“Fifty Shades Darker” Soundtrack
THE GRADE B+
BOTTOM LINE Smartly focusing on soul rather than steam
The prime inspiration of the “Fifty Shades Darker” soundtrack isn’t Christian Grey. It’s Prince.
And that makes this collection surprisingly soulful and entertaining, especially considering how packed it is with newcomers.
Actually, the steamy duet “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” from Zayn and Taylor Swift sets the mood for the album, with Zayn’s Prince-ly falsetto matching Swift’s coos as they try to generate some heat in the icy pop surroundings crafted by fun.’s Jack Antonoff. The other standout big-name contribution is Sia’s “Helium,” a gorgeous piano ballad that allows her distinctive voice to soar as she sings about Superwomen needing Supermen sometimes. Could “Fifty Shades Darker” be up for an Oscar next year? Well, “Helium” and “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” should give it a fighting chance.
However, there are actually bigger surprises than that here. The-Dream conjures late-’80s Prince channeled through Miguel in “Code Blue,” using his R&B falsetto paired with some raunchy rock guitar. Joseph Angel has a pretty mean falsetto of his own on “Empty Pack of Cigarettes,” which the co-writer of Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” turns into a retro-R&B showcase. And newcomer JP Cooper, currently enjoying a hit with “September Song” in his native England, offers the soulful “Birthday” to stake out some ground on the more retro side of Bruno Mars.
The breezy dance pop of “I Need a Good One” is a grand introduction to the work of French producer The Avener and British singer Mark Asari, who both make great cases for further investigation.
Among the veterans on the album, Corinne Bailey Rae provides an even darker take on Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” while José James gives the classic “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” a stylish turn. However, John Legend’s “One Woman Man” and “Bom Bidi Bom” from Nick Jonas & Nicki Minaj are good ideas that end up surprisingly bland, showing how sequels can come up short.