Song of the Week breaks down and talks about the song we just can’t get out of our head each week. Find these songs and more on our Spotify Top Songs playlist. For our favorite new songs from emerging artists, check out our Spotify New Sounds playlist. This week, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder takes on R.E.M. for the new drama Flag Day.
A flag is more than cloth and dye. A flag is a symbol — a vessel of fear or hope — weighed down and lifted up by the actions of everything done in its name. Some of that fickle glory has rubbed off on Sean Penn’s character in his new film Flag Day, a solemn drama getting mixed reviews.
But in judging the cultural impact, we won’t just look at the script, or the acting, or the sometimes bizarre statements the leading man has made when he’s ostensibly promoting the flick. Like those fluttering silk symbols, Flag Day is the sum of every action taken on its behalf. Which is how we arrive at the official Flag Day soundtrack, a remarkable collection of songs far better than this sort of project usually deserves.
Cat Power contributed three original cuts, and the great Glen Hansard collaborated with Eddie Vedder to pen some striking new songs, especially album standout “Flag Day” and the reflective “My Father’s Daughter,” sung by Vedder’s daughter, Olivia. But the arc of the album bends towards one moment — a mere cover, the umpteenth version of a track that has been sung almost as many times as The Star-Spangled Banner — and yet, like a bit of simple cloth and dye, it packs a surprising amount of emotion into a well-worn shape.
Vedder’s version of R.E.M.’s classic song “Drive” is faithful and moving, as one of the greatest frontmen of his generation relies on restraint and understatement and resists the urge to bellow. The song works because of the many different inflections he puts into the word “baby,” his stutter on “what” when he sings, “Nobody tells you what to do,” and a growl that sounds like the sigh of a mountain on those weighty, repeated, “Tick… Tocks…”
You might never see Flag Day, you might hate Sean Penn, but even so, you can be thankful that such a production led to this breathtaking moment.
— Wren Graves