There’s probably no filmmaker alive (with the possible exception of Wes Anderson) who curates the music for his movies more carefully than writer-director Edgar Wright. In his quirky, highly-stylized comedies, there’s a constant rock ‘n’ roll heartbeat underpinning the onscreen action, occasionally taking the foreground to comment ironically on the plot. It’s all of a piece with Wright’s highly-structured approach to film. All of his movies can be boiled down to checklists. In Shaun of the Dead, it’s six survivors of a zombie apocalypse to be picked off one-by-one; the detective hero of Hot Fuzz works his way through the levels of a vast conspiracy; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World features a roster of evil ex-boyfriends (and ex-girlfriends) that the titular hero must defeat in video-game style battles.
Wright’s most recent film, 2013’s The World’s End — the last of an informal trilogy co-written with star Simon Pegg — is his most elaborately-structured yet. As the film opens, Gary King (Pegg) is a pathetic burn-out. Back in high school, he was the coolest thing on two legs, leading a clique of self-styled rebels on various hell-raising exploits around their little hometown. But in the present day, Gary’s life is a shambles. For twenty years he has been fighting a one-man holding action against the encroachment of adulthood, with denial as his only weapon; he still affects a teenage swagger, still drives the same junker (nicknamed “The Beast”) that he had in 1993, still squeezes into his time-faded Sisters Of Mercy T-shirts. Staring forty in the face, unattached, unemployable, a barely-functional alcoholic, he is at rock bottom, having just completed a stint as an involuntary guest of Her Majesty’s mental health services.
There’s only one thing to keep Gary going: a piece of unfinished business from his glorious youth — an epic bar crawl, “The Golden Mile,” consisting of twelve pints in twelve pubs, that he and his mates attempted but could not complete, all those years ago. With an addict’s skewed logic, he fixates on the prospect of completing the circuit. If he can just get this right, he reasons, it will somehow make up for a lifetime of failure. And so, in best caper-movie fashion, he sets about getting old gang back together to pull off one last job.
Although he has alienated them all, one by one, during the intervening years, the King manages to reassemble his court; against their better judgments — and driven, frankly, by the prospect of achieving one last bit of closure before exorcising the specter of Gary King from their lives forever — the former friends gather in their hometown of Newton Haven, and set off to walk the Golden Mile.
What follows is a structural tour de force. The evening’s festivities include callbacks to past events, set pieces that play off the names of the various pubs, running jokes, and elaborately interwoven character arcs. It’s action-packed, howlingly funny, and emotionally-rich, with a tremendous payoff.
The music selection curated for The World’s End is typically exquisite, chock-full of the Britpop and Madchester of its characters’ youths. It’s a fool’s errand, I suppose, to try to assemble an alternative soundtrack for the film when the director has already done it so well. But the framework that Wright has built is just so inviting; I couldn’t help but want to hang my own selections on the scaffolding, and watch the whole take shape. This mix was a blast to compile, and I hope you enjoy listening.
A quick note on technique: The Harry Potter series of mixes that finished up last month, played things pretty straight; they were my first attempt at any kind of extended audio editing to serve an implied narrative, and I was learning a lot as I went. This mix, and subsequent mixes in the Conceptual Theater feature, are more elaborately edited, with more snippets, montages, and detournements of the source tracks. For this particular piece, I went so far as to create a full-on mash-up, which I’ve made available as a separate download. Let us know what you think in the comments!
The World’s End (1:15:44)
Conceptual Theater intro bumper
[intro: chilly winds of autumn / “Home Town” montage]
Teenage Dream  – T. Rex
Opening flashback: “It never got better than that night!”
Home Town – Joe Jackson
“You come back, and everything is the same, but different.”
Tosspint – The Pogues
“How can you tell if you’re drunk if you’re never sober?”
Where Have All the Good Times Gone? – The Kinks
“Haven’t you heard? We’re getting the band back together!”
Leave That Junk Alone (Alabama 3 remix) – Johnny Cash
The First Post. “A man of your legendary prowess drinking fucking rain! It’s like a lion eating hummus!”
Evidently Chickentown – John Cooper Clarke
The Old Familiar —in fact, a little too familiar…
The Little Red Rooster – The Rolling Stones
The Famous Cock.
Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight – The Rezillos
The Cross Hands, and what happened in the gents’ toilets.
Good Company – Chelsea
The Good Companions.
Dead Finks Don’t Talk – Brian Eno
The Trusty Servant.
Twins – Linda Lamb
The Two-Headed Dog.
Lady Marmalade – LaBelle
In which our heroes encounter the ultimate temptation that is… the “marmalade sandwich.”
Siren Song – Bat For Lashes
Fitter, Happier – Radiohead
“It’s not an invasion, it’s a merger.”
Just Like Honey – The Jesus and Mary Chain
Smoke Bros – The Amazing Baby
An interlude at the Smoke House.
Little King – Not Drowning, Waving
The King’s Head.
The Hole In The Wall.
[burning world montage: “The End”]
End of the World – Skeeter Davis
The World’s End.
La Visite est Terminée – Jam Nation
“Let’s fucking Boo-Boo!”
Sunrise – The Who
“I remember sitting up there, blood on my knuckles, beer down my shirt, sick on my shoes, seeing the orange glow of a new dawn break and knowing in my heart life would never feel this good again.”
[post-apocalyptic montage: “House of the Rising Sun”]
coda: Crown  – The Waterboys
“Me? They call me the King.”
Conceptual Theater outro bumper
That’s about it for this time. Zack Dennis will be back in this space two weeks from today with another literary-themed aural extravaganza. I’ll see you in a month, with a little something different — a mix designed not to evoke a media experience, but to accompany a true-life summertime event; I think you’re gonna dig it. Until then, keep your ears open, and don’t believe everything you see.