Why The 'Romeo + Juliet' Soundtrack Is Still The Perfect Album For Loverlorn Daydreamers
I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I fell absolutely in love with Leonardo Dicaprio after seeing him in Baz Lurhman's 1996 rendition of Romeo + Juliet. I was just ten years old, and like Juliet, became immediately obsessed with the floppy-haired Romeo. I was love sick and tortured over my crush for him and idled away possibly hundreds of hours simply daydreaming about his utter unreal perfection. We might not have belonged to two warring families, but in my mind we may as well have been ― he was a grown up living in Hollywood, and I was a kid living in Britain. Thankfully, the film provided me with the perfect music with which to accompany my heart boming malaise, with all of the songs from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack perfectly orchestrating every one of my complicated feelings towards a man whom I would never actually meet.
Twenty years later and the Romeo + Juliet soundtack is still breathtaking. I don't know whether part of that comes down to nostalgia or a certain sentimentality that I've managed to attach to it, but hearing the album still completely makes my heart flutter. The diverse choice of songs on the soundtrack all perfectly evoke the complexities of love, or even just an overwhelming crush, dismantling those feelings and presenting them in their absolute purest. These are songs of devotion, joy, sorrow, desire and of dreamy, harrowing obsession.
Album opener, "#1 Crush" by Garbage remains one of the bands best and most underrated songs, and as opening salvos go, it's sets a deeply unnerving tone. Opening with a set of deeply sexual moans before a downtempo dirge accompanies them, the song is aggressive in it's obsession and violent in it's desire. With lyrics like, "I will twist the knife and bleed my aching heart" and "You will believe in me/ and I will never be ignored", "#1 Crush" is possibly one of the most brutal female fronted love songs of all time.
But it also totally works, especially as an accompaniment to the recurring violence and tragic sacrifices made in Romeo + Juliet. Much like the story itself, "#1 Crush" is framed around the idea and achievement of love, but at it's core is actually about something else entirely ― how dangerous the power of love can ultimately become.
There are, of course, also insanely joyous songs full of ideas of love at it's purest in the soundtrack. Des'ree's "Kissing You", the arrangement of which actually became the love theme of the movie, delights in celebrating the sheer ecstacy of finally uniting with someone whom you've been unbearably yearning for. And The Cardigans' "Lovefool" is so spritely and optimistic that it genuinely sounds like the musical equivalent of a sickly sweet daydream of infatuation or a galloping heartbeat at the sight of a crush.
But it's "You And Me Song" by The Wannadies which really hypes up that invincible feeling that comes with the first rush of a new love. Featuring laid back, delicate verses which explode into a gigantic and over-excitable chorus, the song is a puppy dog of an anthem, bellowing boisterous affections like a certain young Montague up at a balcony.
Where the soundtrack does show some restraint, it veers off into unparalleled and dazzling dreaminess. Songs like "Angel" by Gavin Friday and "To You I Bestow" by Mundy are the sorts of songs that you play on repeat whilst writing your crushes name into your diary. They're sweet and sparkling, with "Angel" sounding like it's been performed through a blast of heavenly light and "To You I Bestow" laying down the foundations for some serious pining.
And for the truly heartbroken and morose, there's no sadder musical dreamscape on the soundtrack than Radiohead's "Talk Show Host" which provides a slow, aching mediation on feeling abstract and alone. Positioned right towards the end of the album, the song punctures through the bubbly, romanticism of the tracks which have come before it, leaving a stoic audio residue which is both morose and distinctly angry.
And that is, of course, the flip side of love. Be it an unrequited crush, a failing relationship or the troubled circumstances of a pair of star-crossed lovers, "Talk Show Host" reaffirms what "#1 Crush" did at the beginning of the album — reminding us that the highs of love cannot exist without the lows of it, too. The song brings some much needed perspective to the soundtrack, just as an argument, mistake or tragedy can to a relationship.
And this is exactly why the soundtrack was so groundbreaking to me as a kid first exploring the very notion of romance and love. It wasn't just revelling in the same saccarine ideologies of radio friendly pop albums where love, as a concept, was only explored as being something to either have, want or lose. The Romeo + Juliet soundtrack went far beyond that to explore love in all of it's wonder, peril, dreaminess and ugliness.
Perhaps then this is why I still think that the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack is one of the finest albums to listen to when you're in dire need of some lovelorn daydreaming. It isn't just a tidy assembly line of songs thrown together in order to profit from the mass appeal of a hit movie, from start to finish this is a soundtrack with a lot of heart which tells a very specific story.
Whether you still listen to it whilst daydreaming about peak-era Dicaprio in his shining knight costume with his hair hanging in his face or whether there's an actual, real life honey deserving of your affections, there's no denying that this soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment for such a feeling. And twenty years after it's first release, it's still more than worthy of adoration — and for me, that's true love right there.
Images: 20th Century Fox; Giphy;