The Westworld Soundtrack Is Stupid And I Love It
Why player piano versions of Radiohead and Soundgarden somehow work.
BY Matt Miller | Nov 3, 2016 | Music
Westworld is rarely funny. Rather than make you laugh, it preoccupies itself with near-future TED Talks disguised as sci-fi dialogue, high production values, gratuitous violence, and random orgies. The only time I've actually, truly laughed in the first five episodes of this season was in the premiere, when a player piano version of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" played over a whiskey-soaked saloon scene. It's more cringeworthy than watching a crowd of nerds play Guitar Hero—the hybrid of geek culture and rock that rarely ever harmonises outside of a Rush concert. While it takes itself so seriously in analysing themes of man becoming god, of machine sentience, and our world's intimate relationship with technology, here it is with a seriously dorky and unabashedly cheesy Wild West version of an alt-rock song that's been overplayed on radio stations for more than two decades. They didn't even try for the original stylised soundtrack of the vintage synth-laced Stranger Things.
Even though the Westworld soundtrack is a bunch of obvious Top 40 classics given a cheap remodeling for the American frontier, I still kind of love it for this purpose. It's a reminder that Westworld is a theme park for wealthy people with bad taste to partake in their every basic human desire under the cheap guise of the American frontier. What are they going to play over the loudspeakers of Disneyland for adults who want to fuck robots? Probably something more like these Westernized versions Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black," Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," Radiohead's "No Surprises," and the Cure's "A Forest," which you can now stream for yourself.
But I love it on another level, as these songs are the only indication that these events are taking place on Earth in a version of our own reality—or at least a reality where Radiohead and the Rolling Stones exist. It's something I asked Westworld creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy about in September, to which Nolan said:
I think that we did want to gently remind the audience that this was possible, that this is not a real western, that this is a synthetic western. The point of view of the show is largely limited to what the hosts understand about their world. And they don't understand much; they don't know what that outside world is, they don't know when that outside world is. They're coming to discover that. But their world has been sort of fabricated and filled with cultural references. Their dialogue features allusions and homage. That music in the saloon. And on a creative level, we just loved the idea of being able to take advantage of popular music but recast it as something that you'd feature in the Old West. And we love the player piano as the symbol for the hosts themselves, but as a symbol for the kind of collision of the Old West and the modern world.
It's something that I've kept thinking about while continuing through this first season of Westworld. This show is as rewarding as your own immersion into it—much like the titular park itself. You can get wrapped up in the shootouts, the orgies, the dusty streets, then forget you're within a manufactured theme park—that is, until you hear "No Surprises" clicking away from the old piano. It almost needs to be something this campy in order to successfully jolt you away from the illusion.
Outside of Westworld, away from my TV screen, I'll never bother listening to these songs because, well, they're stupid. But for the purposes of HBO's robot Western, they're perfect.
From: Esquire US