One More and We Take it Back: Massive Attack’s “Angel” in The Watchmen Trailer
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 1, 2009
Over a decade later, and there is probably still yet to be an album made cooler than Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. It had the bad fortune to be released a full seven years after everyone assumed that Massive Attack had already peaked in relevance with the still fairly fantastic but significantly more dated Blue Lines, but those of us introduced to the group through their third album have no problem recognizing it as the badass fucking masterpiece that it was. An album full of shivering, creeping, thundering blackout jams (Pitchfork writer Brent DiCrescenzo appropriately described it as “light-absorbing”), Mezzanine even makes going to the post office a pulsating, terrifying, and oddly sensuous experience. And “Angel,” its leadoff track, establishes it all pretty well off the bat–a not-so-vaguely threatening love song with a cavernous, nearly apocalyptic beat (like a malevolent Funkadelic), the song was absolutely destined to be played in the background while people did hard drugs, had mind-melting sex, endured psychotic episodes and casually walked away while things exploded in the background. In slow motion.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, we here at Intensities in Ten Suburbs are far from the only ones to have reached this conclusion. Darren Aronofsky was first, tabbing the song for use in his paranoid-banger-heavy debut flick Pi. The song quickly caught on as the nocturnal film soundtrack of choice, being used in Go, Stay, the Flight of the Phoenix remake, and perhaps most famously, the scene in Snatch where gypsy Brad Pitt watches his mother’s trailer go up in flames with her still inside. The song was apparently even used in a nightclub drug scene during an episode of The West Wing (starring Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men fame!)–I guess Aaron Sorkin would know. Its hard to begrudge the song’s use in any of these situations–they all end up working fairly brilliantly, as it’s far easier for the use of “Angel” to elevate a movie scene than for the scene to drag the song down, anyway. But it’s hard not to feel that the excess of examples of the song being called on to work its magic in otherwise potentially drab montages has started to cheapen it a bit, to get it to the point where it’s almost impossible to use it without it now without feeling like some sort of self-parody or pastiche.
Enter The Watchmen. Recent spots for the movie–or TV Spot #6, as I’m specifically told on the YouTube page–have called on the Massive Attack anthem to augment their dialogue-less montages of Shit Going Down. While I don’t know yet if the song will actually be in the movie, from what I know of the graphic novel (having read it for the first time about a month ago—and people accuse me of being untimely), at least three of the previous Stock “Angel” Scenes (mind-melting sex, psychotic breakdwons, casual walks from flames) will likely be included, and possibly a fourth if they make The Comedian a smack addict or something, allowing for more than a fair share of opportunities for the song to find a place in the movie proper. I couldn’t help roll my eyes a little when I first heard it booming in the background of the TV spot–eleven years since Max first poked his own brain in Pi, and still no songs cinematic enough to supplant “Angel” as the action/drug/sex/psychosis-movie goto. Sad.
Still, I feel like I can allow The Watchmen one final dip into the Massive Attack pool before I get too dogmatic about anything. After all, this isn’t just some Paul Walker movie about yacht thieves or whatever–this is the goddamn Watchmen movie. It’s has been in the pipeline for so long, has been so anticipated in that time, and demands so much of an impression with its scope and largesse, that it’s possible that just about any other song wouldn’t have felt up to the task. I almost picture director Zack Snyder and the big wigs at 20th century FOX having a war-room discussion about it like the ones they had in 80s action movies where the powers that be ultimately decide that they need to call on Arnold Schwarzeneggar or Sylvester Stallone or whoever to bail them out of their current political crisis. “What about Teddybears’ “Cobrastyle”? Young Jeezy’s “Put On”? Kevin Rudolff’s “Let it Rock”?” “No, for this assignment, we need someone who we know without a doubt can get the job done. GET ME MASSIVE ATTACK!!”
So I’ll let it go, just this one more time. If they use it for Iron Man 2, or Fantastic 4 3, then it’s officially time to close the books. (Or at least move on to “Risingson,” which is a better song anyway).