Perks of Being a Wallflower Soundtrack Review

Since its release in 1999 Perks of Being a Wallflower has become a modern classic. Now, thirteen years later, author Stephen Chbosky is helming the film adaptation of his beloved book as the screenwriter and director, with Emma Watson and Logan Lerman playing Sam and Charlie, respectively.

Any Perks fan knows just how important of a role music plays into the plot, with narrator Charlie discovering, sharing, and coping with his teenage years through some of the finest music the late  80s and early 90s has to offer. In the liner notes of the Perks soundtrack Chbosky wrote that he wanted to create “...a soundtrack for whatever you need them to be for your life.”, By taking just a quick glance at the track list, it’s easy to see how anyone, not just Charlie, could use these tracks as a crutch throughout any rough patch of teenage angst and confusion.

Kicking off both the movie and the soundtrack is “Could It Be Another Change” by The Samples, a quietly upbeat song that sets the tone of the movie as something earnestly optimistic, with lyrics referencing unrequited love while still holding out hope for the future. Its message parallels the themes of Perks of Being a Wallflower, making it an especially great way to start the soundtrack.

The album then jumps right into the “Come on Eileen,” which plays during the pivotal Homecoming scene, by the one hit wonder Dexy’s Midnight Runners. “Come on Eileen” ranks among the very best of the still prevailing 80s ballads, causing joyous sing-a-longs and random fits of dancing whenever its played in a large group of people.  In fact, it even got Charlie to dance along.

“Tugboat” by Galaxie 500 begins with washes of ambient guitar and reverb and quickly turns  into a swirling and hypnotic four minutes that anyone could easily be lost in. With lyrics referencing alienation towards those around him, vocalist Dean Wareham comes across as confused and disaffected with the world which surrounds him. While the song picks up in intensity, it never loses its feeling of intimacy and softness, a feat not often accomplished through song.

Synthpop giants New Order contribute their song “Temptation” a piece of pop perfection that doesn’t waste a second of its seven minute run time. Buoyed by a bouncy synth line and a strong 4/4 beat, the song glides effortlessly through its own little world without letting up for a second. Even the lyrics, though sometimes nonsensical, are able to create an air of levity and bounce to the song rarely found in New Order’s other songs.

“Evensong” by The Innocence Mission is a smoldering and warm track with an air of confession about it. The singer’s voice goes a long way in creating this feeling, sounding both rushed and yearning in its inflections and tone. It holds the feeling of a hushed secret, words exchanged between two friends in the depths of the night.

Acting as the centerpiece of the soundtrack is “Asleep” by The Smiths, a song that fans know holds a great deal of importance to Charlie. With its somber piano line and damaged croon of a voice coming from vocalist Steven Patrick Morrissey, the song lulls the listener into a trance of introspection, only to be broken by the arrival of wind chimes near the end of the song. At times haunting, weary, and defeated, it’s easy to see why Charlie loved this song so much in the book and film.

Breaking through the gloom comes “Low” by Cracker, a harsh and angst-ridden song which seethes from the listeners headphones. Faking listeners out with its sudden comedowns and build ups, the song feels damaged and impassioned, as if finishing the  track through was a matter of life and death.

The undisputed kings of Indie Rock, Sonic Youth contribute their monolithic “Teenage Riot,” a song that goes from dreamy vocal samples into one of the roughest and most visceral melodies Sonic Youth has laid to tape. Vocalist Thurston Moore sings with a sense of urgency and immediacy rarely found in music, quickly being drowned out by the overwhelming guitar squall and ferocious drumming Sonic Youth made a career out of. Though clocking in at nearly seven minutes, not a second of this perfect piece of rock feels wasted.

XTC contributes the angry “Dear God,” an impassioned argument between the singer and God. Backed by a powerful acoustic line with scathing lyrics aimed at the vision of God the singer has in his mind. Angry at God for “... letting us humans down” through disease, famine, war, and other disasters, the singer yells with a vengeance and spite that overwhelms the listener, before suddenly ending with no resolution in sight.

Dream Pop visionaries Cocteau Twins bring “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops” as their contribution, an achingly beautiful and dreamy song. Though what the lyrics say might be lost on the listener, their emotions stay intact and powerful, slicing through the lush dreamscape of sound that has been created to hit the listener right in their hearts.

The penultimate track on the album, “Charlie’s Last Letter,” is the audio of the last bit of dialogue from the film. It reveals Charlie’s true thoughts and emotions about Sam, showing how much he’s grown throughout the story’s plotline. His voice rises and falls with passion and vibrancy, realizing that he and his friends will always be infinite.

Music’s eternal shape-shifter David Bowie wonders if we could be “Heroes” if just for one day. Often cited as a pinnacle in David Bowie’s career, “Heroes” features some of Bowie’s most evocative lyrics and greatest show of his perfectly imperfect voice. Chugging forward with boundless energy the song builds up barriers of sound only to break them down a minute later. One of Bowie’s greatest achievements as a musician, the song is a perfect way to end a wonderful soundtrack. While Perks fans know the tunnel song was never mentioned in the novel, this song quietly plays in the background during the tunnel scene.

No song on this soundtrack is a dud, making for an especially compelling 50 plus minutes of music. The most striking thing about the soundtrack might be its sense of intimacy, as though Charlie himself hand-picked these songs for the listener. This feeling goes a long way in making the soundtrack feel like so much more than just a simple collection of songs from a movie, adding a sense of importance and urgency. This allows the soundtrack is able to succeed where other soundtracks have failed: it exists in a world of its own.

This soundtrack will appeal to fans of the book, fans of the movie, and even people who dislike both. It exhibits the amazing power that music can have in unifying people despite their backgrounds and reservations, and for a movie soundtrack that is quite the accomplishment.

- Mitch Burke, Blueprint Freelance Journalist 
David Numeritos (Flickr)

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