The Hunger Games Soundtrack Review

1. Arcade Fire - "Abraham's Daughter"
The last image of the "Hunger Games" film shows President Snow glowering at his television, plotting his next move against the Girl On Fire and the Boy With the Bread. The filmmakers chose this song to play over the end credits. The song starts off suspiciously like the intro that plays at the start of each Guitar Hero song - slow and ominous. The music evokes the rat-a-tat-tat of war drums, coupled with folky yet breezy vocals. The viewer of the film instantly, viscerally feels that the story is not resolved.

I had supposed that as the lead single from the soundtrack, "Safe and Sound" by Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars would close out the film. However, that message of tentative optimism and nurturing would be at odds with an unresolved ending that hints at further tension. "Abraham's Daughter" was the perfect song selection for this purpose.

and when he saw her raised for the slaughter
abraham's daughter raised her bow

2. The Secret Sisters - "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder"

A sweet, sad song of yearning for something better than we know. The harmonies are really beautiful on this song. This song is so fascinatingly juxtaposed with the one before it - which also hints of what's to come. However, both songs imagine quite different realities. "Tomorrow" acknowledges the pain of the past but still manages to look towards the future with hope. "Abraham's Daughter" speaks of a revolution brought forward by one hand.

sorrow weighs my shoulders down
and trouble haunts my mind

but i know the present will not last
and tomorrow will be kinder

3. Neko Case - "Nothing To Remember"

One of my favorite songs on the soundtrack, this song is unabashedly written from Katniss's point of view. Over time, she has grown accustomed to her life in District 12, resigned to subverting it in subtle ways but not overtly enough to draw attention to herself. She feels that she does not have a choice, that her life is lived without autonomy.

I spend my life, becoming invisible
It's hard to maintain and it's hard to get by
I don't recall fight or flight setting in
I have no introduction, I just breathe it in like the air

The lyrics trace her progression from her life in District 12 to her life in the arena - where she has to learn to cope with the choices she makes: taking lives and the tangled confusion of her feelings for Peeta.

Don't take me home, I can't face that yet
I'm ashamed that I'm barely human
And I'm ashamed that I don't have a heart you can break
I'm just action, and at other times reaction

The lyrics on "Nothing To Remember" are amongst the most poignant and relevant on the entire soundtrack. There's a driving drum beat under a pretty vocal which hints at the urgency embedded throughout.

4. Taylor Swift & the Civil Wars - "Safe And Sound"

The song on the soundtrack that took the longest to grow on me. It was only in the larger context of the soundtrack that it truly came alive for me. A song that evokes the lullaby Katniss sings to both Prim and Rue at different points in the story.

Unfortunately, Taylor Swift's voice proves to be quite thin and reedy on this song. Even the backing vocals from the Civil Wars during the chorus does not give her the necessary support to stand upon. Although the lyrics are quite fitting for the story, I wish we could have seen what a more capable vocalist could have done with the sentiment.

Everything's on fire
The war outside our door keeps raging on
Hold onto this lullaby
Even when the music's gone

5. Kid Cudi - "The Ruler And The Killer"

A tour-de-force of a song that could not be more fitting for inclusion on this soundtrack, although it seems like an oddball choice at first. Written from the point of the view of Capitol or President Snow, it is absolutely epic and viscerally evil. It sounds like a sonic assault borne out of the ashes of the future. Terrifying and chilling and absolutely amazing.

Remember you belong to me
Come on we should get it going
Now what I want is specific
You putting on a show for me

6. Punch Brothers - "Dark Days"

The song title instantly evokes the name the Capitol bestowed on the original revolution - "The Dark Days". A sweet song with average vocals and a plucky banjo for accompaniment. The lyrics describe the versatility of family and the necessity of the keeping of secrets. In the background, a heart beat pulsates throughout the song - reminding us that life carries on through the darkest of times.

Our love will see us through these dark, dark days, sister
'Til it lights the way back home
Sister, hide our love away
It can turn the whole world upside down

7. The Decemberists - "One Engine"

From the opening notes of the song, the guitar hints at urgency and evokes the ever-turning wheels of a train. There is something very 2004 about the vocals in this song, which remind me of both Interpol and Green Day (never thought I would say that in a sentence). If the songs from the soundtrack had featured into the movie, I could have seen this song in the scene where Katniss is running from the fire the gamemakers created. The lyrics describe the way Katniss becomes the face of the revolution and struggles with her role in the larger context. A song that is overall a bit too repetitive.

And the martyr line,
It's a bitter pill
And the line of right,
It will barely make you feel

8. The Carolina Chocolate Drops - "Daughter's Lament"

A song that is largely acapella with only the barest hint of accompaniment. The song on the soundtrack that most directly addresses the plot of the books, with references to the mockingjay, the mines, and the death of Katniss's father. The most plainly devastating song on the entire CD, as it hits closest to home. A song short in length, but immensely powerful. A tough listen.

And she went home to her house that night
That house so cold and mean
And she held her sister close to her side
And never more did sing, sing

9. The Civil Wars - "Kingdom Come"

One of my least favorite songs on the soundtrack. The two vocalists blend together in a quavering harmony that never quite does it for me - probably because it is the musical cousin of "Safe and Sound". A slice of cold Americana that hums along and bends like a willow tree. The vocals become more impassioned, and thus stronger, at the conclusion of the song.

