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Miscellaneous - The Music of 'Scott Pilgrim vs The World'

  by Jamie Rowland

published: 6 / 9 / 2010

Miscellaneous - The Music of 'Scott Pilgrim vs The World'


Comic book series 'Scott Pilgrim' has been recently adapted into a Hollywood film. Jamie Rowland reflects on the integral part that music has to play in both.

If you haven’t heard of Scott Pilgrim, either in his original, comic book guise, or more recently as portrayed by Michael Cera in the Hollywood adaptation of said books, then you must have had your head stuck firmly in a cultural vortex for the last couple of months. In case you don’t know, 'Scott Pilgrim' is the story of a 23 year-old Canadian slacker whose world is turned upside down when he meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers. In order to make Ramona his girlfriend, Scott must first fight and defeat her 7 Evil Ex-Boyfriends, a league of nefarious jilted lovers who are out to kill him using a mix of mystical powers, dirty tricks and robots. The books and film mix slacker comedy, retro computer game references, sci-fi and kung-fu action to create an exciting, funny, geek-friendly epic on a small scale. In the world of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s 'Scott Pilgrim' comic books, music plays an integral part. Not only do many key characters perform in bands – with a lot of major set-pieces taking place at gigs in and around Toronto – but O’Malley also included ‘playlists’ at the end of a few of the books highlighting the songs that had influenced and entertained him through the writing process – the most obvious of which being the song which gave the story’s hero his name, Canadian punk-pop band Plumtree’s 1997 track ‘Scott Pilgrim’. So with music being so intrinsic to the story, it is unsurprising that the director of the books’ movie adaptation, Brit-com favourite Edgar Wright, took the task of putting together the soundtrack and score very seriously. No stranger to the enhancing power of music in films and television (see 'Spaced', 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz' soundtracks), Wright started off by enlisting the help of supremo-producer and honorary sixth member of Radiohead, Nigel Godrich to aide him in getting together the best bands and musicians around to become the bands of 'Scott Pilgrim'. Wright also began compilation-swapping with O’Malley to try and decide on the other tracks that would feature on the soundtrack, as Godrich got to work on his first ever film score. The results? A soundtrack so finely honed it takes an already enjoyably silly action-comedy and propels it into the higher reaches of cult classic-to be. Here I’ll pull the film’s music apart, looking at the bands of Scott and his friends (and foes), the classic tracks picked to compliment his adventures and Godrich’ s 8-bit influenced score. 1. The Bands of 'Scott Pilgrim' There are three main bands in 'Scott Pilgrim' – Sex Bob-omb, the band made up of Scott and his friends Stephen Stills and Kim Pine; Crash & The Boys, a local experimental band and rivals of Sex Bob-omb; and the Clash at Demonhead – the hugely successful, art-rock hipsters comprised of both Todd Ingram, one of Ramona’s 7 evil exs, and Scott’s own malevolent former girlfriend, Envy Adams. For the film, Wright and Godrich had to face the challenge creating music for bands whose sound is only described briefly in the books. To meet that challenge, they approached a different band or artist for each group and asked them to write material for their on-screen performances. By getting the actors in the film to perform the songs, the world of the film becomes all the more believable too. Taking charge of the story’s leading band – and therefore the most songs to write – was Beck, penning the tunes for Sex Bob-omb. In the comics, Scott’s band is described as being “terrible”; decidedly sloppy and under-rehearsed. Aside from that, Beck didn’t have much to go on, but decided apparently to go down the route of shambolic garage rock, presumably based on the band’s guitar, bass and drums set-up. Obviously, as a reader, one imagines what the bands in the comics might sound like, and from a personal point of view Beck has got it pretty much spot on. Of the four Sex Bob-omb songs found on the soundtrack, the best is probably ‘Threshold’, a thrashy, sloppy piece of punk lasting only a minute and forty-seven seconds, with an extremely catchy chorus. But my personal favourite is probably ‘We Are Sex Bob-omb’, the opening