Like many folks in New York City, I’m getting back to using the subway system with some degree of regularity. The latest wave of the pandemic is, fingers crossed, waning, and there’s a bit of joie de vivre in being out on the downtown streets again. As Petula Clark once exclaimed: the lights are brighter, there’s some music in the traffic of the city.
Yet, things still feel a bit off-kilter underground. There are the obvious reasons (deadly viruses, maskless riders, the recent snarl of Halloween), but also some things that hit a stranger kind of nerve — for example, encountering dozens of identical video marquee billboards on a single subway journey, each featuring the same likeness of a phantom face, doing a parallel twirl and evaporating into the ether. This would be Anya Taylor-Joy. In the costume of “wannabe singer” Sandie, her many ghost-faces have been wafting in and out of grim subway stations worldwide to mark the release of Edgar Wright’s new psychological thriller, Last Night in Soho. Wright and Taylor-Joy are right on time to pick up on these eerie fall vibrations, and it seems the film’s soundtrack is amped to do the same. Ahead of Last Night in Soho’s release last weekend, they shared a cover that features prominently in the film: a downtempo take on Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” with Anya Taylor-Joy — ahem, Sandie — on lead vocals.
The cover feels like a lucid dream variation of the Petula Clark cut, with a surreal orchestral accompaniment and lots of ominous space. Fragments of thrumming pizzicato cellos or a single flugelhorn appear and disappear in the same breath. The overall tempo is pared back and stretched out too, like a record played at half-speed. There’s still a charged energy but, like those video billboards, this version of “Downtown” is something like a musical hall of mirrors — refracted sounds and ghostly moods, all ping-ponging around the same strange chamber.
Check out the cover of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” below. For good measure, Taylor-Joy’s alternate uptempo take — which is a dead ringer for the Clark original — is featured here too. Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho is in theaters now.