The soundtrack for Four Brothers is perfectly fitting for a film likened to "a bigger-budget, better-written and better-acted version of the bad-tempered Detroit 9000" (as described by Terry Lawson in the Detroit Free Press, referring to the infamous 1973 blaxploitation film now considered a cult classic). Indeed, the Four Brothers soundtrack plays like a bigger-budget, better-written, and better-performed version of an early-'70s blaxploitation soundtrack à la Superfly or Shaft. It mines the Motown vault and captures the dark side of the label's vast output, generally favoring early-'70s songs with foreboding social themes. So no, there aren't any of Motown's trademark love songs like "My Cherie Amour," "I Hear a Symphony," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "My Girl," "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," and myriad others. Instead, you get several songs written by the team of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong that border on quite a different emotion than love, paranoia: "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," "I Wish It Would Rain," "Smiling Faces Sometimes," "Cloud Nine," and "Take a Look Around." You also get several Marvin Gaye songs -- again, none of them love songs but instead his "troubled" work, gems like "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" and "Trouble Man." Then there's a couple early-disco workouts -- the Jackson 5's "Dancing Machine" and the Miracles' "Do It Baby" -- that feel urgent, not necessarily carefree like a lot of dance music. And to top it off, there are some moody jazz-funk instrumental interludes like Grover Washington, Jr.'s "Knucklehead" that help the soundtrack flow from song to song, which indeed it does exceptionally well. Moreover, Four Brothers is one of the rare soundtrack albums that is rock-solid, without any filler or target-marketed contemporary material. (For instance, even though Andre 3000 of OutKast co-stars in the film, you won't hear him on the soundtrack.) In fact, Four Brothers sticks to its script so well, you can very easily enjoy it not for what it is but rather for what it could be -- a mixtape of Motown's dark side, in contrast to the innumerable Motown hits, duets, and love-songs collections out there in the marketplace. But truth be told, it does also function well as a soundtrack, and not only to John Singleton's set-in-Detroit film but, more poignantly, to the socially segregated, physically dilapidated, politically challenged, economically ruinous reality of Detroit that the majority of Motown music belies.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier