I’ve read the Scott Pilgrim comics. I’ve seen the movie. I’ve played the video game. What is particularly unusual about this franchise is that every aspect of it seems to have been made with a real love and attention to detail. That the movie loses almost none of the source material’s energy and enthusiasm despite condensing 1200-some pages into less than two hours is remarkable enough and, while the comics and the movie both are rife with video game references and iconography, for the game itself to be a genuinely inventive and enjoyable experience on its own: That’s almost unheard of. It’s clear that everyone involved was genuinely passionate about this world and its characters, a refreshing change of pace for most of the comic book properties we’ve had to deal with in recent years.
That passion extends to the film’s soundtrack, out now on ABKCO Records. Music plays an important part in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels. Scott plays bass in a self-proclaimed “terrible” band, Sex Bob-Omb, and the first volume memorably provides a chord chart so the reader can play along with them (“It’s easy, because they’re kind of crappy!”). Director Edgar Wright, who also whipped up impressive soundtracks for his previous films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, understands how integral music is to the story. In the liner notes, he talks about how he and O’Malley bonded over shared songs and bands, describing the process as “an endless transatlantic mixtape.” To put it simply, Wright, along with co-executive producer Marc Platt and music supervisor Kathy Nelson, nail it. These songs not only work seamlessly within the context of the film, they more than stand on their own as an album.
To represent the fictional bands in the movie, the filmmakers assembled three beloved indie artists: Beck for Sex Bob-Omb; Broken Social Scene for rival band Crash and the Boys; and Metric for The Clash at Demonhead, the band fronted by Scott’s ex-girlfriend Envy Adams. For being such a terrible band, the four Sex Bob-Omb songs are the stand-outs, fuzzy blasts of raw punk energy. On the boisterous opener “We Are Sex Bob-Omb,” it sounds like the guitars and drums are being bashed to within an inch of their lives. “Garbage Truck” is a catchy, poppy love song told from a unique point of view: “I’ll be your garbage man/I’ll take out your junk/And I’ll crush it down.” In the film, the driving “Threshold” is used during Sex Bob-Omb’s amplifier battle with the Katayanagi Twins, and as such, there’s plenty of whining, stuttering feedback. As for “Summertime,” it’s as sunny and hummable a summer tune as I’ve heard in a while. In addition to Beck and regular collaborator Brian LeBarton, actors Michael Cera, Mark Webber, and Alison Pill are all credited on the songs, and all acquit themselves admirably. Webber’s vocals, in particular, are well-suited to the underground indie feel.
The two Crash and the Boys songs are, by design, toss-offs; the first, “I’m So Sad, So Very, Very Sad,” is 13 seconds long, only about five of which could be called music. It’s a joke that works better in the movie, but it’s still funny here. The other song, “We Hate You Please Die,” clocking in at just under a minute, is chockful of squalling guitar, frenetic drums, and a pretty terrific bassline. Metric’s “Black Sheep” is the most polished and fully-formed of the new songs, which befits The Clash at Demonhead, as they’re the only band in the movie to escape the independent scene and win a major label contract. Built around actress Brie Larson’s seductive vocal, the song is part come-on, part kiss-off, which basically exemplifies the push-and-pull nature of the Scott/Envy relationship.
The pre-existing material on the soundtrack is culled from a variety of different bands, from Black Lips to The Rolling Stones, but they’re all of a piece with the movie’s energetic spirit. Plumtree’s 1997 single “Scott Pilgrim” inspired the series, so it’s a given that it’s here; it also doesn’t hurt that it’s an infectiously earnest song about a crush, with the sing-along refrain, “I’ve liked you for a thousand years.” Likewise, Frank Black’s “I Heard Ramona Sing,” from which O’Malley took the name of the girl whose seven evil ex-boyfriends Scott must defeat, is a natural fit.
The rest of the selections, all of which are strong, range from the beautiful–Beachwood Sparks’ cover of Sade’s “By Your Side,” which may have made me cry a little bit; T. Rex’s “Teenage Dream,” which adds just the right touch of melodrama with its intense strings and inscrutable lyrics; and “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl,” wherein Broken Social Scene pop up as themselves, giving a prime example of why they’re a great band–to the ominous: Black Lips’ garage punk raver “O Katrina!” ; The Bluetones’ “Sleazy Bed Track,” which transforms a lover’s odd behavior into mesmerizing low-key drama; Blood Red Shoes’ furious “It’s Getting Boring by the Sea”; and The Rolling Stones’ 1966 classic “Under My Thumb,” an inclusion which initially surprised me but which made sense almost immediately, what with its themes of obsession and control.
Near the end of the album, we’ve got two versions of a new Beck song, “Ramona.” The acoustic version is a reprise of the one-note composition Scott plays for Ramona in the movie. Consisting of simple guitar strumming and the words, “Ramona, oh my my,” it prompts her to say, “I can’t wait to hear it when it’s finished.” “Finished?” is Scott’s baffled reply. The second, full-band version is the one it sounds like Scott could have written after the emotional revelations of the film. It puts flesh on the bare bones of the first version, adding the maturity Scott was lacking previously. It’s a plea to Ramona to take him as he is, and for them to give it a shot despite it all: “And if it’s all a lie/The truth’s not far behind/We could try to live right for the moment.” By the time you reach the song at the very end of the movie, it’s earned the sentiment, and the right to such a lovely ballad. Capping things off is Brian LeBarton’s 8-bit cover of “Threshold,” perfect video game music which sums up the film’s playful style.
What unifies all of the varying styles and recordings is the filmmakers’ innate understanding of music and how much importance it carries in a film, especially a film as entrenched in the indie scene as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. As a general rule, non-score soundtracks of comic book movies aren’t very good. I love the first couple Spider-Man movies as much as the next comics geek, but their Nickelback/Dashboard Confessional-riddled soundtracks weren’t what I’d call inspiring. With Scott Pilgrim, we might have the first authentically great comic book soundtrack on our hands.
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