The Divine Comedy
By John McAlley
To study Milla Jovovich's face at age 12 was to confront a Lolita even Nabokov could not have imagined. The Russian-born model projected an intensity that was smoldering and mysterious. Her inscrutable pose hinted at unknowable depths—and made you hunger for a glimpse of that knowledge.
That said, it remains a stunning surprise to discover the stylistically exotic and all-out soulful Divine Comedy, Milla's remarkable recording debut. Now 18, all American and a would-be poster girl for the X crowd, she is no crossover opportunist or vacant pretender. She is a natural poet and melodist. Produced by Rupert Hine and Richard Feldman, The Divine Comedy is strikingly mature and rich in invention, counterpointing Milla's lovelorn, angst-laced poetry with vivid melodies and arrangements that find a common spirit in synth pop, European folk and psychedelic dream rock. Chiming dulcimers, sawing fiddles, mandolins, harmoniums and hurdy-gurdies coalesce in atmospheric settings that are alternately dramatic, exultant and carnivalesque.
Milla's post-modern of failed love affairs ("Gentleman Who Fell," "It's Your Life") and spasms of existential grief ("Clock") are free of neurosis and gratuitous detail. That life's a bitch is a given for Milla's generation, and this fluent relationship with crisis informs her blunt verse, airy vocals and overall precociousness. "No, I haven't seen the flowers yet/From the broken seeds I'd planted/But the ground is still too red/From the wickedness you did," she sings with lite vulnerability on "You Did It All Before." "Ruby Lane" and "Bang Your Head" cut their grim messages with arrangements that are—as the titles suggest—trippy fun. And on "Charlie," Milla—whose voice synthesizes two obvious influences, Kate Bush and Sinead O'Connor—dismisses a junkie boyfriend with Dietrichlike whimsy: "Oh, Charlie, a boy and his toys/Hand could never comfort you, not the way that steel could do."
Dante's Divine Comedy chronicled a turbulent journey through the afterlife. Milla, like the rest of us, is stuck negotiating the far-too-harrowing here and now. Still, she has had the imagination to turn her dark visions into music of idiosyncratic beauty. Therein lies the solution to the mystery: What was lurking behind young Milla's smoldering eyes? The burning intelligence of an artist.