To a gravelly voiced narrator and strobing electronics, ‘Outrun’s ‘Prelude’ jumpstarts the legend of the Dead Cruiser, the Testarossa-charged phantom trapped in a time of black shades and high tops and then splits the night in the thunderous crack of lightning. It’s the perfect way for Kavisnky’s 80’s-film-inspired synth-rock ballad to put pedal to metal and throw fire from all twelve cylinders.
But it only sets the stage. With its ambient instrumentation and pulsing beats, ‘Blizzard’ is the cry of tortured souls calling you from the ether. If ‘Blizzard’ is seduction, ‘Protovision’ is salvation. A song that starts with the strong rumble of a motor tearing road towards you, it’s chrome etched in lasers shining under the passing city lights. It’s the theme of a pale rider.
It’s evocative. Through its thick and grimy sounds, only half of the fourteen tracks speak a word but all say a thousand. Listen to ‘Testarrossa Autodrive’, a machinegun spitting race that is every bit as awesome as its name confers or to the digitally-off-kilter vocals of ‘Odd Look’ to see a selection that is varied, thematically consistent but compositionally divergent. As a cohesive work, it’s an album whose every song is another scene in a well-paced movie.
Despite tones dripping with atmosphere, some of its standout songs are the ones with the most explicit messages. ‘Suburbia’ is a laid back rap set against the beeps and bloops of future computers that never came to bear, with winking lyrics including the awesome ‘cut these fools like pizza pies with extra cheese’. ‘First Blood’ stands out as well, with its Rockette-on-a-smoky-stage vibe that could be something straight out of glam rock-opera Streets of Fire.
While the majority of the tracks are exclusive to this album, several have been available since 2007 on Kavinsky’s 1986 LP. They’re great songs rich with texture that shows that his Dead Cruiser concept had been prowling the streets for quite some time. Strangely the only place where it hitches is with ‘Nightcall’, an otherwise excellent song made famous for its appearance in the opening credits of Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’ that feels like a congested highway compared to the open-road flow of the rest.
At its most superficial level, Outrun is the soundtrack to a movie that never existed, set in a time that has become more fiction than reality. The truth is really deeper than that. In more ways than one, Outrun- like the red-eyed teen at its center- is a specter from long ago, haunting the asphalt of today.