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LAST NIGHT IN SOHO – Steven Price

November 2, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

London in the 1960s was arguably the coolest place in the world at that time. Michael Caine and Sean Connery on the silver screen. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Dusty Springfield, and Petula Clark on the radio. Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton sashaying down Carnaby Street wearing fashions by Mary Quant. At least that’s how it seems to Eloise, the protagonist of Edgar Wright’s new psychological horror/thriller Last Night in Soho. Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is an aspiring fashion designer obsessed with the Swinging Sixties who moves from her country home to London to attend college. After a rocky start, she eventually settles into a bedsit flat owned by Miss Collins (Diana Rigg), but before long strange things start happening. Eloise had always had a connection to the supernatural – she has visions of her deceased mother – but now she is having vivid dreams where she travels back in time to Soho in the 60s, and observes a beautiful young nightclub singer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her roguish boyfriend/manager Jack (Matt Smith). Although she is initially charmed and excited to be “living” in the time period she adores, things quickly turn sour as Eloise experiences the seedy underbelly of London through Sandie’s eyes, and her dreams quickly turn into nightmares.

Last Night in Soho is a tremendous cinematic experience. First of all, the look of the film is remarkable in its authenticity, with the costumes, hair and makeup, and production design all capturing the iconic feel of that period. Anya Taylor-Joy is luminous in her role as Sandie, confident and alluring, standing in contrast to Thomasin McKenzie’s nervous and mousy Eloise. It’s also very clever in terms of cinematography; there are times where Eloise envisions herself as Sandie, moving in and out of scenes to take her place in the action, whereas at other times she is an observer, appearing in mirrors and in a series of reflective surfaces at Sandie’s side. The early part of the movie is a celebration of the glamour of the 60s Soho scene, and Eloise is inspired by it in the present, but as the film starts heading down darker paths, exploring its more sordid side, and bringing in scarier supernatural elements, Wright’s flashy and moody cinematography begins to feel more like something out of an Italian giallo film, perhaps Don’t Look Now or a classic Dario Argento piece. Wright’s casting of 1960s icons like Dame Diana Rigg (in her final screen role), Rita Tushingham as Eloise’s grandmother, and Terence Stamp as a mysterious old timer, is brilliant, and the whole thing is enhanced tremendously by Wright’s music choices, which blends legendary pop songs with an original score by Steven Price.

Pop music plays a massive part in the success of Last Night in Soho. Anya Taylor-Joy performs covers of several iconic songs on-screen, including Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and Cilla Black’s “You’re My World”. One important set piece is built around a cabaret-burlesque performance of Sandie Shaw’s “Puppet on a String,” and the film itself is named after a hit by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. The rest of the soundtrack is filled with classics by The Kinks, Dusty Springfield, The Who, and others, making the entire experience a vibrant, nostalgic auditory festival of the period; this is the music that Eloise loves, and I love it too. Much of this style also influences Steven Price’s score, who first celebrates, then deconstructs, and then utterly shreds the swingin’ sound in a way which is tremendously effective in context.

This is the third time that Price has worked with Wright, after The World’s End and Baby Driver, and it’s clear that the two of them have a great working relationship, and that Price understands the musical needs of his films. In terms of the sound of the score, Price says he was very influenced by many of those iconic 1960s records. “There are a lot of band influences going on in the instrumentation, there’s a lot of guitars, a lot of bass, a lot of keyboard, a lot of Hammond organ, a lot of drum kits. A lot of Mellotron as well, which captured that sense of looping time. There’s a lot of woodwind in the score, which came from me listening to John Barry. There’s lots of tuned percussion, which came from me listening to a lot of Ennio Morricone. And then, every time we go into Ellie’s flat, we hear these echoes of this voice from the past. We spent a lot of time putting these little tapestries of overlapping vocal parts that haunt her as the film goes on”.

The central ideas from the score all emerge from the main track, “Neon,” which Price composed before he began working on the score proper, and is actually a suite containing all his main ideas. Price describes it as “this strange ever-building thing, which is full of little samples of sound and loops, but gradually builds into a John Barry-esque orchestral piece.” Indeed, virtually every aspect of the score is extrapolated from this piece; it’s lush and appealing, but also somewhat disorienting, in the way that Price layers sounds on top of each other. There’s a fairly standard orchestra, but also a lot of unnerving electronic ideas, which blend with a Mellotron and a Hammond organ, an Ipcress File-style cimbalom, rock guitars and percussion licks, and then whispery echoing voices speaking important lines from the film. Some of the electronics appear to have been manipulated and distorted to sound like they are being performed backwards, which really enhances the film’s dream-reality disconnect. And then the film’s recurring main theme emerges just after the 2:00 mark, an undulating motif carried by sexy brasses, the first 7-notes of which are – by complete coincidence – identical to the battle fanfare from Jerry Goldsmith’s Mulan.

