A soundtrack score can make or break a film. In fact, some films are as good as they are, because of the score music. Indeed, there are even some films that incorporate and mould the score into the film, so they almost become one…Birdman being a prime example.
So, it is essential for a director to get the right composer for the job, to ensure a trusting collaboration between the two, which will elevate what we see on screen with what we hear in our ears. Tim Burton has Danny Elfman, Christopher Nolan has Hans Zimmer and Peter Jackson has Howard Shore…now, it seems Nicolas Winding Refn has Cliff Martinez.
Now onto their 4th collaboration (after Drive, Only God Forgives and My Life), their work seems to be a perfect match as Refn’s striking and surreal images are lifted by Martinez’s electronic and dreamlike compositions…a successful pairing that continues throughout the soundtrack score for The Neon Demon.
The album is a hefty 23 tracks long, of the 23, 20 are Martinez’s. Mine by Sweet Tempest is a punky rocky tune with a classic guitar riff, distorted female vocal and gorgeous chorus backed by Martinez style keyboards. Demon Dance by Julian Winding is a pulsing, beating instrumental piece littered with some Jean Michael Jarre type keyboard motifs and suspenseful background synths. And finally, Waving Goodbye by SIA ends the album with some electro pop crammed with bursts of sound, chill out moments and an almost mechanical female vocal that wavers, stutters and soars. All three are of the highest quality and slot in with the rest of the album perfectly.
And so onto the meat of the album; Cliff Martinez’s score. Starting with the title track, Neon Demon, its cold beating electronic heart is accompanied by some almost nursery rhyme tinkering before exploding with a wall of synthesiser sound that grabs you by the throat. More than a few hints of Vangelis Blade Runner score bleed through on What Are You. Again, an almost childish nursery rhyme theme runs through the tune yet adds to it a layer of dread and fear. Don’t Forget Me When I Am Famous is pure Martinez (as it could have easily come from both the Drive and Only God Forgives score) with its strained keyboards, odd time signatures and layers of ethereal synths; a sound that Martinez has perfected and (almost) made his own.
Yet, certain tracks (Take Off Your Shoes for example) expands on this sound by adding in an even more electronic and futuristic feel whilst some seem to embrace the influences of others in his field…Ruby At The Morgue channels the spirit of Moby, specifically, Moby’s work on the Southland Tales soundtrack.
There are even hints that Martinez is really pushing forward and embracing all aspects of electronic music, track Real Lolita Rides Again is a perfect example as it has a harshness reminiscent of Aphex Twin whilst Who Wants Sour Milk has that slight sense of eerie Twin Peaks sound. And then we have standout track Runway. Starting innocently enough, it builds with that joyful, childish feel as electronica gives way to a wave of synth and DJ bass beat. It then flutters, becomes nightmarish and harsh before having some sort of epiphany and a strange Pink Floyd tune emerges. We are then treated to a stunning keyboard serenity which closes the track perfectly.
Our senses of fear, joy, reality and fantasy are toyed with when we listen to the album as well as our memories of being young and carefree ultimately giving way to adult life. It sounds retro and futuristic at the same time. It serenades and calms us as much as it screams and scares us, not an easy thing to do on a soundtrack score…but one listen to tracks such as Kinky, Ruby’s Close Up and Something’s In My Room makes you realise Martinez has succeeded. And, as an album of music, it does stand on its own because of the strength of what’s on offer. This is also helped by the fact that different songs repeat the same tune (albeit with a different sound) throughout and gluing the whole thing together much like a concept album would.
How it fits in with the film is something yet to be discovered, but on the basis of what we know about the film and from what the trailers have shown us, I have no doubt that once again, Cliff Martinez and Nicolas Winding Refn have managed to compliment and improve the art of film and music.