Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:21 January 2022 


The real trick in creating a first class film soundtrack is finding the balance between music to support the on-screen vision and an album that holds up to focussed listening on your turntable.

Composer and former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez certainly achieved this delicate feat with his soundtrack to Drive, a high-paced action film by Nicolas Winding Refn.

What is impressive about the Drive OST (Original Soundtrack) album is its deployment of electronic sounds drawn from across the decades to produce an integrated and thoroughly entertaining whole. With an opening that immediately recalls French duo Air, the first side of this double album has several songs inviting listeners less familiar with instrumental electronica to dive into the world of Drive. In particular, "A Real Hero" by College (with vocals by Electric Youth) is both accessible and catchy, sounding more like a radio cut than an obscure slice of soundtracking.

Elsewhere, electronica dominates. The influences range from Vangelis to Eno, from Tangerine Dream to Klaus Schulze, as melodies and atmospheres weave in and out of an electronic mix that sometimes bounces with drum machine precision and at other times hangs like a translucent crystal in a cold pre-dawn. "After the chase", for example, has a Bladerunner feel at the beginning, then morphs into the rhythmic sound of 1980s Tangerine Dream before finishing with spooky ambient drifts.

Cliff Martinez has told how his explorations of music technology in the 1980s, particularly the Prophet 2000 sampler, helped him create sound collages electronically. His first commission was for the off-beat TV show Pee Wee’s Playhouse (starring the puppet-like Pee Wee Herman) and a new career was born. His first feature film was Sex Lies & Videotape (1989), with other commissions following.

One of Martinez’s most lauded soundtracks was for Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Solaris (2002, starring George Clooney). The atmospheric music was integral to the feel of the film, while delighting legions of listeners with what Martinez described as "an ambient, minimalist, orchestral score." With Drive, however, Martinez returned to analogue synthesisers and a vision to have synth-pop coupled with drifting, moody soundscapes. He was, he said in interviews, astonished at the success of the soundtrack.

It was a success that continued, with the Drive soundtrack remaining very popular. At Discrepancy Records, for instance, a 2021 tenth anniversary re-issue in pink and blue coloured vinyl was snapped up by both record collectors and soundtrack fans.

From the scene-setting opening song through the uneasy synth-scapes flowing across sides two to four, Drive is an outstanding soundtrack album of retro-driven electronica whose reputation is sure to travel well.


© Bruce Jenkins 2022

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