Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”—a twenty-year-old classic of Olympian romantic despair—stands as both the physical and musical center of this soundtrack, for a commercially exploitive movie already come and gone. That fact shouldn’t bias the listener against the rest of the material, however; after all, Series 7 was scored by alterna-rock icons Girls Against Boys, a band with its own compellingly bass-heavy, darkly metallic sound. Girls Against Boys (GVSB) released their first record in 1992, but it was their three mid-‘90s albums on Touch and Go (Venus Luxure No.1 Baby, Cruise Yourself, and especially House of GVSB) that made their name among indie rockers looking for a slightly harder-edged sound. Gruff vocals and loudly melodic guitar work rode one of the tightest, most thundering rhythm sections in rock, and there was great hope for a commercial breakthrough that, like Nirvana’s, wouldn’t leave behind the artistry that made them popular in the first place.
The few full-length songs and instrumental mood-pieces that make up the bulk of the Series 7 soundtrack don’t stray too far from the throbbing, wary music that made their name, but there’s a step in between that adds a poignancy to this work. After the critical and commercial (in independent label terms, at least) success of House of GVSB, the band made the leap to the majors, releasing 1998’s ill-fated Freak*on*ica on Geffen Records. The album was weaker than their previous work, its attempts to surf the nascent electronica wave—whether because of pressure from the label or the band’s own misguided decision—a patently bad move that led to a drubbing in both the press and the record stores. In what was termed a “mutual” decision, the band quickly parted company with Geffen.
Three years of side projects later, GVSB have returned with this score to a movie trying to ride a wave of its own. As the liner notes succinctly state: “Series 7 is a movie that pretends to be a reality TV show called ‘The Contenders’. It’s the 7th season of the show, and five new contenders are randomly selected in a lottery, assigned a camera crew, handed a gun, and the last one left standing wins”. Attempting to take the reality TV genre to its logically absurd conclusion, we get five contestants whose goal is to kill or be killed, all for the satisfaction of the fickle American viewer. GVSB contribute to the cause with just over a half an hour of music, much of it instrumental. Titles like “Unlucky Number”, “Whole World Watching”, and “Dramatic Re-Creation” give a flavor as to what the film scenes offer, and the music keeps pace: machine-gun riffs, minor-chord washes of synthesizer, martial drums. The band haven’t lost their touch for churning, emotive music, but without the benefit of the visuals that the music is supposed to enhance it’s doubtful that the score bears repeated listening.
The two linchpins of the soundtrack come at the beginning and in the middle. “One Dose of Truth”, according to the film’s writer/director, Daniel Minahan, is “about television and exploitation, and how the audience is complicit in it all. As far as I know this is the first song ever written about reality TV”. A dubious distinction, obviously, and one that doesn’t bear much weight; the song skims the surface of the genre, including the words “real”, “truth”, and “commercial breaks” like talismans, but there’s nothing specific in the song to either the movie or reality TV in general—there’s certainly nothing that would make the average TV viewer feel himself “complicit”. While it could be read as a fairly shallow comment on commercialism in general, the song does sound good, employing the same kind of minor-key pop structure as “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Still sounding fresh after all these years, Joy Division’s hummable paean to romantic despair plumbs the depths of its subject in a way that “One Dose of Truth” misses entirely. Its inclusion provides a huge lift in the middle of this soundtrack, but it also raises stakes that the rest of these incidental pieces can’t possibly match.
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// Notes from the Road
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