The film Sunshine Cleaning met with some pretty mixed reviews, but it’s difficult to lodge much of the complaint with the soundtrack. Between the original music by Michael Penn (brother to Sean, and original score composer for such other films as Boogie Nights) and some pretty inspired popular music choices, the mood is shockingly consistent, and vaguely upbeat. It’s the sort of music for a sunny day, just before you turn around and see the black clouds moving in.
The brighter selections Penn’s originals hearken back to a kind of 1960s optimism: emotionally complicated, but intent and self-assured. His more melancholy tracks can only really hide from the album’s overriding silent moral, however, and typically succumb to at least a little smile of their own. While the selections are nowhere near as youthful and quirky as the soundtrack to Juno, it’s a similar kind of premature wistfulness that gives this album personality.
I haven’t seen Sunshine Cleaning, to be honest. Once the reviews started coming in, it slipped further and further down my must-see list. And maybe that’s a good thing, because I can actually enjoy this very strong soundtrack album without being reminded of any (potential) disappointment with the film. Penn’s score works perfectly well in establishing a complex and difficult – though ultimately enjoyable – confusion of style and conscience.
The selections from other artists both give Penn’s shuffling melodies some context, and break them up in such a way that each return to his compositions is a welcome one. If anything, the residual affection for his tracks might serve to elevate the “various artists” material to a plane of quality they may not strictly deserved. Listened to in isolation, there’s little to distinguish one acoustic plod from another, and the only real standouts are David Majzlin’s Open For Business (an instrumental, naturally), the funky backbeat of Electrelane’s To The East, and perennial soundtrack selection Spirit In The Sky by Norman Greenbaum.
What you basically end up with the Sunshine Cleaning soundtrack is a good-sized assortment of original score material that runs circles around its more popular peers. And you have to admit, that’s something of an achievement in itself.