Friday, 26 July 2013

"Was the music too loud?"

I've had a week for doing things I haven't done in a while.

The first is going to the cinema. This is because over the last year, I've turned into a grumpy old man who can't stand the idea of the sacrosanct cinema being despoiled by texters, smartphone users, talkers, crunchers, whatever.

(The solution is, apparently, to go in the middle of the day, when no-one in gainful employment is around.)

However, the second thing is what's of more interest both to me and to this blog, because, well, music.

Back in the day, I used to be kind of obsessed with soundtracks. For a while there, films and music occupied equal but conflicting parts of my love, and the soundtrack was the relatively peaceful demilitarized zone between the two of them.

Over time, film became more important than music. (I can actually trace this to a relatively exact date, but that's for another time.) Even as film became the focus of my attention and passion, though, the soundtrack was still very, very important.

Soundtracks do something very interesting; they take music, which, for most people, relies on being heard at their convenience, and relocate it by tying it to something specific, which can be pinned down. In the current era, the pre-eminent name in this would, of course, be Quentin Tarantino; his habit of taking lesser-known songs and using them in interesting contexts is the ne plus ultra of relocation in musical terms.

This is also a discussion for another time, although given my takeup rate in revisiting ideas from previous articles on this blog, let's be honest, you might be waiting a while yet.

Anyway. Last Friday I made a point of going to see The World's End.

This is obviously at best cross-pollination and at worst a little gauche, but you can read my review here should you like, and a spoilery analysis of the ending here.

I'm still conflicted as to what I feel about the film, because if you're a townie slowly approaching middle-age, it's shockingly accurate in some ways. I want to use the phrase 'laser-guided', that's how accurate it feels. (Then again, I'm only twenty minutes from my home town. So...)

In the past, the thing I liked to do was - if the soundtrack was quote-unquote arbitrary judgement 'good' - to go to the local HMV and see if they had it on CD. This feels hilariously anachronistic now, given that we haven't had an HMV here for about a year.

(Then again, technology is perhaps not all it should be, as Spotify is determined not to let me embed the link to the soundtrack here. Som's even had a look for it, and between us, we cannot present it here. You might be able to find it, though.) 

Instead of going to a local music emporium - ha - to buy the soundtrack, then, I resorted to purchasing it online. I'm outmoded like that. Buying music. I know, right? 

Now, I'm torn about the soundtrack, to be honest. 

If you grew up in an amazingly specific context, i.e. hit your late teenage years on or around 1990 / 1991, then it's probably just an instant nostalgia bomb. 

I can't help but feel that I was born just five years too late to really get it. It's unique, in that movie soundtracks tend to veer away from songs that are massively popular, because they carry with them connotations that might change the way moviegoers watch a film. One of the weirder examples, for instance, would be how X-Men First Class used Run by Gnarls Barkley to underscore a montage - using a 2008 song to play over a montage set in the 1960s, because it worked. Sure, there might have been contemporary music that could have fulfilled the same function, but if it works, why not use it? 

Now, of the 21 music tracks on The World's End soundtrack, I already knew eight. Several others I knew but hadn't listened to in full, if you know what I mean - they were probably around when I was listening to the radio at the time. So right there and then there's a grab-bag of context I was taking to the film. This is interesting because it feels like it locates me halfway between an audience that would just 'get' it - i.e. people born on or around 1972, as the main characters were turning eighteen in 1990... 

... My maths doesn't really hold up here, as I'm not sure if they were turning 16 or 18 when they first attempted the pub crawl in 1990. This is a lapse in fact-finding - or, well, memory - that I'll trust you'll forgive. 

The key word here, though, really, is invocation. The songs are designed to invoke very specific metaphors. This is the academic in me showing, and I'll put it away shortly, but there's several songs in the soundtrack that are very, very specific to what the film itself is trying to invoke outside of the narrative (and, arguably, pre-alien presence reveal). These songs are, in my humblest opinion: 

So Young (Suede) 
Come Home (James)
Do You Remember The First Time (Pulp)

Other songs from the soundtrack are used to invoke a very specific time and place (which, to be honest, I'm intrigued to know how they'll be interpreted by, say, and American audience). But these three are frighteningly specific to the narrative of the film, hooks and grapnels fired from a pirate ship in 1990 trying to drag the present back twenty-three years kicking and screaming. 

I keep coming back to So Young, too, for no reason I can think of, as I'd not heard it before. 

This is what I'm having trouble putting together; there's some intangible quality to both film and soundtrack that, because I was around and, approximately, in the same (townie) situation as the 1990s version of the film's characters (although, like I say, a few years later, but then again in small towns that's not too much of a difference, really) that's really bugging me. It's like both film and soundtrack manage to perfectly articulate something about growing up in a shitty small town, except that I'm just outside of the target zone, so I'm getting hit with the ripples of the intended target; I know about it, I can sympathise, but I wasn't quite there. 

It's a nagging feeling that I can't put into words properly, although given how long this post is, hey, I tried. I think I just need to talk to someone about half a decade older than me. 

As a final aside, it's worth noting that I find Alabama Song hilariously creepy. At least, from about 1:45 onwards. Seriously

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