Soundtracks are usually nothing more than blatant attempts to cash in. The majority of the time, songs are either 1) not in the movie at all; 2) have nothing to do with the movie; or 3) are just a dumping ground for a label’s b-list bands.But it wasn’t always like this. At best, soundtracks can be as essential to a movie as the characters, adding extra nuances and information. “Magnolia” is an outstanding example of one of those soundtracks. “Magnolia” is the latest film from director Paul Thomas Anderson, best known for “Boogie Nights.” The film “Magnolia” was in part inspired by the music of Aimee Mann. Anderson was a big fan and friend of Mann and as he began to write the movie “Magnolia” he used Mann’s music as a blueprint. In the same way that Simon and Garfunkel’s soundtrack for “The Graduate” helped propel that film, Mann’s songs are the spiritual center of the movie “Magnolia.”An example of how Anderson wove Mann’s songs into the movie is shown in the song “Deadly.” One character, Claudia, played by Melora Walters, uses the opening line “Now that I met you, would you object to never seeing each other again?” According to Anderson, he wrote the character’s story after hearing the song, and many of the other characters were born from hearing the songs. Mann is best known from her days as the lead singer of Til Tuesday. Remember the song “Voices Carry?” After the break up of Til Tuesday, Mann pursued a solo career, most notably producing the minor hit “That’s Just What You Are” from the “Melrose Place” soundtrack.While Mann has carved out a critically acclaimed niche for herself with her two solo albums, “Whatever” and “I’m With Stupid,” she has been a commercial victim of record company politics. Therefore, the “Magnolia” soundtrack is Mann’s high-profile reintroduction to the world.Nine out of the 13 songs on the soundtrack are Mann’s and the album benefits from the singular vision. The other songs, two by Supertramp and the other by acid jazz artist Gabrielle, also fit well into the feel of the album. The overriding theme of the album is dealing with love in its variety of forms. Not the “Oooh baby” love of Top 40 radio, but the fallout of failed love and darker emotions.The album kicks off with a cover of Harry Nilsson’s “One” (“One is the loneliest number/ That you’ll ever do./ Two can be as bad as one/ It’s the loneliest number since the number one”). Mann’s delivery is downbeat with a touch of optimism and a touch of a Beatle-esque organ play.Mann’s original songs continue in the same feel- world-weary and conversational character studies. Musically, many of the songs have a feel of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” album as far as the organ, drums and guitar interplay. Vocally, Mann isn’t out to impress with multi-octave histrionics. Instead she keeps it simple and low-key. The closest vocal comparison would be Liz Phair.The album is a can’t miss from stem to stern, but highlights are the haunting “Wise Up” (“It’s not/ What you thought/ When you first began it./ You got/ What you want/ Now you can hardly stand it.”), which is used to interesting effect in the film and the almost giddy “Momentum.”Overall, the soundtrack to “Magnolia” is amazing in that it functions as an extension of the film and can stand alone. Highly recommended.