Almost everything else in the score is based on ideas from this suite, expanded out into themes and passages for various set-pieces. A specific theme for Eloise is introduced in “When I Feel More At Home,” and comes back later in “Feel Free To Run A Mile”. It’s a gentle, bittersweet piece for piano and strings backed with voices and electronics that has the capacity to sound like an intimate lullaby, or something a little spookier. One other recurring idea is what I’m calling the ‘mystery motif’ as it appears to relate to the identity of Terence Stamp’s character, a silver haired gentleman who frequents the ‘houses of ill repute’ around Soho and appears to be drawn to Ellie. You can hear this motif in “You Look Familiar To Me,” a bubbling texture accompanied by various electronic distortions and a faraway version of the main theme; later, in “Handsy,” the same ideas are accompanied by various moody thriller textures led by tremolo strings, tapped percussion, and breathy vocal effects.

The rest of the score concentrates on the thriller and horror aspects of the story. It required Price to skillfully weave in and out of the pop song needle drops and accentuate the terrible visions Eloise has of Sandie and Jack in the past, and how her reactions to them – combined with her sensitivity to all things supernatural – affect her life in the present. Price uses a whole array of inventive techniques to create that disconnect between past and present, reality and fantasy. He blends really vivid and at times quite vicious orchestral passages with some highly manipulated and distorted electronic ideas, and a whole host of very creepy vocal effects, ranging from incomprehensible ghostly whispering to clear lines of dialogue (notably “it’s a lovely name,” the meaning of which is clear in context). As the score develops Price gradually shifts from the score being predominantly electronic to being predominantly orchestral, although both styles feature in all the cues. Many cues also feature bold stylistic choices, each of which are again drawn from the main ‘Neon’ suite – the Hammond organ, the Mellotron, the cimbalom, the rock guitars and percussion, and so on.

Some cues stand out as being worthy of special note. “I’m With You To The End” is a rock/pop instrumental, a little jazzy, a little psychedelic, which represents perhaps the last point in the film where Ellie’s romantic fantasies of the sixties are intact, before the terrible realities make their presence known. The whispered textures and spoken lines in “You Know Where To Find Me” are at times deeply unsettling. The final moments of “No Male Visitors” are especially challenging and dissonant, and feature some aggressive explosions of sound to underscore one of the film’s pivotal moments as Sandie whispers to Eloise that “you know where to find me”. “A Vision From The Past” is soft, but moody, and features some elongated explorations of the main theme that move from brass to throaty clarinets, all backed by electronic tones.

The all-out horror music in “Leave Me Alone” is quite superb, shifting effortlessly from creepy to aggressive, and is filled with frantic string ostinatos, Stravinsky-style brass clusters, heavy rock percussion, and statements of the main theme for strings and cimbalom. Cues like “You Tell Her I Said Hello” and “Hopes and Dreams” are more about tension and suspense, but both “Little Liar” and especially “Help” take the horror music style and allow it to build to a powerful conclusion. I get strong Danny Elfman vibes from the rhythms Price employs, especially in the latter of these two cues. The statements of the main theme are slow and intense, and some of the brass writing in the climax is deliciously chaotic.

The finale of the score, in “You Have To Let Me Go,” is a wonderful combination of all its main elements. Price begins the whole thing with a palpable sense of dread, but then builds towards a revelatory climax, as the mystery surrounding Sandie and Jack is finally solved, and the ghosts of the past are laid to rest. The haunting solo violin that runs through the piece gives it a wonderfully dramatic, gothic sound, while the heavy brass gives it weight. Price retains a melodic presence by working in fragments of the main theme on the cimbalom, while the eerie vocals undulating under the manipulated electronica keep the element of the supernatural alive.

The score album also includes four songs, all of which have been altered or re-arranged to make them fit in with the tone and style of the score. “Downtown (Downtempo)” is a dreamlike, slightly delirious version of the classic Petula Clark song performed with a period-perfect tone by Taylor-Joy (is there anything she can’t do?), and in a beautiful but slightly unsettling arrangement that features subliminal whispers and echoes in the background. The ‘Soho Version’ of Sandie Shaw’s “There’s Always Something There To Remind Me” begins normally, but is quickly given an unnerving sheen through Price’s electronics, thriller strings, echoing effects, and dialogue; eventually, the song fades out completely, replaced instead by an array of intense horror and thriller sounds. The same type of arrangement is used on Taylor-Joy’s cover of the classic Cilla Black ballad “You’re My World,” which sounds like it was performed in a hallucinogenic drug-fueled haze. The conclusive ‘Soho Version’ of “Downtown” is the mostly acappella performance heard in the scene where Sandie auditions for the owner of the Rialto nightclub; so much beauty, so much talent, so much wasted potential.

