Various Artists – Hidden Figures: The Album review

Soul meets space travel on the soundtrack for forthcoming film, Hidden Figures. It comes courtesy of Pharrell Williams – who also worked on the film’s score with Hans Zimmer – and features guest spots by Lalah Hathaway, Mary J Blige, Alicia Keys, Janelle Monáe and Kim Burrell.

Hidden Figures tells the untold story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), three brilliant African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s, whose calculations were critical in successfully enabling astronaut John Glenn to become the first American to make a complete orbit of Earth.

It’s rare to see film like this coming out of Hollywood. Black women plus mathematics seems like a no-go for conservative studio execs. But this is really a story of three intelligent, spirited black women facing down impossible odds in a man’s, man’s, man’s world.

The soundtrack reflects this with a collection of foot-tapping soul shorts. Speedy percussion (‘Runnin’’), peppy soul claps (‘Surrender’) and looped whoops make up the beds for much of Williams’s productions here, and they feel quite typical of him post-G I R L. Still, they’re well suited to the warm croons and gospel singing of its guest stars. Mary J Blige shines on the hip-swaying ‘Mirage’, Alicia Keys is resolute on ‘Apple’ and Janelle Monáe is magnet on the moving ‘Isn’t This the World’, which seems perfect for a montage of her wandering, solitary, among an idyllic ’60s garden.

Many of these songs will doubtless be lifted by their marriage to the on-screen story they have been write for. As a collection, they feel like a lighter offering than, say, For Colored Girls. But if you’re partial to the ‘Happy’ producer’s clipped soul, or indeed any of the guests here, there’s no reason not give Hidden Figures a spin.

Hidden Figures: The Album is out now on Columbia Records.

Have you listened to this album? If so, what did you think of it? Tweet me @aarnlee.

Image: Columbia Records/20th Century Fox