Milla Jovovich – Gentleman Who Fell
I imagine one of the nicer things about being a film star or a supermodel – or both – is that if you fancy becoming a pop star too there will probably be someone who is willing to tell you it’s a good idea and bankroll the project. History tells us that oftentimes this is a Very Bad Thing Indeed, as the few purchasers of Naomi Campbell’s Babywoman would probably tell you – but at other times it turns out to be a Really Really Good Idea, albeit one which leaves the rest of us wondering why some people get all the talent and we get none. In the case of Milla Jovovich I’m pleased to report it was the latter of those two possibilities.
In between her appearances in the best-forgotten Return to the Blue Lagoon and her star-making turn in The Fifth Element, she released the folk-rock-synth-pop-petrified-forest-ish The Divine Comedy, and it is quite unlike any other album made by a movie star – and not just because it’s really good. Of course whenever someone whose day job involves standing in front of a camera saying things or looking moody suddenly decides to go off and make a record, the standard PR line is that music is their first love, and therefore we should in no way interpret this sudden shift as a money-grabbing vanity project. But in Milla’s case it’s actually true – as early as 1988 she was signed to SBK Records based on the strength of some early demos, and it was those songs that formed the bulk of the album.
Now, had I worked in marketing and The Divine Comedy had landed on my desk, I might well have blanched a little as it’s not exactly packed with potential hits. But in many places it is genuinely beautiful, and it does feature one track which possesses that indefinable something (the something that makes a hit and sells albums), and that was Gentleman Who Fell, which became the sole single in the UK. In a world where Kate Bush had gone on what would turn out to be a very long holiday and Shakespears Sister had exited, stage left (but not, apparently, before Milla had rifled through their wardrobe and make up kit), it could have been massive. It was certainly the right time – Tori Amos had recently taken Cornflake Girl to no.4 in the UK and the arrival of Alanis Morissette was still a year away. Whatever promotion was done – and I don’t recall an awful lot, though my brain tells me there was an advert in Q magazine – it’s actually quite impressive that Gentleman Who Fell made no.65, suggesting that those who heard the single rather liked it. It can’t just have been eager Blue Lagoon fans, can it?
At the time, I was only dimly aware of Milla as an actress and model, and was thus unencumbered by the kind of preconceptions which slightly later that year would make me write off Ms Campbell’s Love and Tears barely ten seconds into that richly undeserved Top of the Pops performance (also it was bobbins, but I was still being a bit unfair). In fact the only reason I bought The Divine Comedy in the first place was because I happened to find a cheap promo copy in the racks of Echo Records on Byres Road in Glasgow, it looked interesting and I had a grant cheque to spend.
The first thing I thought when I heard Gentleman Who Fell was that it reminded me ever so slightly of the UK theme tune from The Moomins, and to be honest with you I was pretty much sold on it from that point on. It would all have had to have gone spectacularly downhill in a Babylon Zoo sort of way for me not to love it, but of course it just got even better, throwing in some lovely pristine staccato-y Enya-ish (this is a good thing) synth hits before swelling in all the right places as it gains a lovely stately rhythm (see especially at 1:13 when the pre-chorus arrives and then again at 1:33 when the “na-ooh-ah-ah” proper chorus gets going). It’s those “na-ooh-ah-ahs” that give Gentleman Who Fell its other point of instant familiarity – it’s basically daring you not to break out into Life in a Northern Town. Not surprisingly then, this record gives me the exact same feeling of wonderful euphoric despair that Life… does (see also Vox by Sarah McLachlan), so much so that I’d quite like Dario G to sample it for a shock comeback.
The Divine Comedy ended up being one of my favourite albums of the 90s, but in the years since I managed to forget about it almost completely, only fishing it out a few days ago after an ill-advised Resident Evil movie marathon. Of course sometimes when you meet up with an old friend after a long gap it’s a disaster – neither of you wants to admit how much older you look, you can’t quite recall why you liked each other in the first place and the things that mattered to you then don’t seem quite so important any more. Yet The Divine Comedy and I slipped back into our old routine quite easily – once again I was flitting around my living room imagining I had an essay due on Tristan and Isolde and feeling like I had a full head of hair. It was a lovely sensation, I don’t mind telling you.
If you hadn’t already gleaned from this article or indeed the fact that Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is IN THEATRES NOW, prolonged pop stardom for Milla Jovovich did not come to pass, and I can’t help but think what a shame that is; long and successful music careers have been built on far shakier foundations than The Divine Comedy. But then again, I do quite like that this is her one proper album – it’s sort of the To Kill a Mockingbird of pop, isn’t it? Of course that makes 1998’s is-it-or-isn’t-it-unauthorised-it’s-all-a-bit-complicated The People Tree Sessions the Go Set a Watchman of pop, but that’s a whole other conversation – your time is far better spent listening to Gentleman Who Fell a few more times.
Entered chart: 11/06/94
Chart peak: 65
Weeks on chart: 3
Who could sing this today and have a hit? I’d rather like another film star to do it. Can Shailene Woodley sing?