For a global literary phenomenon (soon to be a global movie phenomenon), “The Hunger Games” is dazzlingly personal. The story of Katniss Everdeen sacrificing herself for her sister, battling in the Hunger Games and doing anything she can to survive often arrives as a hushed, lonely stream of consciousness instead of a brazen superhero story. With the wildly anticipated, Jennifer Lawrence-led “Hunger Games” hitting theaters on Mar. 23, the soundtrack to the film — a hodgepodge of top-line artists ranging from Taylor Swift to Kid Cudi — wisely focuses on the vulnerability of the story’s main character and the sense of family that serves as her most relatable feature. The soundtrack is not a collection of brash rock and hip-hop, but instead a folk-leaning study of a child struggling to overcome her unfair circumstances.
Expertly produced by T-Bone Burnett, “The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond” finds a way to underline the strongest features of its marquee acts and present winning introductions of the fairly unknown artists on here. Swift and the Civil Wars each contribute solo songs as well as a collaboration, “Safe & Sound,” that captures the texture of “The Hunger Games'” main character in a manner reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional’s Spider-Man anthem “Vindicated.” Meanwhile, Neko Case,Miranda Lambert and Arcade Fire rise on the occasion on their respective songs, and the Secret Sisters, Punch Brothers and the Low Anthemconvey a subtle confidence and deliver three of the soundtrack’s best cuts.
“The Hunger Games” soundtrack has a few miscues — Kid Cudi’s a dynamic performer, but feels out of place when surrounded by acoustic guitars — but ultimately, the 16-song set is both a tender companion for “Hunger” diehards and a rousing folk-rock compilation for non-enthusiasts. It doesn’t matter if you live in District 12, or have no idea what the hell District 12 is; this ornately produced soundtrack makes the most of the franchise’s gigantic platform.
Which songs on the “The Hunger Games” soundtrack are the standouts? Here is our track-by-track breakdown of the album:
1. Arcade Fire, “Abraham’s Daughter” – An intense lullaby opens the soundtrack, with beastly distortion serving as bookends and militaristic percussion guiding Regine Chassagne’s vocals. The title is a reference to the Biblical tale of Abraham’s sacrifice.
2. The Secret Sisters, “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder” – A gorgeous, sorrowful waltz that recalls the strained hope of Rue’s song. The sentiment of the line “I know the present will not last/And tomorrow will be kinder” captures the spirit of the series.
3. Neko Case, “Nothing To Remember” – Case lends her sturdy alt-country twang to the soundtrack, forsaking her past and trying to get to “the finish line.” A short, steady-handed plea.
4. Taylor Swift featuring The Civil Wars, “Safe & Sound” – A decidedly non-Swiftian anthem that embraces the folksiness of the soundtrack. Backing up the country superstar, the Civil Wars add a little bit of gravitas to the melancholy tune.
5. Kid Cudi, “The Ruler And The Killer” – One of the few curveballs of the album, “The Ruler And The Killer” finds Kid Cudi still noodling around in WZRD mode, with heavy drums and buzz-saw guitars propping up his pained groans and lurching hooks.
6. Punch Brothers, “Dark Days” – A song that addresses a mother and a sister harkens back to a certain literary heroine. A gentle ode to hiding fear away that (hopefully) could soundtrack an emotional scene in the film.
7. The Decemberists, “One Engine” – The pace picks up with this straightforward Decemberists rocker, as Colin Meloy’s signature warble gets overshadowed by the uncharacteristic electric guitar reliance.
8. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Daughter’s Lament” – Can’t you picture the sun rising over District 12, Katniss and Gale stalking through the woods as this song chronicles their last morning together before the reaping? CCD even works the word “mockingjay” into this sparse tune!
9. The Civil Wars, “Kingdom Come” – After providing Taylor Swift an assist earlier in the soundtrack, the Civil Wars get to shine on their own here, their weaving harmonies becoming more striking as the subtly crafted song progresses.
10. Glen Hansard, “Take The Heartland” – One-half of The Swell Season (and star of “Once”) Glen Hansard injects some much-needed urgency into the album, debating the merits of murder and sounding a lot like Dave Grohl in an righteous change of pace.
11. Maroon 5 featuring Rozzi Crane, “Come Away To The Water” – Another artist stepping out of his element: Adam Levine slows down his “Jagger” instincts and acts as a Siren alongside Rozzi Crane by beckoning a “little lamb” to the “slaughter.”
12. Miranda Lambert featuring Pistol Annies, “Run Daddy Run” – Like the best songs on Pistol Annies’ 2011 disc “Hell On Heels,” “Run Daddy Run” surrounds Lambert’s natural charisma with fleshed-out production and soaring harmonies.
13. Jayme Dee, “Rules” – From a vocal standpoint, newcomer Jayme Dee holds her own against the bigger name on the soundtrack, although “Rules” is admittedly one of the weaker tracks on the disc.
14. Taylor Swift, “Eyes Open” – The stronger of Swift’s soundtrack contributions, “Eyes Open” places the singer in her own version of the Hunger Games, trying to stay alert and keep her sense of self as the whole world watches her. A clever spin on the trappings of fame.
15. The Low Anthem, “Lover Is Childlike” – Although it strays from the imagery of “The Hunger Games,” the wistful “Lover Is Childlike” sneaks up on the listener with its poetic approach, and buries itself in his or her skin.
16. Birdy, “Just A Game” – The soundtrack ends with a stunning anthem in which Birdy exhibits her full range and declares, “There comes you, to keep me safe from harm/There comes you, to take me in your arms.” Is it just a game? It sure wasn’t for Peeta!