Set on William Randolph Hearst's yacht in 1924, The Cat's Meow is a story about a party gone terribly awry. The dramatic shifts in mood from goofy Charleston dancing and wild drunken orgies to murderous jealousies and desperately empty lives are the greatest strengths of Peter Bogdanovich's well-crafted film. But the original soundtrack album produced by Ian Whitcomb scores the party almost exclusively with only small glimpses of the deep pathos that lies underneath. The CD consists entirely of frothy pop tunes from the "gay '20s." There are two old Al Jolson tunes ("Avalon" and "California Here I Come") and two catchy songs by Clarence Williams' Blue Five ("Wild Cat Blues" and "Everybody Loves My Baby"). The rest of the tracks are new recordings of classic '20s numbers performed by Ian Whitcomb & His Bungalow Boys. It's all great fun, and it's very appealingly arranged and presented. But without the darker and deeper tones used in the film, the jolly music -- and Whitcomb's idiosyncratic vocals -- begin to wear thin by the end of the 40-minute disc. Where, for instance, is the powerful opera piece that was used so effectively in the film? The soundtrack achieves stylistic unity at the cost of emotional variety. Only Irving Berlin's "When I Lost You" and the melancholy end credit song, "After You've Gone," offer a break from the gaiety. The latter is performed impressively by the film's magnetic female lead, Kirsten Dunst. The track comes near the end of the soundtrack and it comes as a great relief to be allowed to feel the blues.
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AllMusic Review by Evan Cater