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Soundtracked! Issue #3: Drive Angry

Soundtracked! Issue #3: Drive Angry

Music From The Motion Picture

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Last Edited by: Chris MUG5 Maguire March 8th, 2011.

Welcome back my filmic friends to issue number three of Soundtracked! The feature that sees me claim squatters rights in my local cinema to find the very best soundtrack of the week... hey, it’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it! This week’s assortment of films has been (as Forest Gump would say) “like a box of chocolates”. I caught the soft centred Adam Sandler flick Just Go With It, the sickly sweet sci-fi actioner I Am Number Four, the absolutely nutty grindhouse effort Drive Angry and the cream of the crop, western remake True Grit.

After feasting on this mixed tin of confectionery filminess, next came decision time; which soundtrack was worthy of feature number three? I instantly ruled out Just Go With It and its radio friendly mix of feel-good mush and I Am Number Four’s otherworldly score worked well enough but wasn’t anything ET would phone home about. It inevitably came down to Patrick Lussier’s Drive Angry and the Coen brothers True Grit. Of the two, the Coen brothers Oscar nominated masterpiece was by far the better film, in fact, Empire magazine went so far as to describe True Grit as ‘darn close to perfection’ – high praise indeed and after watching it I’m inclined to agree with them.

Funnily enough, whilst growing up, the western was probably my least favourite of all film genres, with the exception being Back To The Future: Part Three, obviously! As a kid I found myself turning off any film featuring a cowboy (usually John Wayne) galloping on horseback across the Wild West. But, as I’ve grown older I’ve come to admire the genre (David Milch – Deadwood is incredible!) and as such I utterly adored True Grit. The Coen’s commitment to period authenticity, ‘the Dude’s’ award worthy acting, Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography and of course, Carter Burwell’s sweeping majestic score.

Up until about an hour ago (when I began to write this third issue), I had my heart set on looking at classical composer and long time Coen brothers collaborator, Carter Burwell and his 20 track opus for True Grit. I had the film committed to memory, the soundtrack purchased and additional research completed; there was just one song in Drive Angry I couldn’t shake from my noggin – ‘That’s The Way I Like It’ by KC and The Sunshine Band! It was the inclusion of this unexpected song during one of Drive Angry’s more breathtaking sequences that led to my sudden change of heart – I simply had to write about it but more on this scene a little later.

So, with Drive Angry overtaking True Grit for first place in this issue, now’s probably a good time to outline the Drive Angry plot. So for those of you who’ve not yet had the pleasure, here’s a quick synopsis to get you up to speed. Milton (Nicolas Cage) is a long-dead, hard-case criminal who breaks out of hell to prevent a satanic cult from sacrificing his infant granddaughter to the prince of darkness (that’s Satan, not Ozzy Osbourne). Trailer park waitress Piper (Amber Heard), who steals her cheating boyfriend's beloved Dodge Charger, tags along for the ride, whilst The Accountant (William Fichtner) is tasked with dragging Milton back down to the pits of hell. It’s a high-octane thrill ride with pitch black humour and one of the wildest mind blowing sex scenes ever committed to film (but again, more on this scene a little later!). Drive Angry is cheap, is nasty and is the epitome of grindhouse and never once pretends to be anything more!

The music featured in Drive Angry is a combination of perfectly positioned well-known songs and a relentless score from composer Michael Wandmacher who’s clearly in his element here. Take a look at Wandmacher’s rather modest curriculum vitae and you’ll see he was the ideal choice to score such a blazing balls-to-the-wall B-movie. Previously, Wandmacher was responsible for scoring Patrick Lussier’s earlier effort My Bloody Valentine, Marvel’s Punisher: War Zone, Hostel wannabe Train and more recently Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D.

