Wes Anderson movies take place in unspecified eras where relics of the past are more clearly visible than signs of the present, though modernity sometimes startlingly seeps through. The soundtracks to Anderson's movies are much the same. Rushmore was all UK mod and wistful ballads, but The Royal Tenenbaums shattered the stillness of Nico's brittle folk with sudden bursts of Ramones, and balanced the dreamy danger of mid-'60s Rolling Stones with the stark, fresh sound of Elliott Smith. For his latest, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Anderson seeks common ground between glam-rock and sea-worthy tropicalia, and gets there most directly by having Brazilian pop singer Seu Jorge warble acoustic versions of David Bowie classics in Portuguese.
The Jorge tracks are a little stunt-y, but they unify a soundtrack that otherwise leans on the stately chamber music of Mark Mothersbaugh (an Anderson regular), snatches of exotic instrumentals by Sven Libaek and Paco De Lucia, and an eclectic set of cult pop by The Stooges and Scott Walker. In that scattered context, Jorge's off-the-cuff Bowie covers sound suitably displaced—they're vaguely familiar, yet foreign. Jorge matches Anderson's sensibility, cobbled together from Colorforms playsets and the gentle end of punk.
The Life Aquatic soundtrack doesn't completely mirror the movie, since it's missing Sigur Rós' "Staralfur," which scores one profoundly emotional climactic scene. But as its own entity, the record has a sweet frailty, and it works as a collection of songs that seem like they shouldn't exist. Only Anderson (or maybe Quentin Tarantino) would unearth the ethereal "Here's To You," a Joan Baez and Ennio Morricone collaboration from the forgotten 1971 biopic Sacco & Vanzetti. And only Anderson would sum up the deep sadness of a placid character by playing The Zombies' obscurity "The Way I Feel Inside," a solemn wisp of a song that rises from meek whispers to gospel certainty.