An Education

Various Artists | An Education | Decca Records 270 8224 | TT54:44 | 20 tracks | 2009

Winning a pair of prizes at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Lone Scherfig’s An Education has proven itself to be one of the must see dramas of the year. Ultimately a simple coming of age tale – with a screenplay co written by Nick Hornby – the film takes in the story of a sixteen year old girl who, with a bright future just ahead of her, falls for a much older man and leaves her aspirations behind, getting swept off her feet in an emotional whirlwind only to be swiftly dropped back in the real world. With a cast including Peter Sarsgaard, Emma Thompson, Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike, there’s plenty of talent on display – not to mention the central performance of Jenny by Carey Mulligan.

Supporting the on-screen performances is a solid gold soundtrack of well considered period tracks, a couple of new songs inspired by the story, not to mention a sweet-natured score by Paul Englishby. All these are accounted for in this fine album from Decca Records, making it one of the most thoughtfully conceived that I’ve heard in a while.

Those in the know may not be surprised to see the names of Duffy and Beth Rowley on the track listing; each are Universal artists and Decca soundtrack album regulars in recent times. The pair were inspired by the idea of the film to come up with new material especially for the film, with Rowley herself playing a part in the film singing the period tune ‘A Sunday Kind of Love’. Her own song, album-opener ‘You Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger’, is a sultry jazz number, while Duffy’s ‘Smoke Without Fire’ is a strong reaction to Jenny’s tumultuous romantic entanglement. Both are great songs and add much to the overall selection, with their originality a real strength and brownie point as far as I’m concerned.

In the sleeve note by Nick Hornby, the writer reveals a little about the expensive process of sourcing tracks for film soundtracks – an interesting insight for those who don’t know about such things. He cites songs by Sixties French chanteuse Juliette Greco as a particular bone of contention for the production, and while they may not have been able to get every song by Greco that they wanted, a few were sourced and are included on the disc. The likes of ‘Sur Les Quais Du Vieux Paris’ and ‘Sous Le Cief de Paris’ are a couple of highlight moments, the tunes indicative of Jenny’s inner longings at a time (just) before the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones made young girls weak at the knees. Other period numbers to aid the listenable selection include the infectious ‘Sweet Nothin’s’ by Brenda Lee, an era-defining ‘Teen Scene’ by The Hunters and ‘On The Rebound’ by Floyd Cramer, not to mention Ray Charles’ ‘Tell The Truth’. Lounge-room standards complete the set, with The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s take on ‘Since I Fell For You’ and Percy Faith’s version of ‘Theme from ‘A Summer Place’ working wonders to set a mood.

British composer Paul Englishby continues to impress me and across five tracks on this album he creates a largely tender mood with the gossamer ‘David and Jenny’ kicking off the score selection nicely, followed sweetly by ‘Waltz in the Street’. A distinctly British air is found in the title cue ‘An Education’ as piano, strings and horns play out, reminiscent of any number of romantic period dramas. That’s not to say this isn’t good music, it’s just nothing particularly surprising. Things take a more emotional turn in ‘The Letters’ as Jenny’s romantic bubble bursts with the aid of cello, languid strings and a noticeably slower, more reticent pace.

Bonus tracks include another soundtrack favourite, the brilliant Madeleine Peyroux – singing ‘Ja’I Deux Amours’ – and more French fancy in the form of Melody Gardot, who sings a further sultry number called ‘Your Heart Is As Black As Night’. She is very much in the mould of Duffy and Beth Rowley, and perhaps a slightly obvious chance for the label to show off more of their artists, regardless of whether the music was in the film or not.

Score fans and soundtrack fans often sit on different sides of the fence, with the occasional step across the divide when it feels right. I definitely fall into the latter category; when a film’s soundtrack is this thoughtfully created and the resulting album showcases that work well, you can’t deny the power of music in film, whether it’s originally composed or not. An Education is perhaps exactly that for those nay sayers who steer clear from song albums… Embrace this, you won’t be disappointed.