President Snow himself would envy the control wielded by the soundtrack bosses here, on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Soundtrack. The artists on this Catching Fire companion, from Coldplay on down to a coed indie-pop duo named Phantogram, were in effect told to write fanfic in song form, and editors reviewed the demos to make sure the lyrics fell in line with the books. (”Royals” singer Lorde, true to the exceptionalism she so rigorously cultivates, covers Tears for Fears’ new-romantic classic ”Everybody Wants to Rule the World” instead.)
So no — ”Gale Song” by the Lumineers does not propose hanky-panky between Gale and Effie. Instead, it proves how moving one can render a song-as-brand-extension: ”I won’t fight in vain/I’ll love you just the same,” Wesley Schultz sings over the swelling ballad, finding a lovely falsetto on the last word.
Cooking down a mass-market YA series into lyrics invites platitudinous nonsense. And like the story of Katniss, these songs skew rather bleak. (Twilight music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, taking over for the previous film’s T Bone Burnett, maintains the desolate vibe of the 2012 original — which spawned the Taylor Swift and Civil Wars hit ”Safe & Sound” and sold nearly half a million copies.) Worst-case scenario: Coldplay’s ”Atlas,” with its ”I’ll carry your wooooorld” refrain stretched out like a roadkill skid. And the strummy, mumbly ”Lean” by the National, Imagine Dragons’ Halloween-spooky ”Who We Are,” and Lorde’s wincingly overwrought cover will have you cocking your ear for cannon fire.
But the midtempo melodrama puts more big wins on the board than not. Out-there R&B star the Weeknd, temporarily off the sex-calamity beat, contributes the airy, gorgeous ”Devil May Cry” and joins Sia on the Diplo-produced mini-banger ”Elastic Heart.” Ellie Goulding haunts the chill room in ”Mirror”;Antony and the Johnsons conjure a shivery ”Angel on Fire”; and none other than Patti Smith delivers the closest anything licensed under the Hunger Games mantle comes to poetry: ”Rebellion is a heart, breaking as the dawn/Bursting into song, bursting into song,” she intones on ”Capitol Letter,” after whispering a ticklish ”Katnisssss.” If none of those stun you, please cue up Christina Aguilera’s ”We Remain,” a balladzilla on par with ”Beautiful,” and one of the most righteous doses of uplift this year, on any platform. Rebellious? Nah. But it’s unquestionably all heart. B+
”We Remain” – An awesome reminder of Christina’s power
”Elastic Heart” – A sensual lament from Sia
Listen to the album right now, streaming on iTunes