I’m a sucker for quite a number of things involved in this story. Tim Burton pictures? I’ve seen them all in theaters since Sleepy Hollow. Yeah Yeah Yeahs? I pop one of their albums in at least once a week and try to catch them whenever they play in NYC. Karen O’s film scoring/soundtrack contributions? Pure unadulterated fandom. Calypso music makes me smile and sweeping pop melodies get ground into my memory very quickly. Even though there’s no practical live venue for it, I love the theremin.
Karen O wrote and recorded a calypso/pop song with a theremin solo for Tim Burton’s feature length remake of his own short film “Frankenweenie.” It’s adorable. It’s puppies and unicorns and rainbows and your own TARDIS on Christmas morning with a side of Nutella.
Here’s where things get interesting. If I didn’t know for sure this was Karen O, I would think Regina Spekter wrote it. It’s very much in the Spekter/Sara Bareilles singer/songwriter alternative vein rather than Karen O’s more experimental style.
Once the vocal really kicks in, there’s no denying it’s Karen O. It has all her pops, squeals, bells, and whistles in spades. They’re just close to an octave higher than she usually sings. It makes sense when you think about it. She’s writing a kooky song for a child-targeted horror movie. Even if it was aimed at adults, Burton would want kitsch. It’s what he does. Spooky kitsch. It’s like he’s the origin of an entire Etsy subculture that doesn’t rely on mustaches and mass-manufactured octopus pendants to be edgy and ironic.
It’s like Karen O was born to be in a Tim Burton movie. She fits right in with the cast of Frankenweenie.
Perhaps the best moment in that song is the theremin breakdown. Karen O cleverly subverts the best remembered use of the instrument–the key to so many genre pictures in the 1950s and 60s–to the lesser remembered but equally intriguing surf rock phase. The Beach Boys loved using a modified theremin (on a slider rather than the original antennae structure) in their songs (think “Good Vibrations”) and it can be a very upbeat and trippy sound in context.
Here, it’s just that right amount of wrong to fit the theme. The theremin gets the guitar solo in the Harry Belafonte/mass market calypso territory. It’s just off enough to make sense in a movie about a boy bringing his dead dog back to life Dr. Frankenstein-style. If you’ve seen the trailer, Burton is practically remaking the Edward Scissorhands community down to the wacky hairdos. A nice freaky calypso–funny, odd, eerie, and endearing–is just the right thing to set off this world.
So what do you think? Are you grooving to “Strange Love” as much as I am? Sound off below. Love to hear from you.