Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Wang Chung - To Live And Die In L.A. OST album review

Wang Chung - To Live And Die In L.A. OST
Wang Chung
To Live And Die In L.A.
Buy on Amazon
If I was to say to you that Wang Chung, the 80s new wave group, best known for #21 hit Dance Hall Days and the disco classic Everybody Have Fun Tonight, had produced a soundtrack album I’d expect, like me, you'd consider the film itself to be the biggest load of crap since the day after King Kong had a night on the Guinness and a kebab.

Wang Chung's music takes advantage of the electronic sounds that burst into the 80s, such as drum machines, keyboards and no doubt keytars given the chance. As such the two aforementioned hits wouldn't be out of place in a set that also included Duran Duran, Simple Minds and The Human League.

Luckily I watched the film before I’d been introduced to Wang Chung so had no preconceived ideas about gorilla excrement. Directed by William Friedkin (of Exorcist and French Connection fame) it's a wonderful clash of 80's exuberant greed mixed with a down to earth cynical honesty provided through the dusty realism of an L.A. backdrop and seat gripping action that probably wakes Bruce Willis at night in a jealous cold sweat. This post isn't a film review (I’ll link to a decent one once my friend gZa writes it) so I’ll now leave the over-adjectised sentences to the professionals and get on to the music.

Friedkin states he commissioned Wang Chung to compose an original soundtrack because they stand "out from the rest of contemporary music." If I was standing next to him when he made this outlandish statement in 1985 I may well have given him a slap and told him to listen to a different radio station. However what becomes clear from listening to the soundtrack is that beneath the 80 cheese of the Wang Chung sound Friedkin has deftly identified a quality to Wang Chung's music that reflects everything that the film portrays, in fact it adds to it.

Wang Chung
The members of
Wang Chung
Yes it's cheesy, to an extent, and that plays perfectly with Willem Dafoe's black Ferrari but it also has that grimy edge that made New Wave such a popular genre. The side of New Wave that rockier bands such as Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cure and The Psychedelic Furs wallowed in so magnificently. The grime that, in this film, leads us through an often violent narrative on the edge of the law summed up by William L. Petersen's line:

"Let me tell you something, amigo. I'm gonna bag Masters, and I don't give a shit how I do it."
1. To Live and Die in L.A.
The title track is a light ode to this exciting thriller and gives you a taste of what might be coming. Every time I hear this I think of the album cover, the red sun setting on a palm tree littered L.A. wasteland.

2. Lullaby
This starts with a verse that despite its title makes me think of waking up and the sun coming up on this dangerous and glamorous world. A jumpy, fresh verse contrasts with a straight out of the 80s ballady chorus that takes you from the waking world to blasting along desert roads in a convertible, presumably while $50 notes and loose cocaine blows out from the back seat.

3. Wake Up, Stop Dreaming
And after my waking dream in Lullaby I’m told exactly what to do by a grittier foot tapping track. "I'm talkin' 'bout dream and reality, I'm talkin' 'bout love and brutality" - lyrics that could be used on the film poster.

4. Wait
The only non-original track on the album. This was originally on their second album, Points on the Curve. This plays over the closing credits of the film and is an appropriate place for it. I say that as I’m reminded of something I heard while listening to the extras DVD for 1994 film The Crow - they had a completely original soundtrack so that the first time people heard a track was when watching the film. They didn't want the viewer to get distracted thinking of the first time they'd heard that tune (at a disco or on the radio). The songs were also more relevant as they were written for the film. All the other album tracks for To Live and Die In L.A. were written after Wang Chung had seen a rough cut of the film so it makes sense that the one song that wasn't isn't placed directly over the action.

Car chase from To Live And Die In L.A. film
A scene from
the car chase
5. City of the Angels
This is the first tune on side two of the original LP release. These last four tracks are all instrumental. After an atmospheric intro this tune takes off at 1:07 and brings back the memories to me of the car chase and excitement that follows the relentless pursuit for Defoe's character Masters. Like with many an instrumental soundtrack the tunes are designed to run with the action so on their own you can be left thinking, what happened in this bit again? I could just watch the film again but this is an album review and as such I’m looking at this as an independent entity.

6. The Red Stare
It's amazing music's ability to inspire emotion and this song is depressing, and as it goes on slightly scary. The screaming synth, slow piano and 'whooshy' noises will freak you out if you play this loud.

7. Black-Blue-White
OK, we're back on it with Black-Blue-White. The city's flashing past, sirens burst and that drum machine is threatening to take over again as I nurse my bruises. I've got that mix of 80s cheese that I love so much with a certain urgency in the drum beat that's making me type faster. If I had a gun, an open shirt and a hairy chest I’d jump behind a wall now, dripping sweat and lean out to try to spot a moving dot on the horizon that was slowly making his way toward me.

8. Every Big City
I'd be very surprised if Friedkin hadn't had Bladerunner in his head, even to just a tiny extent when he was making this film. This track reminds me of the dark satanic rain soaked towers of that Harrison Ford classic. Its suggestive and repetitive audio sample 'jump, jump' builds through the track. It suggests not only the physical action likely in any chase scene but also the metaphor that if it's all too much why not leave it all behind. After all, who really cares in the end, we all die, let's get on with life.

Album released September 1985
More info: Wikipedia \ Film on IMDB