What with 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' not being released until Boxing Day and knowing little about what the film actually entails - Ben Stiller goes on some grand adventure to save his job and Sean Penn makes an appearance at some point - rather than approach this review by discussing how well the songs work as a soundtrack, it seemed best to approach it as a compilation with no hitherto connections.
The suspected whimsical air about the film suggests that the gentle soundtrack would accompany the various reveries Mitty travels through well and as a collection of songs there is a likeness throughout the album as one track drifts to the next. The quieted tone lasts throughout the album, diverting only briefly and only slightly when the pace quickens. These diversions come along frequently enough to prevent the temperance of the album from becoming tiresome and, as a stand-alone album, the quality of songs hold relatively strong for the full fifty minutes.
José Gonzalez has a handful of original songs on the album, also featuring with his side project Junip for a pair of back-to-back tracks. His third solo contribution '#9 Dream' is easily his best, his hazy vocals carried along by a round, guitar-led beat and subtle yet sweetly used orchestration overlaid on to the track as it progresses. The Junip track 'Far Away' is another standout; the steady build of the humming bass injecting a sense of urgency into the mostly gentle soundtrack. Of Monsters and Men's 'Dirty Paws' is another notable cut from the OST, the interweaving of Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar "Raggi" Þórhallsson's finely-tuned harmonies proving their worth as always.
According to IMDB, Hall & Oates' timeless 'Maneater' can be heard in the film, but on the soundtrack we have a cover of the synthpop classic by Grace Mitchell. Mitchell does well, but her version is no match for the real article, although the song's move away from the largely acoustic-centred backing makes for a welcome change, albeit not an entirely compelling one. Another cover, Bahamas take on another '80s staple; The Human League's 'Don't You Want Me', with The Weather Station's Tamara Hope filling in for Susan Ann Sulley, is again nowhere close to matching the original, but it does try to assert itself away from the 'Dare' single. Fitting in with the mantra of the album, it is a much more gentle take on the Sheffield band's marquee song, but there is nothing striking about the cover that makes it stand apart from the original, or from the rest of the album.
Not quite a cover as sorts, but the film's female lead Kristen Wiig does appear sparingly on David Bowie's 'Space Oddity', and who knew she had such a pleasant singing voice. Her contributions do nothing to distract from the Bowie tour de force.
This is a pleasant collection of songs that would serve well as a compilation of laid-back, mostly José Gonzalez-related, songs as well as it serves as a film soundtrack. Whilst judgement on the film will be reserved until 26 December at the earliest, if the soundtrack is anything to go by then 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' may very well be one of the best feel good movies of the year.