There's already been a ton of ink spilled on this soundtrack and on Aimee Mann in general, so I'll just spare you by giving a brief rundown. Mann was a singer with the 80s new wave band Til Tuesday, then went her own way after the band broke up. She subsequently released several critically acclaimed albums before getting hosed over by a big label and getting a bit disinfranchised by the music industry (as many small artists who find themselves embroiled in big-label politics do). She even had a small role in the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski as a female nihilist. With director Paul Thomas Anderson, though, she found a friend and fan. In the liner notes of the Magnolia Soundtrack, he not only admits to being a fan, but basically writing the screenplay to the movie around the words to her songs.
It's quite a compliment, and after hearing the 9 original songs on the release, it's hard to say whether an entire movie could be based around them, but different bits flutter by upon hearing them and even entire phrases from songs made it unedited into the film itself (Like the opening line of "Deathly"; "Now that I've met you, would you object to never seeing each other again?"). Technically, the soundtrack itself isn't entirely done by Mann (as there are two Supertramp songs and a touch of the original score by Jon Brion tagged on the end as well), but it's the crux of things and the more remembered song of the movie definitely belongs to her.
Things start off with the jaunty remake of "One," and keep the same sort of feel on the very next track ("Momentum") as well with some sort of ragtime piano work and quick bursts of horns. The aforementioned "Deathly" works as one of the best tracks on the release as it moves along with at a mid-tempo rate and great lyrics as always. The songs sort of change up in the last third, with the "Nothing Is Good Enough" instrumental before the soft, beautiful "Wise Up." If you've seen the movie, it's the track that pulls everyone together at the end of the movie while they sing the words. Upon first seeing it in the theater, it seemed like a risky move, but the more and more you hear the song, the less strange the move becomes. The final track included is the Oscar-nominated track "Save Me," and the subtle track should have easily been the clear winner.
Feeling very out-of-place are the two Supertramp songs (unless you're a huge classic rock fan) before the haunting theme included by Jon Brion. It's a nice way to close out the disc, and it leaves you wanting to hear more of the oddly compelling score. As it is, though, the soundtrack works well. Mann deserves nearly all the praise she gets as a lyricist and musician and even if you dislike Supertramp, it's easy enough to program a CD player. If you liked the movie (or even if you didn't see it) and enjoy smart, fairly mainstream-sounding pop/rock music, you'll probably like it.