ON THE RECORD / A Big Bizarre `Lebowski' Sound-Track Hodgepodge

Steve Knopper is a freelance writer.

`The Big Lebowski'

DESPITE THE PRESENCE of Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Henry Mancini and Kenny Rogers, the most important names on the sound track to "The Big Lebowski" belong to two of the co-producers: Joel and Ethan Coen, who, after years of making bizarre movies, have finally come up with an equally bizarre sound track. It's their first, and while none of the 14 tracks sound alike, they add up to the soft, comfortably disarming mood of a '50s-style lounge.

Costello's new "My Mood Swings," written for the film's central bowling scene, is the big news here. Though Costello frequently contributes to films these days, this sounds more like his rocking late-'70s work than his recent schmaltzy collaborations with Burt Bacharach. It's no "Oliver's Army," but guitarist Marc Ribot, especially, pushes the pace faster than anything Costello has done in years.

Still, sandwiched between Captain Beefheart's jittery "Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles" and four-octave warbler Yma Sumac's strange "Ataypura," even Costello's straightforward rock track has a paranoid feel.

Just when the sound track settles into one style, it quickly changes direction: After the old folk singer Moondog leads a classical orchestra through the bouncy "Stamping Ground," a young Kenny Rogers reports he "tripped on a cloud and fell eight miles high" on his ridiculously psychedelic 1968 hit "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)."

It's difficult to tell whether singer Meredith Monk is chanting or having excellent sex on "Walking Song"; the German opera piece "Gluck Das Mir Verblieb" appears out of nowhere; the Gipsy Kings turn the Eagles' "Hotel California" into a Latin ballad, and even Nina Simone sounds otherworldly on her version of Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good."

The Coens and co-producer T-Bone Burnett deserve some kind of award for making this hodgepodge sound cohesive.

Copyright 1998, Newsday Inc.

ON THE RECORD / A Big Bizarre `Lebowski' Sound-Track Hodgepodge., pp D29.