Published on November 12th, 2018 | by Dave Scaddan0
Panned Gold: Symmetry – Themes for an Imaginary Film
In the latest edition of Panned Gold, where we look at albums that got an unfair shake, we cover Symmetry’s ‘Themes for an Imaginary Film.’
This triple LP’s origins began as a score for the film Drive. Johnny Jewel (now of Chromatics and Glass Candy) had a handshake deal for the soundtrack, thanks to a connection with Ryan Gosling. But not only did Johnny Jewel get passed over for Cliff Martinez in a rather stereotypical Hollywood jading, the album was also mostly ignored. Jewel went on to his other projects and Symmetry never breathed word again. Although some reviewers praised its atmospheric qualities, they all lumped it for being overly long and ambitious. Several critics considered it stale and derivative, and unfairly compared it to the actual Drive score even though JJ kept working on it long after he knew it wouldn’t be used for the film, and only used about four pieces of music written for Drive as part of the eventual two-hour-plus release.
First, let’s deal with the bad reviews. Calling the record derivative seems a little silly. JJ was only in his early twenties when all of this went down, and not many twentysomethings have their own signature sound. More importantly, this twentysomething was given specific instructions to try to sound like certain composers, so the “just following orders” defence may carry some weight here. One of the styles he was asked to imitate was Angelo Badalamenti’s work on the soundtrack for Twin Peaks, and JJ would eventually contribute music to the soundtrack of that series’ 25-years-later third season, so who’s laughing now, critics? Are you collaborating with David Lynch and getting to appear on the stage of the Roadhouse? I didn’t think so.
Secondly, the music itself. As a self-purported set of music for a film that the very title calls “imaginary,” the “film” that Symmetry actually scores here is the one that plays in your head when you listen to it. Years after you’ve gotten over the fact that it came close to playing overtop of a bunch of really cool driving sequences and moody shots of a cold-as-ice Goz, you’ll hear this record on its own terms. When you do, if you have an active imagination, you won’t think about a souped-up grey Impala when you hear it, or wish that someone had re-cut the film to include this music instead of Cliff Martinez’ and Kavinsky’s. No, you’ll let your body feel the sparse and moody synths filling up the space in your head and see and feel all kinds of shit. These tracks can soundtrack your day like few others, making the most mundane drives or errands seem way too cool.
We like music with a cool story behind it. Fleetwood Mac disintegrated, relationship-wise, while making ‘Rumors’ and put all that feeling into the songs. Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin wrote and/or recorded the songs on Here, My Dear and I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You through the bittersweetness of their divorces. This record has a cool story too, but it isn’t a story that should overwhelm the actual work. JJ doesn’t sing about how Nicolas Winding Refn stiffed him on this deal in any of the songs. If anything, it’s an album of moving on, of saying, you don’t want my music in your movie? You think I’m too young to be trusted to score your precious attitude-fest? Fine. I’ll take what I’ve got and make my own thing out of it.