play. He could just as easily have used their music to mock them, ` la "Welcome to the Dollhouse" or "Beavis and Butt-head." Instead, he gives them the kind of songs that suburban kids everywhere dream are written just for them, the best parts of the soundtrack capturing the desire to just get out.

Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore scored the film, and his song "Psychic Hearts" is an earnest outsider love song about a boy's passion for a damaged, ostracized girl. He sings like a furious high school boy, "Kids at school/Call you slut/What the fuck/Are they into/Stupid fools/losers assholes suck all the luck/Out of the world/If I could get it back for you I would/And kick their asses all over town." The song works because Moore plays it straight  he's singing as the frustrated kid, not about him.

But Bogosian's play suffers from too much boy angst, and so do parts of the soundtrack. On "Bullet Proof Cupid," Girls Against Boys singer Scott McCloud's irritating growl makes him sound like Gavin Rossdale from Bush. Guys who live with their parents and worship Charles Bukowski will dig it, and it's perfect for the film, but by itself it doesn't work.

Thankfully, such testosterone schlock is kept to a minimum on the rest of the album. On "Bee-Bee's Song," one of three Sonic Youth songs, a minimalist drum and a menacing guitar accompany Kim Gordon's pretty girl fantasy.

"In my head/I'm really tall/My eyes are big/Not Small/Hair flows down/My back/Down the street/Don't Look back," she sings, and later "In my eyes/I'm really sure/I'm not/A last resort." Gordon is too cool to do the Lisa Germano open-wound thing, and her deadpan delivery gives an ironic bite to the litany of self-loathing.

There are moments of "120 Minutes" mediocrity, and a couple of songs have so little relation to the others that they seem jarringly out of place on the same album. And although U.N.K.L.E's ambient "Berry Meditation" isn't a bad track  all old-school arcade pings and spacey synthesizers  I suspect fans of Pavement, the Butthole Surfers and Elastica will have little patience for seven-plus minutes of fairly generic techno.

But when the album's good, it rocks, and some of its best songs aren't available anywhere else. Beck's melancholy folk-blues song "Feather in Your Cap" is one of the highlights of the album, and Boss Hog's ferocious punk cover of the Kinks' "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" is alone worth the price of a CD  when Christina Martinez's sultry wail grows increasingly demented until she finally busts out into a clear, cutting thrash chorus, it's clear this is perfect music to hate the world to.

By Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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