Looking at it objectively, Last Night in Soho might be one of those scores which plays better once you understand the setting of what’s happening, and why the score sounds like it does. Steven Price does perfectly capture the sound and feel of sixties London through his orchestration choices and his intentional homages to John Barry and Ennio Morricone, and he also allows that sound to be brought forward to contemporary times through his prominent use of electronica. The way that Price then completely obliterates the hedonistic romance of that sound, turning Eloise’s fantasy dreams into a literal nightmare, is outstanding, but it certainly makes for very difficult listening. A lot of the score is very aggressive and challenging and, like I said, the lack of really prominent thematic content, combined with the more abstract vocal ideas, might result in it not making much sense out of context.

Personally, though, I think the whole thing is excellent. Price mirrors what Edgar Wright is doing by upending the rose-tinted nostalgia that many still have for that period in British history, and he does it with loving tributes to John Barry jazz, 60s pop psychedelia, and extremely effective modern orchestral horror scoring. I also want to say that this is one of the few soundtracks where I absolutely recommend getting the song album as well as the score; the two complement each other perfectly, and through them both you really get a sense of why Eloise initially loved downtown Soho – the sights, the sounds, the fashion, and the music – and in the end why she came so close to being destroyed by it. The light’s so much brighter there… you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares… everything’s waiting for you.

Buy the Last Night in Soho soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • SCORE ALBUM
  • Downtown – Downtempo (written by Tony Hatch, performed by Anya Taylor-Joy) (5:35)
  • Neon (5:09)
  • The Beginning (1:00)
  • When I Feel More at Home (1:12)
  • I’m With You to The End (1:42)
  • You Look Familiar to Me (1:27)
  • You Know You’re Not Asleep (2:20)
  • Handsy (4:31)
  • You Know Where to Find Me (2:41)
  • No Male Visitors (3:49)
  • Just Come In Dearie (1:14)
  • There’s Always Something There to Remind Me – Soho Version (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by Sandie Shaw) (2:58)
  • A Vision from The Past (4:02)
  • Feel Free to Run A Mile (1:37)
  • Leave Me Alone (4:49)
  • You Tell Her I Said Hello (3:05)
  • Hopes and Dreams (5:30)
  • Little Liar (1:23)
  • You’re My World – Soho Version (written by Umberto Bindi and Carl Sigman, performed by Anya Taylor-Joy) (2:19)
  • Help (2:34)
  • You Have to Let Me Go (3:46)
  • Downtown – Soho Version (written by Tony Hatch, performed by Anya Taylor-Joy) (1:21)
  • SOUNDTRACK ALBUM
  • A World Without Love (written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, performed by Peter and Gordon) (2:42)
  • Wishin’ and Hopin’ (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by Dusty Springfield) (2:56)
  • Don’t Throw Your Love Away (written by Billy Jackson and Jimmy Wisner, performed by The Searchers) (2:18)
  • Beat Girl (written by John Barry, performed by The John Barry Orchestra) (1:48)
  • Starstruck (written by Ray Davies, performed by The Kinks) (2:22)
  • You’re My World (written by Umberto Bindi and Carl Sigman, performed by Cilla Black) (3:00)
  • Wade in The Water [Live at Klooks Kleek] (traditional, arranged by Jack Bruce and Paul Getty, performed by The Graham Bond Organisation) (2:48)
  • I’ve Got My Mind Set on You (written by Rudy Clark, performed by James Ray) (3:28)
  • Love Is Like a Heat Wave (written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland, performed by The Who) (1:58)
  • Puppet on a String (written by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, performed by Sandie Shaw) (2:23)
  • Land of 1000 Dances (written by Chris Kenner, performed by The Walker Brothers) (2:36)
  • There’s a Ghost in My House (written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland, and R. Dean Taylor, performed by R. Dean Taylor) (2:28)
  • Happy House (written by Susan Baillon and Steven Severin, performed by Siouxsie and the Banshees) (3:52)
  • There’s Always Something There to Remind Me (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by Sandie Shaw) (2:45)
  • Eloise (written by Paul Ryan, performed by Barry Ryan) (5:38)
  • Anyone Who Had a Heart (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by Cilla Black) (2:51)
  • Last Night in Soho (written by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, performed by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich) (3:19)
  • Neon (3:08)
  • Downtown [A Capella] (written by Tony Hatch, performed by Anya Taylor-Joy) (1:21)
  • Downtown [Uptempo] (written by Tony Hatch, performed by Anya Taylor-Joy) (3:30)
  • You’re My World (written by Umberto Bindi and Carl Sigman, performed by Anya Taylor-Joy) (3:05)

Running Time: 63 minutes 52 seconds (Score)
Running Time: 60 minutes 04 seconds (Soundtrack)

Backlot Music (2021)

Music composed by Steven Price. Conducted by Geoff Alexander. Orchestrations by David Butterworth. Featured musical soloists Ian Thomas and David Arch. Recorded and mixed by Gareth Cousins. Edited by Wes Hicks. Album produced by Steven Price.

  1. November 2, 2021 at 6:21 pm

    Great review, looking forward to watch the movie and listen to the score

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