Veronica Mars

For a hip show about high schoolers, music sure doesn't play a big role in Rob Thomas' cult favorite Veronica Mars. Unlike The O.C., where barely five minutes of screen time pass without Seth Cohen name-dropping some band and where music plays a pivotal role in episodes (hey, it's even sold at the end of an episode), nobody on Veronica Mars seems all that interested in music, nor does it ever have much impact in an episode, either. True, the show's budget is smaller than The O.C., so they can't license as many tunes, but Veronica Mars is a bit like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in that it feels like rock & roll should have a bigger part in it than it actually does. Both shows have terrific theme songs -- here, it's the best Dandy Warhols song ever, "We Used to Be Friends," a tale of hipsters falling out of fashion that works perfectly as an anthem for teen outsiders -- and then, after that, it's pretty hit-and-miss. The first soundtrack to Buffy was spectacularly hit-or-miss, seesawing between good indie rock and faceless goth-tinged alt-rock, and the first soundtrack for Veronica Mars, released the day the second season began, is also wildly inconsistent. While it never gets bad, apart from the title track, Spoon's tight indie disco "I Turn My Camera On," and the Faders' approximation of Elastica's swagger on "No Sleep Tonight," nothing really stands out, either. It's a combination of faceless, stylish modern rock from new bands -- most sound like they're trying to fuse Radiohead with Coldplay, although some favor a quiet, introspective mode, such as the Format's hushed, insufferable "On Your Porch" -- and rather tired holdovers from '90s veterans like Soul Coughing's Mike Doughty, Stereophonics, Cotton Mather, and Ivy. Some of this is better than the rest, though most of it fits the image of Veronica Mars, who, it must be said, is never really seen listening to music on the show (she does have an iPod and a PowerBook, so she must have some MP3s lurking around somewhere). So, this soundtrack is good enough -- it's not embarrassing, since it does feel like the show, yet it's never as appealing as the show, either. Die-hard fans looking for a souvenir or something to listen to as they speculate endlessly about whether it's Duncan or Logan that showed up at Veronica's door in the season finale will find this adequate, if not exactly compelling, listening. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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