song on the soundtrack and the most ramshackle by far; there is only one verse, which is barked out at the beginning, and then the song turns into essentially a short jam session, with the band members yelling encouragement at each other and whooping as they tear into their instruments. The result is suitably amateurish, but also fun and funny in its encapsulation of the groups’ heightened sense of their own musical skills. Crash and the Boys appear only briefly in the comics, and again their is not much description given to how they are supposed to sound past “weird”, the audience at their gig astounded at the shortness of their opening song, which only lasts 0.4 seconds. In the movie, it’s not quite that short, but it’s not that much longer – Toronto’s Broken Social Scene were given song writing duties for Crash and the Boys, and the first of their two songs, 'I Am Sad, So Very, Very Sad' comes in at about three seconds in length. Their second effort, 'We Hate You, Please Die', is not much longer at just under a minute, but is at least a fully formed song – and a good one at that! The bass line is a real earworm, crawling into your head and making it’s home there for hours after, and Eik Knudson’s vocals – as Crash Wilson – are so good you’d think he was actually a singer in a band rather than an actor playing one. The Clash at Demonhead were roughly based on Metric, so it seems appropriate that they provided the song for the last of the three bands. ‘Black Sheep’ is the only song provided for the movie’s bands which was not written specifically for the movie – Metric fans will know that it was written during the sessions for 'Fantasies', but didn’t really fit in on the album, leaving it available to play the part of Envy Adams and co’s own hit song. It is by far the most full and polished of the fictional groups’ works, no doubt because it was written on its own terms. It’s about as good as any of Metric’s best work, and has a keyboard-led outro that is quite simply to die for. 2. The Soundtrack Given that O’Malley provided his own playlists in the back of some of the 'Scott Pilgrim' books, it seems appropriate for the film-makers to head there first when picking songs for the soundtrack. And sure enough, a lot of the tracks which inspired the story at its inception have made their way onto the OST. Naturally, Plumtree’s ‘Scott Pilgrim’ makes an appearance, as does Frank Black’s 1993 track ‘I Heard Ramona Sing’ – which Bryan Lee O’Malley describes as being “Ramona’s theme song” in his book – and the Rolling Stones' ‘Under My Thumb’. There are also clear influences from Wright’s own musical tastes; he’s directed videos for the Bluetones in the past and is a friend of the band, so it is unsurprising to find their ‘Sleazy Bed Track’ making an appearance here. Also featured are Beachwood Sparks’ cover of Sade’s ‘By Your Side’, Blood Red Shoes’ ‘It’s Getting Boring By the Sea’ and Broken Social Scene’s third appearance on the soundtrack, this time performing as themselves with ‘Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl’. But by far the most interesting track for my money is the fofth original composition by Beck, his song ‘Ramona’. This song is initially introduced in the film as a joke; a short, basic piece written by Scott for his new girlfriend – but the soundtrack’s full version is actually a really polished, genuinely moving love song – which somehow makes the initial joke all the funnier. 3. The Score For Nigel Godrich’s first film score, he’s taken influences from computer games (the Universal theme is reworked in the 8-bit style for this movie), action movies and the work of Italian prog-rock band Goblin to create an eclectic, energetic and exciting musical accompaniment to Wright’s hectic directing. There are comedic moments to be found in the score too; Ramona’s first evil-ex, Matthew Patel, sings a banghra-style song to taunt Scott – in the film it comes out of nowhere and catches the audience completely by surprise. The lyrics are awful and cheesey, but that’s kind of the point. The most accomplished track from the score in my opinion is ‘Roxy’, possibly because it’s the longest and has the most time to grow as a piece of music. But of course the point of a score is to bring atmosphere, and Godrich achieves this with his work here – it’s fun, exhilarating, unpredictable and crammed with hidden treats you won’t notice first time round, much like the rest of the soundtrack, and very much like the film itself.

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