Today in Exploring Soundtracks we’ll be continuing our walk through the films of Paul Thomas Anderson by looking at the music behind his 2014 comedic noir, “Inherent Vice”.
Recently, we’ve been going through P.T. Anderson’s filmography as a brief detour while we wait for the release of Martin Scorsese’s “”The Irishman”, which should be releasing in theaters and on Netflix within the next month. So far, we’ve covered three of Anderson’s films. “Boogie Nights”, “Magnolia”, and “There Will Be Blood”, which all feature very different approaches when it comes to music.
Like “There Will Be Blood”, the soundtrack to “Inherent Vice” was composed by Johnny Greenwood, but also features several songs by various artists.
Based off the novel by Thomas Pynchon, “Inherent Vice” follows the story of private detective Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), who works in a California beach community and spends his days in a smoky marijuana haze. One day his former lover, Shasta (Katherine Waterston) comes to him without notice looking for help. Her current lover, Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) has a wife who apparently wants her husband committed to a mental hospital. But when both Shasta and Mickey disappear, Doc must wade through a psychedelic haze of stoners, surfers, and cops if he wants to solve the case.
The first song from the soundtrack that we hear is “Vitamin C” by Can, which comes in at the opening credits, and lingers throughout the following scene as Doc talks to his assistant on the phone. Its pop hook and psychedelic vocals, along with the slang for cocaine (Vitamin C), thrust us into Doc’s drug-fueled world from the get go.
In his composing of the soundtrack, Johnny Greenwood made sure to bring out enough of a groovy, surfer style to fit the druggie noir of “Inherent Vice”. One track that show this is “Spooks”, which comes in as Doc investigates Mickey Wolfmann’s mansion. The meandering guitar with effects of both watery reverb and dank delay play on noir tropes, for a moment making you almost believe that Doc Sportello could ever pass for a legitimate private detective instead of your neighborhood drug dealer. Rather than “There Will Be Blood”‘s ominous strings, this reverb-soaked guitar is used to maintain the tone and transition between scenes in “Inherent Vice”.
As the plot keeps trucking along its winding way, the psychedelia increases, and the music keeps a solid pace with it. For example, Doc’s visit to a house with some seriously spiritual vibes is accompanied by The Marketts’ “Here Come the Ho-Dads”. They’re general party vibes in this case, but still keep the spirit of the sixties in full effect.
While there’s plenty of groovy sixties tunes to keep the hazy vibes going, there’s also room in the “Inherent Vice” soundtrack for one or two more sentimental songs. One such comes during a flashback in which Neil Young’s “Journey Through the Past” plays, highlighting a fond memory between Doc and Shasta.
Overall, the soundtrack to “Inherent Vice” isn’t all psychedelic tracks and groovy tunes. Greenwood provides a good mix of popular music and orchestral compositions. This mix allows the music to be both humorous and tension-building according to the scene, and brings a balance to the film as a whole. Even though the plot is more convoluted than your average Hollywood flick, the music manages to at least offer a bit more cohesion so you don’t feel quite as high as Doc.
That about wraps up our discussion for today. I hope you enjoyed our walk through Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack to “Inherent Vice”. Next time, we’ll look at one more of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films by looking at the soundtrack to “Phantom Thread”.
1. “Shasta” – Jonny Greenwood
2. “Vitamin C” – Can
3. “Meeting Crocker Fenway” – Jonny Greenwood
4. “Here Comes the Ho-Dads” – The Marketts
5. “Spooks” – Jonny Greenwood, Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey with Joanna Newsom
6. “Shasta Fay” – Jonny Greenwood
7. “Les Fleur” – Minnie Ripperton
8. “The Chryskylodon Institute” – Jonny Greenwood
9. “Sukiyaki” – KYU Sakamoto
10. “Adrian Prussia” – Jonny Greenwood
11. Journey Through the Past – Neil Young
12. Simba – Les Baxter
13. Under the Paving-Stones, the Beach! – Jonny Greenwood
14. The Golden Fang – Jonny Greenwood
15. Amethyst – Jonny Greenwood
16. Shasta Fay Hepworth – Jonny Greenwood
17. Any Day Now – Chuck Jackson