The Brave Little Toaster Soundtrack – Cutting Edge
The retail realm is a harsh mistress to the products it peddles, with one-time technological marvels subject to sudden replacement whenever the Next Big Awesome Thing hits store shelves. That reality forms the core of the 1987 animated film The Brave Little Toaster, in which five old-timey appliances set out into a world that, they soon discover, long ago decided it was no longer in need of its services. Who needs a clunky upright vacuum cleaner when you can just pick up a DustBuster? The hell is the use of an electric blanket when you’ve got central heating? Why toaster, when toaster oven?
The film’s musical numbers repeatedly underline this bleak reality, ranging from a B-movie vamp crooned by pawn-shop Frankensteins to a Don Henley-esque plea for help sung by junked cars on their way to being crushed into cubes. Toward the film’s end, our heroes encounter their technological successors, who employ the language and aesthetic of commercials to rap to them about how much more suited for the modern world the next generation truly is. The comforting part is, beyond all of the endless references to the “edge,” to a 21st-century audience, the phrase “I’m micro-solid state, and that’s no static!” is fifty times more dated than a toaster could ever fear to be.
Modest Mouse – Gravity Rides Everything
To my mind, the appearance of this song in a Honda Odyssey commercial early in this decade was really the beginning of a massive movement within advertising to recruit indie (meaning “cheap”) song licensing for their commercials. The benefit to this gamble is obvious: they come cheap, and if a band makes it big, the car company or whoever can claim some of the credit for breaking out the artist and use this as a recruiting tool for future song rights. And if the band doesn’t make it big, who cares, no one will remember that ad in a month anyway.
From a music perspective, this is not quite so positive – thenceforth comes the indie backlash. For Modest Mouse after 2002, it went:
1. Be an awesome band with a devoted cult following
This all misses the point – the song and the album it came from are incredible. In particular, Gravity Rides Everything sounds like nothing else in the Modest Mouse catalogue. The singing is reserved – it almost sounds laid back, as much as Isaac Brock’s wacky lisp and general craziness can possibly resemble relaxation. But when the sliding atmospheric merges with the acoustic foreground, it really sounds like everything will “fall right into place,” as the optomistic lyrics suggest.
Of course on the surface, it seems ridiculous to begrudge an artist a few dollars for an ad placement, and I used to argue about this with people all the time. But after “This is Our Country,” I would like to, ahem, begrudge the shit out of John Cougar Mellencamp. With a hammer and sickle. It’s just too bad that the indie backlash had to hit such a great band.
Regina Spektor – Music Box
If you’re an Iron Clef reader, you probably know that I don’t mind watching an artfully done commercial. But I admit that I had decidedly mixed feelings when I first recognized the strains of Modest Mouse’s “Gravity Rides Everything” in a commercial for the Nissan Quest minivan… Auctioning off your song for a TV commercial is pretty much the apotheosis of sellout behavior. Do you really want your bitchin’ tune to be forever associated with some product or brand you have absolutely no relation to and care nothing about? On the other hand, I understand the motivation. If you’re lucky enough that your art can pay the bills, why not let it? It’s not like Modest Mouse wrote the song with Nissan in mind. And even if they had, writing a good jingle is an art form in and of itself. Who hasn’t had a cleverly annoying jingle stuck in your head at one point or another? [I’d link you one of Vonage’s pernicious “Woo-hoo, woo-hoo-hoo” ads, but I think just this mere mention might be sufficient to ruin your afternoon] But I like Nissan all right and it wasn’t a bad commercial so it didn’t really bug me. Still, I was somewhat more disappointed to hear one of my favorite bands, Hum, get chosen as the soundtrack for a Cadillac commercial. Come on, I wanted to implore the band, Cadillac is for old people. And besides, the ad kinda sucks. I suppose this is something we’re going to have to get used to though, as people of our generation begin to grow up and inflict their tastes and aesthetics upon the marketing world. Already I’ve heard Lush, Minus the Bear, and Explosions in the Sky play as outro music for NPR programming. I guess I’d rather hear Hum abused than have to listen to the bloody Eagles or Rolling Stones everywhere I turn. Is it hypocritical to say that it only bothers me when the actual ad or product doesn’t live up to the song? Maybe.
However, this one totally does:
Yes, I believe they’re wearing items from the JC Penney catalog.
This vote is for sale.