Before even giving the impressive music from the motion picture soundtrack a once over it was obvious whilst watching Drive Angry that its sounds were more in tune with a rock album than a typical film score. Electric guitars thrash heavily throughout and are laced with rock-hard beats of percussion and some atmospheric synthesizers to boot. During all 29 tracks here there’s not one single dull moment. From the opening of ‘Full Frontal Shotgun’ to the closing ‘I’ll Have That Beer’, Wandmacher has crafted a fun, playful rock-centric score that’s simply bursting with breathtaking exhilaration. Where some scores appear overly restrained and often enter the ears unnoticed, Wandmacher’s score tears through the cinema screen and leaves tread marks on your face. It also manages to transcend sound and manifests as a living, breathing character that is as important to the progression of the story as our main protagonist, Milton.

There’s simply far too many to mention over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek sequences, where the score succeeds in elevating the excitement seen on screen. One scene however simply can’t be ignored (or probably ever forgotten) and that is Nicolas Cage’s wildly entertaining sex scene. Bear with me and envision a seedy highway motel room. Now picture Milton (thankfully fully clothed and donning a leather jacket and sunglasses), smoking a cigar and chugging on whiskey, getting down and dirty with a naked white trash waitress, whilst at the same time gunning down an army of weapon-wielding devil-worshipers who burst in on them mid session. Milton never once stops until he’s emptied his entire load (literally!). Musically, Wandmacher’s riff-laden track ‘Checking Out The Hard Way’ includes a series of subtle synths creating a metallic heartbeat similar to that of Brad Fiedel’s Terminator theme, which is apt when considering Milton’s inhuman stamina and robotic accuracy of his bullets. Wandmacher purposefully keeps the tempo (amongst other things) pumping whilst the absurd visuals enter a Matrix style slow down, creating one jarring and unforgettable action/romp sequence that has to be seen to be believed.

Other standout tracks that are heavy on the rock include ‘The Iron Godkiller’, ‘Mass Vs. Acceleration’ and ‘Road Raging’ to name but a few. At a whopping 60 minutes run time Music From The Motion Picture Drive Angry is a hit and run assault on both ears, however nestling within the amp-blowing beats are some indispensable softer segments. ‘Milton's Back-story’ and ‘I'm A Granddaddy’ are two such tracks that add much needed humanity to this devilish pedal-to-the-heavy-metal score.

Music From The Motion Picture Drive Angry may feature Michael Wandmacher’s fast and furious creations but missing from it are the many perfectly placed songs throughout some of Drive Angry’s most memorable scenes. Worthy of a mention is the inclusion of Trooper’s ‘Raise A Little Hell’ playing through the Dukes Of Hazard style opening car chase, as well as the annoyingly mesmeric ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ by Peaches, blasting out of Piper’s car stereo speakers after her life takes a sudden change in direction.

Still, none of these tracks, or the likes of ‘Stone In My Hand’ by Everlast, ‘Laser Love’ by T-Rex or ‘I Like To Rock’ by April Wine, were the reason why Drive Angry beat the Coen brothers multi-award winning production to the finishing line of this week’s edition. It was the appearance of the aforementioned ‘That’s The Way I Like It’ (which is a glorious ray of sunshine in recorded form) by aptly named KC and The Sunshine Band, that altered my decision indefinitely. I can’t even bring myself to describe where it appears or what is happening on screen when it does – you’ll just have to catch the film and see for yourself. I will say if the sequence doesn’t put a mile wide smile on your face then you’re deader than Milton himself.

Towards the climactic finale a chilling rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ resounds over the cult's sacrificial preparation and then the credit sequence sees a perfectly placed cover version of Meat Loaf’s ‘Alive’ from Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose. I can only assume the studio opted for a Meat Loaf impersonator instead of using the real deal so to avoid paying the big guy any cash royalties. Anyway, it’s a fitting song to see out one hell of a wild ride. Like so many motion picture soundtracks, the studio executives responsible for the release of Music From The Motion Picture Drive Angry have opted to avoid giving us songs from the film and instead provided us with the solitary score. But what a score! Wandmacher has crafted a hard driving mood that functions as a storytelling device as well as the adrenaline for the action scenes, and unlike a lot of instrumental scores, it makes for a great standalone listen – just don’t play it while you’re driving!

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