Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a brilliant, exciting movie that successfully combines indie-rock, martial arts action, and awkward romance. The songs drive a lot of the action in the film, either overtly as they’re played by the bands within the movie or as subtle background accompaniment. So how well does the official soundtrack work as a memento of the film, and how well does it work as a compilation album?
As a memento of the movie, the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack mostly succeeds. Nearly all of the big musical moments in the movie are included. But somewhere, someone made a conscious decision to focus this soundtrack exclusively on the rock music from the film. This is for the most part fine, as Nigel Godrich’s score is available digitally on a second soundtrack. But a pair of essential musical moments from the film are conspicuously absent from this, the primary soundtrack album. Godrich’s hilarious 8-bit video game take on the Universal logo theme is missing, as is the Bollywood-style song that Scott Pilgrim’s first opponent Matthew Patel sings. Aside from those omissions, though, everything is here, largely presented in chronological order. The album opens with Pilgrim’s band Sex Bob-Omb’s title sequence-accompanying “We Are Sex Bob-Omb” and closes with “Summertime”, which Sex Bob-Omb plays during the movie’s final battle.
Stripped of their film context, though, many of the movie’s original songs are only partially successful. The Sex Bob-Omb tracks, all written by Beck, have a fun, noisy charm but are generally pretty slight. Beck also wrote Pilgrim’s ode to love interest Ramona Flowers, “Ramona”, which is included here in two versions, both performed by Beck himself. The problem is that “Ramona”, in the film, is meant to be a lame trifle of a song. Even the more robust string-soaked arrangement, while pretty, doesn’t amount to much. Similarly, the super-short Broken Social Scene-penned tracks for movie band Crash and the Boys are hilarious in the film but aren’t at all memorable when removed from that setting. The one original song that completely works is Metric’s “Black Sheep”, a thumping synth-rock track with killer verses and an expansive chorus. Played in the movie by the band Clash at Demonhead and sung by Brie Larson as Envy Adams, the soundtrack version of the song is played by the full Metric lineup.
With the original songs being hit-and-miss outside of the movie itself, it’s left to the pre-existing songs compiled for the film to make or break the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack. And they generally get the job done. Plumtree’s “Scott Pilgrim”, the song that inspired the graphic novel that the film is based on, has a pleasing ‘90s alternative rock crunch, some nice guitar leads, and a catchy, layered refrain. Frank Black’s “I Heard Ramona Sing” is a distinctive mid-tempo song with just enough oomph to keep it from getting bogged down. The Bluetones’ downbeat “Sleazy Bed Track” is appropriately grimy, while Blood Red Shoes’ “It’s Getting Boring By the Sea” has a punky energy that fits right in with the bands in the movie.
And then there are the familiar songs. Broken Social Scene gets a “thank you” for doing the Crash and the Boys’ songs with the inclusion of their swirling 2002 track “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl.” The song’s low-key, almost sneaky catchiness is a perfect break from all the crunchy ‘90s guitar songs and the noisy Sex Bob-Omb tracks. T. Rex’s “Teenage Dream” serves as the love theme for the movie, and its retro charm really works. The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” is a good song, but a bit too on-the-nose as the theme song for head bad guy Gideon Graves. The inclusion of The Rolling Stones on the soundtrack doesn’t really fit with anything else here and it sticks out like, well, a sore thumb.
In the context of the movie almost all of these songs are great. But as a soundtrack album, Scott Pilgrim doesn’t reach the same greatness. It suffers from the same scattershot approach that movie soundtracks have had since the ‘80s, so there isn’t much flow to it as an album. Fortunately the majority of these songs, despite the lack of cohesiveness, are good individually. And that makes the soundtrack a fun listen for anyone who has seen the movie.