…and for those travellers recently returned from patrolling the gamma quadrant, your connecting shuttle to the Lost in Translation screening is waiting at gate three…
It’s an odd feeling, to be surfing the zeitgeist with the current, for once. It’s possible, surely, to lob a few token critical party-pooper scuds at the universal Coppola love-boat that’s been gathering momentum since the movie’s US release last autumn, but what the … why? when, for once, something comes along that practically everybody seems to like, and that most people are raving about? And for all the right reasons! It’s a rare and beautiful thing, Jimbob. And if one of the things that everyone agrees about is that the soundtrack is one of the best. Ever. What’s going on?
Proof, if proof were needed, of how eager is the ear for narrative anchorage – for somewhere to hook that squirming net of ambivalent emotional responses and haul in to the nearest haven. Proof, too, of how few cues we require in order to participate: in this case, just a handful of keywords – lonely, jet-lagged, dislocated, Tokyo – and one or two images – a pink-wigged Scarlett Johansson’s head resting happily on the shoulder of a very tired-looking Bill Murray, both top-lit, leaning against a zebra-skin wall-hanging – and there it is – every track on what is basically a melancholy-romantic mix-tape becomes a delicate articulation of the is-it-or-isn’t-it that develops between these two needy people in this totally alien environment. So it’s a compilation about recognition, about confusion, about melancholy, about transience, emergence, optimism, identity, and loss – and, above all, because the soundtrack is the foundation of the movie’s narrative architecture, it’s about music itself, and about this amazing power that music has to keep aloft the necessary myth – that, somehow, there is meaning to be extracted from this turbulent, fractal chaos of human interaction.
Sofia Coppola (the movie’s director) has indicated that she got her first ideas for Lost in Translation from wandering around Tokyo in a neon-dazzled daze whilst listening to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless on repeat on her Walkman. She then talked with her musical supervisor, Brian Reitzell (Air’s drummer), about expanding that feeling into the film as a whole, so it’s perfectly appropriate that the astounding Sometimes from Loveless should represent the emotional kernel of both the film and the OST: it’s as if everything else on the album somehow refers to this – locating that album as a crucial marker in the cultural timeline. Consequently, there are discreet references both backwards and forwards for the nerdish-inclined: eg The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Just Like Honey that provides such a bravely upbeat ending refers both to the heavy influence of the Chain on MBV in the late ‘eighties and to the fact that the band that MBV’s Kevin Shields now plays guitar in – Primal Scream – was formed by the Chain’s ex-drummer; and, most surprisingly, one of the most MBV-sounding songs on the album comes from that top-taste ex-DJ duo, Death in Vegas, in Girls, from their 2003 Scorpio Rising.
The resultant ‘nineties end-of-millennium backwards-and-forwards-looking feel embraces a deceptively wide chronological sweep: from the 1971 Kazuo No Atsumete by Happy End – a deserved classic of the j-pop stable, which, juicy Hammond aside, sounds amazingly modern, if a touch (Sweet Baby) James Taylor (which is no bad thing) – to the dozily committed version of the 1982 More Than This from Roxy Music’s Avalon sung in fine, heavy-lidded lounge-lizard style by the inimitable Mr Murray himself (this is from the film’s karaoke bar scene – presented here as the hidden track after an eleven minute [!] wait) – through the 1985 Just Like Honey and the 1991 Sometimes and only finally emerging into the 21st century with Squarepusher’s Tommib from the 2001 My Red Car (odd little piece – like the organ introit to a laptop’s funeral) and Death in Vegas and Air (typical Air – as my astrologer buddy assures me – they’re Alone in Kyoto because everyone else is in bloody Tokyo! – lovely song, by the way – best thing on Talkie Walkie). That’s quite a timespan, though, and it does mean that one minute you’re reeling from the hormonal stench of a roomful of anguished shoegazers and the next you’re surrounded by happy little Japanese girls wearing anti-gravity shoes and doing Steiner dancing with wafty pastel banners. But that’s just as it should be.
There’s a fannish mythology surrounding Kevin Shields and the thirteen-year compositional hiatus between Loveless and now which clearly brought an impossible burden of expectation to bear on this aspect of the album: in brief, he’s managed to fuel the myth and frustrate the expectations in the manner of the true enigmatic. City Girls (with Brian Reitzell drumming) could be the long-lost twelfth track from Loveless – clear demonstration that he could still ‘do’ classic MBV if he wanted to. Evidently, however, he doesn’t, and his other three contributions (Goodbye, Ikebana, and Are You Awake) are so short, so tentative, and so different from each other as to be incomparable, and to judge where he’s at currently on the basis of these incidental (and, it has to be said, somewhat inconsequential) noodlings would be like assessing a chef on the evidence of a few crumbs. Suffice to say that they serve the film’s mood perfectly – and maybe this will be Kevin Shields future – the John Barry of the twenty-hundreds. Meanwhile, a whole new generation is enjoying first exposure to the fuzzy magic of My Bloody Valentine through the indisputable sonic epicentre of this album – the magnificent Sometimes – which contrives simultaneously to activate the corpus obliviosus (that’s the rather-not-remember gland) whilst at the same time blocking some of the consequent pain with that dangerously addictive MBV staple of effortless aesthetic anaesthesia. And that, too, is just as it should be.