It’s a damn good thing that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won an Oscar for their song from the independent picture Once, if only because it means they have something to be happy about. While the soundtrack album is beautiful and moving, especially when coupled with seeing the film, it’s a bit of a downer.
The music is light and pleasant, primarily guitar and piano, with occasional cello, violin, drums, or other light percussion mixed in; it’s the lyrical and emotional content that’s weighty. Dysfunction and discourse are at the center stage of 95 percent of this album. The titles alone spell that out: “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” “Lies,” “Leave,” “Trying to Pull Myself Away,” “All the Way Down.” On several occasions, Hansard, who penned most of the tracks, is reduced to cathartic screaming, wailing, and howling at the end of a song.
Glen Hansard, “Lies” (download)
Hansard and Irglova spend a lot of time talking about their less-than-perfect relationships in the film, but it’s interspersed with comic relief and enough tender moments to offset some of the sadder ones. The soundtrack attempts to do this a handful of times, but each effort falls flat. “Broken Hearted Hoover Sucker Guy” is a cute track, but it’s best in the context of the film and feels a little out of place here. Interference’s “Gold” is the only song on the album not performed by Hansard and/or Irglova. It clearly continues the Irish theme but feels out of place not only in terms of artist but in terms of mood. It’s so upbeat and perky that it’s more of a rude interruption than a warm respite.
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, “Falling Slowly”Â (download)
Still, there are gems to be found here. The Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly” opens with a message of hope (“Take this sinking boat / And point it home / We’ve still got time”) that never fully dissipates, despite the gloom. Even when Hansard is singing about being deceived in “Lies,” he ends with the image of a plant growing — a sign of new life. Almost every song on the soundtrack contains one proverbial silver lining to the dark cloud, and the last line of the last track, “Say It to Me,” contains one such nugget of optimism: “As these shadows fall on me now / I win somehow.”
With its steady stream of upset emotions, the Once soundtrack can make for an intimidating and overwhelming listen if you’re not in the mindset for it. There’s a lesson to be learned by listening closely, though, and that’s the ability to find a bit of good in even the darkest of times, which is something for everyone to smile about.