Just three years ago, Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” blindsided everyone with a film in which almost every individual aspect was familiar, but whose total tone seemed to come from a place where the best and bleakest bits of the ’80s never stopped happening. The indie landscape now feels different because of it: low-light, high-rise, grease-slicked cities full of nameless loners and revving engines have sprawled across our screens and consciousnesses: see also the recent “Nightcrawler.”
But how “Drive” looked was only part of what had us all rushing out to buy muscle cars and scorpion jackets: the soundtrack also played a huge role, encapsulating the alter-80s feel by featuring only current artists, but ones whose music owes a huge debt to the era of synth and groove. Alongside Cliff Martinez’s low-level, pulse-like score, the half-dozen tracks stood out, and are all still immediately memorable: Chromatics’ “Tick of the Clock” during the initial heist, Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx’s “Nightcall” over the opening credits, “Under Your Spell” leaking out of Standard’s homecoming party and into the driver’s lonely late-night apartment, and College’s “A Real Hero” haunting the latter stages of the film. It was an outstanding — and bestselling — soundtrack, and the film is almost unimaginable without it.
All of which raises the question: why change it? Which is precisely what BBC Three did last Thursday night with a rescored version of the film featuring Bastille, Banks, The 1975, Eric Prydz, Laura Mvula, Biffy Clyro, CHVRCHES, Bring Me The Horizon and others: altogether a fairly eclectic selection of current artists, some of whom work in the neo-80s idiom of the original soundtrack and some of whom don’t, some of whom wrote new music for the rescore, some of whom contributed pre-existing tracks. The whole affair was overseen by BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe, living avatar of a certain kind of unexciting hipness, who introduced the screening on air by noting that the great thing about the original “Drive” is how “the music and the film are perfect together.” Which, again, begs the question at the top of this paragraph, and surely at the top of everyone’s minds while watching this thing.
But let’s not be too facetious (yet). Movies aren’t sacred objects — not even “Drive”, which has achieved an almost “The Dark Knight”-level of instant untouchability that should automatically be suspect — and a rescore can often be a worthwhile way of looking afresh at a film we think we know. And in that sense, a film like “Drive,” so heavily defined by its musical choices, is the ideal platform for a rescore, since it offers the possibility of genuinely altering the experience of the film rather than just tinkering with it.
Unfortunately, the rescored “Drive” was largely a mess. Some of the musical choices were bafflingly different: others substituted remarkably similar tracks for what seemed like no very good reason. In this latter category were things like Eric Prydz’s “Sequence One,” replacing the opening “The Tick of the Clock” with something similar but not as boldly minimalist, and CHVRCHES’ new track “Get Away” over the titles, which is broadly comparable to the Kavinsky track in the original — it’s slick and gleaming and lonely — but doesn’t have the subsurface muscular menace that clashed so well with the lurid pink titles. The 1975s also contributed some charming synths to replace “A Real Hero,” which works ok-ish but doesn’t have the unforgettable refrain.
So much for playing it safe, though: most of the other contributions went in the other direction, and it wasn’t good. Standard’s homecoming party — where, in the original, the driver’s silent apartment throbs to the beat and the “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep” refrain of “Under Your Spell” — is soundtracked instead with snippets of songs from Foals, The Neighbourhood and others, as if from a hastily assembled Spotify playlist entitled “Good-Hearted but Weak and Trusting Husband Returns from Prison with Unrealistic Optimism.” Maybe most problematically, Bring Me the Horizon were drafted in to provide some thrashing drums for the post-pawn-shop car chase, a scene whose original brilliance came, largely, from the lack of music. Now it just feels like an offcut from “Need for Speed.”
One moment is worth noting — the driver’s late night attack on Nino (Ron Perlman), soundtracked in the original with Katyna Ranieri’s operatic “Oh My Love,” a deliberately odd choice that never quite came off. Here it’s replaced by an uninspired new Bastille track called (cleverly) “The Driver” which is arguably less jarring than the Ranieri: but it’s also less interesting.
It’s maybe unfair to throw these two contradictory criticisms — that some of the new music was too similar, and some of it too much of a departure — at this project. But there it is. Almost nothing came down in the sweet spot of reacting to the film in a way that seemed both organic and innovative: which, yes, is maybe a tall order, but may we refer you once again to the question of why anyone decided this was a good idea in the first place? Answers on a postcard please. [D]