The release of a new Fifty Shades of Grey movie means one thing (to me): a new Fifty Shades soundtrack. I have no interest in the books, very little interest in the movies (I would watch them for Jamie Dornan’s face mostly, though removing his beard is a travesty), but I am here for the music. In 2015, they hooked me with Annie Lennox’s amazing rendition of “I Put a Spell on You” and Beyonce’s stellar new recording of “Crazy in Love”–will anything be as good in the second installment?
It’s easy to see that the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack has shifted in tone and theme from its predecessor. The Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack is full of mystery and blatant sexuality, going lighter on the more emotional bits. The Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack kicks off with “I Don’t Want to Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)” by Zayn and Taylor Swift, immediately letting us know that there’s a lot more angst to contend with on this one. This duet is full of longing and regret for how they’ve behaved in the past. Comparatively, this album opener is rather weak. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of either artist; Zayn’s talents are better suited to a group like One Direction, and I generally find Swift’s music pitchy and smug, so having to listen to a falsetto-ridden duet from the two of them is not my idea of a good time. Once Swift brings the pitch of her lines down, the song is okay, but who can get past the nails on a chalkboard sound of Zayn’s high notes? Not me.
One of the weakest aspects of this album is the sheer amount of falsetto permeating the tracks, considering a noticeable lack of The Weeknd’s talents. First of all, whoever decided that falsetto equals sex appeal was not entirely correct in their assessment. Second of all, it made several of the songs sound very similar, despite their different musical styles. “Code Blue,” a ballad by American singer/rapper The-Dream, “Birthday” by English singer J.P. Cooper, and “Empty Pack of Cigarettes” by singer Joseph Angel all fall victim to this problem and end up being rather forgettable.
I disagreed with that choice, but at least I understood where it came from. There were two big question marks for me–one an original song, and one a cover. The album features a cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” by British singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae. I’ve never been a fan of Chris Martin’s vocals, so Rae’s cover made this song more palatable for me, but I’m not sure why it makes an appearance at all. “Cruise” by Kygo and Andrew Jackson is a typical DJ-produced track made of EDM beats and lyrics that are vaguely summery–something that doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the album, conceptually.
That being said, there are a few standouts on this album. “Bom Bidi Bom,” the collaboration between Nick Jonas and Nicki Minaj, is a fabulously catchy track that seems to be channeling the first soundtrack. Considering Jonas’s previous solo efforts, I had concerns about him going too high on vocals, but he keeps his notes to the middle range and provided my favorite song on this album. As per usual, Nicki Minaj kills it on her guest verse while managing to remind everyone that Samsung phones began exploding earlier this year. “Not Afraid Anymore” pairs Halsey’s unique vocals with a new aesthetic for her. The epic quality of the sound gives me videos of Garbage’s theme for The World is Not Enough.
Another strength on this album was the inclusion of retro-inspired tracks. Jose James’s cover of Frank Sinatra’s “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” added a bit of fresh R&B flavor to a classic, while “No Running From Me” by New York-based singer Toulouse is an obsessive track that sounds like something you’d hear at a burlesque club. John Legend’s “One Woman Man” is a solid ballad that sounds like you would hear it at an old school piano bar.
Overall, the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack isn’t quite as alluring as the first one. Changing the main theme of the album to regret and longing stripped the soundtrack of the first’s sensuality and intrigue, leading to a bunch of falsetto-ridden ballads that all end up blending together. Thankfully, fun, sexy songs like “Bom Bidi Bom” as well as the retro stylings of artists like Jose James and Toulouse save this one from being a complete dud.