[24 July 2014]
PopMatters Music Editor - Canada
While Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World may have flopped at the box office, something good came out of the flick’s existence. (Incidentally, that 2010 movie is arguably the greatest Canadian film ever made, notwithstanding the fact it had a British director and was backed with American financing.) Actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who played love interest Ramona Flowers in the comic book adaptation, and producer Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, who was working on the score, met during filming and struck it off so well that the duo decided to make music together.
I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now is the resulting album from that collaboration and is surprising on a number of levels. One, I didn’t know that Winstead could actually sing and write lyrics. Two, the music is distinctly retro-infused, and sounds, for the most part, like 1960s French pop. (Think Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin.) There are quite a few songs on this debut that could have been soundtracked to a James Bond film score in the past. It’s hard to say what the overall appeal of this album is – it’s not quite hip-hop, though you may hear elements of that sound, especially in the vinyl cackles of “Put Your Head Down”, and it’s not thoroughly modern, which may alienate some listeners expecting, well, Gorillaz. Still, those into adventure might admire this LP.
There are some nods to ABBA, strangely enough, on this disc: “Close to You” certainly has a very Swedish disco slither to it, and this might be the kind of thing you might have expected to hear at Studio 54 in its heyday. Sort of. Otherwise, though, I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now captures the feel of a jazzy nightclub where you might wander through the building with a martini in hand. (As if the cover art wasn’t a hint enough.) Single and opening cut “Did We Live Too Fast” swirls with a feeling of the debonair: “Sipping my vodka tonic ... / I put on my makeup perfect but I let down my hair,” purrs Winstead. If it weren’t for the dancey overtones, you could imagine Nancy Sinatra putting her boots on to this.
“I’ll Never Hold You Back”, meanwhile, lazily rolls along with a trippy beat, and boasts the catchiest of catchy choruses. It drips sadness and melancholy without being overbearing. “Everywhere I Go” has swirling strings and an epic feel with a timpani bashing its way in the background. This is shaken, and not stirred. “There’s a Revolution”, on the other hand, is a handclappingly great tune, sort of the thing the Go! Team might have mined if they’d done some deep crate digging.
The album’s key strength is Winstead’s fine vocals. If you didn’t know who was singing, you might be convinced that the vocalist had a French background. Winstead successfully oozes passion and longing out her lyrics, and the result is rather stunning. If you’re familiar with Windstead’s movie roles, her vocals are going to surprise you. It really doesn’t sound remotely like her – let’s hope this duo isn’t pulling a Milli Vanilli on us. Clearly, Winstead is multitalented, as this album proves. And while the lyrics are generally pretty mushy, there’s nothing that’s embarrassing or a misstep on this front. Nakamura, as well, shows just why he’s an in demand super-producer (he’s worked with Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon and Gorillaz, as well as being a member of Deltron 3030). The beats are loopy at time, and the music is well orchestrated and the end effect is that this music feels as though it could have come from a half-century ago – just with some smoothed out production. Together, Winstead and Nakamura make beautiful music together, and the fruits of this production are generally outstanding. These are faithfully recreated jet-setting sounds from the golden age of air travel, and the highs hit quite high.
However, at about 47 minutes and 12 tracks deep, I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now does feel a tad long, and the reason for that is that the album works too well as a unified whole. While the disc is well sequenced, there’s just too much that seems sort of same-y to the affair, and this is evidenced by the fact that there’s a tune called “La La La”, followed by another called “Da Da Da”. You might be nursing your fourth or fifth drink by the time this is over, and you might start getting something of an alcohol headache from the sophisticated and urbane slink to the proceedings. Too much of a good thing can be, well, too much of a good thing. But don’t let that stop you from checking out this platter of confectionary goodness.
Got a Girl definitely have that intangible “it” factor that makes their music so broadly appealing. Taking a genre that definitely is over the group’s shoulder, I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now is generally an unqualified success, and should go to prove just how deft a producer Nakamura is, and just how much of a hidden talent Winstead is. Beautiful things come out of this unlikely pairing, and it just goes to show that good stuff can come out of what is considered to be a box office turkey. Got a Girl have surely “got” it, and it’ll be interesting to see what direction this pair drives off in from here. Just, I’m hopeful, not off a cliff.