Dramatic Underscoring: Drive

On January 14, 2016

Dramatic Underscoring is our regular column by Marcella Hemmeter reviewing soundtrack albums from movies current and forgotten. This edition covers 2011's Drive. 

Since joining this here club of ours I’ve been exposed to so many artists and albums; stuff I never would’ve discovered on my own or have passed by for one reason or another. Adulting sucks sometimes. One example is the movie Drive (2011) and its perfect soundtrack. Now, now, before you get on my case for waiting four years to see it, hear me out. We’ve all been there, even the most pop-culture obsessed amongst us. Plus, I’m not the biggest Ryan Gosling fan (oh stop it already) and you have to admit the trailer made it seem like another run-of-the-mill crime action flick. So when it was released, I took a pass.

Here’s where the club comes in. Some members on the VMP forum mentioned how great the Drive soundtrack was and as I tend to trust their musical wisdom I decided to watch it. Whoa. That’s how I felt when watching the opening title sequence for Drive, with Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” playing as we watch the unnamed Driver (Gosling) cruising the after-hours streets of Los Angeles. I kicked myself for not seeing this sooner. I literally had to pause the movie, turn off my phone and make sure I had nothing else going on so that I could give it my full attention.

The plot itself is relatively simple. The Driver is a part-time stunt driver, mechanic and getaway driver. He grows close to a neighbor, Irene, and her son. After a heist-gone-bad, he has to deal with mobsters in order to protect those he cares about. It sounds predictable but it’s much more stylized than I expected with a soundtrack to match. Atmospheric. That’s the word. With the retro synth sounds of Kavinsky, Desire, College, and Chromatics, along with an eerie score from Cliff Martinez, you are transported to the sprawling world of L.A. with its downtown skyline and miles of low rises and strip malls.

One of the things which struck me is that a lot of the emotion plays out in unspoken moments, with the song lyrics and score spelling out what’s unsaid. Desire’s “Under Your Spell,” plays during a scene where we can see how the Driver and Irene feel about each other but circumstances have pulled them apart. I hear that song and I am there, in that moment. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. Another is Riz Ortolani’s “Oh My Love,” the only non-synth track, which essentially describes his emotional state as the Driver realizes the path he needs to take to end the threat. The genius of the soundtrack is that there are only five songs, front-ended on the album with the rest of the tracks being the score, each song used to perfection in the movie. There is no filler. Granted, while listening to it you are left wanting more of the songs but the score is equally emotive about what the characters are thinking and what’s driving them.

And the bonus? Well, if you’re like me and have also recently discovered this soundtrack, then you and I have got a four-year-old rabbit hole to deep-dive into (who are these artists? what else have they done?) and all the wonderfully tangential tunnels that come with it. I’m ready. Are you?


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