Run, run, run away
Buy yourself another day
A cold wind's whispering
Secrets in your ear
So low only you can hear

10. Glen Hansard - "Take The Heartland"

The only song on the soundtrack which burns with unadulterated and uncontrolled anger. Crazy and more than a little unhinged, this song veers off the tracks and crashes and burns. The vocals alone have a punk feel that's not matched by the more standard musical aspects of the song. A song I would be more than happy to never hear again.

Take the heartland with a sense of revenge
Take the heartland and make it look easy
Take the heartland- you’ll die in the end

11. Maroon 5 feat. Rozzi Crane - "Come Away To The Water"

Even though I am a fan, I was a bit stunned at Maroon 5's inclusion on this CD. However, this may be the most underhandedly subversive song of all. The music is slow but heavy and the vocals are sweet, but the lyrics belie the trappings of it all. Adam Levine's voice has never sounded better as he coaxes an innocent into sin. Taking responsibility out of one's hands and turning light to darkness. The lyrical themes in this song are so heavy, they're hidden under the weight of one of the most famous artists on the CD.

Come away little lamb
Come away to the slaughter
To the ones appointed to see this through
We are calling for you
We are coming for you

12. Miranda Lambert feat. Pistol Annies - "Run Daddy Run"

The acapella harmony intro doesn't grab me in the way it is orchestrated to and the harmonies border on the edge of unpleasantness throughout the song. The song finds its stride in the second half when the lyrics grow in meaning and intensity.

Mama's been crying in the kitchen
Sister's been afraid of the dark
I've been gathering the pieces of all these shattered hearts
And I don't care where you go to
And I don't care where you land
But just get out of there daddy as fast as you can

13. Jayme Dee - "Rules"

The saddest and most beautiful song on the soundtrack and one of my favorites. There is something plaintive yet dull in Jayme's voice - indicating the dueling feelings of love and betrayal. I could not have imagined a better song that illustrates the Katniss & Peeta relationship in the first book. Unfortunately, the movie does not delve into their relationship with the depth I would have appreciated - so this song truly captures their characterization in the book itself.

The lyrics describe the dull feeling of questioning the person you love and motives that are less than pure. The song sets up many of the themes that will continue into the next two books - a truly commendable feat.

This blood keeps me alive, but what is it that runs through you?
Electricity and wires, dictating everything you do.
You tell me that you hear me and all your memories are real,
But how do I know you don't just feel what you've been told to feel?

14. Taylor Swift - "Eyes Open"

By far the most commercial song on the soundtrack and one that would have been a massive hit in the age of soundtrack hits (oh the 90's, I miss you everyday).

So here you are, two steps ahead and staying on guard
Every lesson forms a new scar
They never thought you'd make it this far
But turn around, oh they've surrounded you
It's a showdown, and nobody comes to save you now

15. The Low Anthem - "Lover Is Childlike"

This could have been my favorite song in 2004; it sounds so much like all the songs I've loved by Death Cab For Cutie ("Photobooth", "Tiny Vessels"). The beginning of the song features a musical tone that could have come directly from a Bright Eyes song. It's a bit harder to make the connection to the Hunger Games specifically in this song, because I hear so many other connections and implications embedded in the lyrics. This song is the sleeper hit anthem of the CD. I can smell the sea salt in the air and I can feel the wind on my face when I listen to a song like this, that really paints a picture with three chords and a haunting, windswept feel throughout.

Meet me down by the whale watch
Meet me down by the sea
Meet me down at Coney Island
We'll go out on the sea

16. Birdy - "Just A Game"

The only other song besides "Daughter's Lament" that addresses the books specifically and directly. I'm not a huge fan of the vocals on this song which are sung a few bars too high throughout. I don't get the feeling from the vocals on the verses, but instead in the semi-chorus, it comes through a bit. This song screams for a different type of vocal to really emphasize all of the feeling brought about by the music and lyrics. The last line - "We're all just pieces in their games" - speaks to a beat-down resignation to the way things are.

There comes you to keep me safe from harm
There comes you to take me in your arms
Is it just a game? I don’t know
To keep you safe from my world
Take my hand and my heart races
The flames illuminate our faces
And we’re on fire
Blow a kiss to the crowd
They’re our only hope now

Best songs: Jayme Dee - "Rules", Neko Case - "Nothing To Remember", Taylor Swift - "Eyes Open", The Low Anthem - "Lover Is Childlike"
Worst songs: Glen Hansard - "Take The Heartland", Birdy - "Just A Game"


Yankee Talk said…
Great post!! You do have a real talent as you already know :) I am glad I now have the second book so I can't wait to continue discussing our book club <3
J.Bo said…
So now that I've seen the movie I can comment on this post! While everyone says it was a teeny bopper soundtrack, I can't say I felt throughout the movie that I was listening to "teen" music and I like how you actually gave the soundtrack thoughtful consideration. I had NO idea Maroon 5 was on hat soundtrack, haha. Anyway, great post!

Also, why if Lenny Kravitz was in the movie was he nowhere to be found on the soundtrack? ;)
Meghan said…
J Bo! I am shocked anyone would say it was a "teeny bopper" soundtrack because there is such a weird and wide variety of music on this CD. Lenny Kravitz totally should have had a song. I love him.