Soundtrack Lovin’ – Submarine
Print Screen Editor Francesca Sylph discusses her favourite film soundtrack.
What would movies be without music? Imagine that notorious ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs without ‘Stuck In The Middle’ alongside the smooth moves of Michael Madsen. But, sadly, long gone are the days of cult classic Harold and Maude and Cat Stevens’ melodic, poetic and bittersweet accompanying soundtrack. Simon and Garfunkel’s era-defining album for The Graduate seems to originate from a long-forgotten bygone era when music in film actually mattered. These days, soundtracks are filled with meaningless pop songs that have little relevance to the narrative. Alex Turner’s atmospheric original soundtrack for Submarine is therefore a welcome and refreshing gem.
From the mind of deadpan comedy genius, Richard Ayoade, Submarine tells the story of 15-year-old Oliver Tate as he attempts to navigate the murky waters of adolescence. Our precocious protagonist aims to woo his “moderately unpopular” girlfriend, Jordana, with some “light arson” and a side of Nietzsche. Turner agreed to take on the project as a favour to long-time friend and Arctic Monkeys’ video director, Ayoade. The film and complimenting soundtrack offer a tender portrayal of adolescent insecurity and uncertainty. Turner is, as always, witty and brooding. His characteristically wordy style ensures plenty of gloriously and meticulously knotty lyrics for listeners to unravel. His dreamy pop vocals are often accompanied only by a mellow acoustic guitar, a refreshing change for the Arctic Monkeys’ frontman. In addition to his trademark ironic wit, Turner coveys a surprisingly mature tone. Swoon-worthy melodies and wistful lyrics are sure to be stuck in your head long after the credits roll.
Turner is, as always, witty and brooding.
After a brief intro song, the soundtrack opens with the quiet and serene ‘Hiding tonight’. This dreamy track about first love appears on ‘Side A – Celebratory’ of a cassette tape Oliver’s dad makes for him because “music can make things seem a bit more real sometimes”. Music in Submarine is granted the same importance as character and has the ability to truly immerse the audience in Oliver’s world and emotions. The song plays over a Super 8 short film (entitled ‘Two Weeks of Lovemaking’) where the young lovers relish in their newfound happiness. The narrator yearns to “sail” off into the sunset “along a beam of light” with his lover. The song has a bittersweet feeling as the narrator struggles to stay “afloat” while promising his lover (and himself) that he will be a better man “tomorrow”. The nautical language is fitting for the film since Oliver frequently feels as if he is submerged underwater (a metaphor his Dad uses to describe depression). Despite the melancholic aspect, ‘Hiding tonight’ represents the early stages of Oliver and Jordana’s relationship, before the growing pains kick in.
‘Glass in the park’ maintains the same dreamy and hazy feeling, sounding like a lovers’ lazy afternoon. There is juxtaposition between the childlike innocence of a park and the potential threat of broken glass, mirroring how Oliver and Jordana are both children, but are being forced to confront adult themes. ‘Glass in the park’ is followed by the more folk-sounding ‘It’s hard to get around the wind’ which appears on ‘Side B – Despondency’ and features when Oliver is wallowing in heartbreak. The song is about contemplating suicide but remains somewhat hopeful. Turner suggests that life is full of depression and sadness, but we have to “live between the pitfalls” because there are moments of happiness worth staying alive for. The song’s intimate and humble arrangement ensures Turner’s natural voice and empathetic lyrics float to the surface. Nautical language returns as depression is compared to the struggle of sailing a boat around the wind. Despite the heavy theme, the song is deeply comforting and maintains Turner’s most lyrically mature track.
The last two songs of the album are much more upbeat and uplifting. ‘Stuck on the puzzle’ is the soundtrack’s most musically straightforward track, with a fuller sound and psych-pop flourishes. It is potentially the most accessible and enjoyable track for Turner fans, reminiscent of Arctic Monkey’s ‘The Bakery’. The song’s protagonist contemplates the “puzzle” of his lover as he stares into “the dark half of the blue” (the ocean). Instead of drowning in his depression, Oliver is now drowning in the “puzzle” of Jordana. He claims that he is “not the kind of fool” to sing about stars, distancing himself from conventional romance. Turner’s quirky lyrics perfectly describe Oliver and Jordana’s offbeat courtship. The woozily romantic ‘Piledriver waltz’ is next and the most musically complex of the five songs. It was later included in Arctic Monkey’s fourth studio album, Suck It And See. Many of the lyrics are wry and mundane to avoid too much sentimentality. The image of a disappointing breakfast (“your waitress was miserable and so was your food”) at the ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ is especially humorous, and quintessentially Turner.
Alex Turner’s soundtrack is completely and utterly intoxicating.
Submarine is a wholly unique coming of age film, and therefore demands a wholly unique soundtrack. Turner’s idiosyncratic approach to crafting lyrics perfectly compliments the tone of the film, witty at times, but sentimental and melancholy at others. Submarine embodies what it means to be a teenager. Oliver is entirely absorbed in his own feelings. Dreamy and hazy melodies ensure the audience is wholly submerged in his world too. Alex Turner’s soundtrack is completely and utterly intoxicating.