So Matthew McConaughey decided to put his shirt back on and go back to work on a dramatic legal film. With Marisa Tomei at his side, the film has been earning high marks from both critics and the film-going public. Tickets to The Lincoln Lawyer were even available on Groupon before it’s opening weekend, reminding viewers that McConaughey, even after all these years of sub-par movies, is someone to watch in a drama. And accompanying the film, the studio (along with Lakeshore Records) is releasing both a soundtrack and a score album. Pretty impressive McConaughey Blitz. But let’s get into the music.

Composer Cliff Martinez has been working for over a decade (his first film was Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 Oscar-nominated film Sex, Lies and Videotape. And though he’s had a steady career (including Solaris, Wicker Park, and most notably, his Grammy-nominated work on Traffic), 2011 is looking to easily be his most productive year yet with five films already lined up. The Matthew McConaughey/Marisa Tomei drama The Lincoln Lawyer is the first of these – all of which have pretty high-profile casts: Contagion (Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Jude Law), Drive (Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan), Anyone’s Son (James Caan), and Salesmen (Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson). Lining up five movies of this caliber in one year begs the question: how did Cliff Martinez fly under the radar for so long. But like a character actor that you recognize from various films who suddenly strikes it big, listening to Martinez’s work on The Lincoln Lawyer makes it pretty clear that he has earned these films.

The 41 minutes of Martinez’s score included on this album are much more thrilling than I expected them to be. There’s a constant undertone of dread and suspense that permeates every track of this album, but without tipping the vibe over into the type of paranoid action thriller scoring that sometimes result from this type of attempt. There seems to be a grim optimism playing out in the peppy rhythms that help maintain a positive vibe throughout the album despite the inherent darkness hanging over every note (listen to “I’m a Missionary Man” for a perfect example of this). The jumpy percussion in tracks like “Whose Side Are You On?” bring some unexpected levity to such an otherwise heavy score. Mixing in some digital effects with the guitar and other instruments gives the music a modern/urban feel that plays nicely into the image of the film. In the liner notes Martinez briefly comments on how seriously he took this score after seeing the film, and this dedication shows clearly in his music.

Similarly, the soundtrack successfully manages to straddle many worlds at once while constantly providing a gritty urban vibe throughout. From the bluesy “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” (Bobby “Blue” Bland) to the jazzy “Bobblehead Girl” (Danny Chaimson & The 11th Hour) to the creepy-cool “Nightcall” (Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx), there’s a laid-back, self-assured sense that drives the music, topped off by Marcus “Seige” White and Big Hollis’ title track (“Lincoln Lawyer”) that solidifies the album’s efforts. The only track that feels out of place is the vaguely techno “I Remember” (Deadmau5 featuring Kaskade), which is a good song in it’s own right but just feels out of place amid the guitar-driven jazz and rock and the light hip-hop.

Overall, these are two albums that are equally impressive. It all depends on what type of music you like – if you’re a score person, Cliff Martinez’s work won’t let you down, and if you’re someone that likes to grab up a collection of music from a film you like, the Lincoln Lawyer soundtrack easily ranks as a desirable collection of music.

Zach’s Rating:
Music From the Motion Picture:
A-
Score From the Motion Picture: A-
Perfect For: Establishing a self-assured sense of dark optimism
Stay Away if: You want something upbeat

Visit Amazon to purchase the score or soundtrack from The Lincoln Lawyer

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