Everyone wants to be a rock star these days: Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, Minnie Driver. Even socialites are getting in on the action, with Paris Hilton’s major label debut set to drop sometime next year. This isn’t a new phenomenon by any means (the trend dates back to David Cassidy, Alyssa Milano, and even Joey “Whoa!” Lawrence), but 10 years ago, supermodel-turned-actress-turned-pop-singer Milla Jovovich faced a far more cynical crowd than the post-TRL contingent, who’ve grown up on a steady diet of cross-pollinated marketing and instant star-making deals. For Milla, the leap from the cover of Vogue to the pop charts was not an easy one. But in the wake of the early ‘90s alternative movement, pop music had no choice but to rise to the occasion, and Milla’s The Divine Comedy is a stunning pop artifact that did just that.
Milla made her first foray into the music world with her 1994 hit “Gentleman Who Fell,” a pop oddity that snuck its way onto mod-rock radio stations and a handful of daring Top 40 stations. It was the kind of song that spoke to the Angela Chases of the world (“I don’t know how to speak to you/I don’t know how to trust you” goes the chorus); in fact, the song is still being used as a symbol of young female angst to this day (it most recently made a cameo in 2002’s The Rules of Attraction). The single, a video for which was originally directed by Lisa Bonet but ultimately scrapped for a more avant-garde clip inspired by Maya Deren’s 1943 short film Meshes of the Afternoon, unfortunately failed to crack the pop charts, but Milla’s music—a cross between the loony mysticism of Kate Bush and the more grounded, earthy witchery of Stevie Nicks—still sounds surprisingly fresh a decade later.
Milla displays more vocal range throughout The Divine Comedy than one might expect from a Revlon haircolor spokesperson: Her voice reaches from reedy, girlish, and coy to hearty and rich, often all in one line. Her lyrics also have surprising depth, from “Reaching From Nowhere” (“What if we decide to break these walls?/This, from me the builder”) to “It’s Your Life,” in which she attempts to negotiate a love triangle of some kind (romantic or otherwise). And for anyone who’s ever wondered what our world might look like through the eyes of a foreigner (read: space alien), Milla offers “The Alien Song (For Those Who Listen),” an early snippet of which she performed in—get this—Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult film Dazed and Confused. “Clock” tells the more sober tale of a girl (a la Anne Frank) who is hidden away from the “great murderer, great Aryan,” while the downright giddy “You Did It All Before” juxtaposes a spritely arrangement of penny whistle, ukulele, and crisscrossing vocal parts with the bloody anguish of Milla’s words: “The ground is still too red/From the wickedness you did.”
Though some of the singer’s lyrics can err on the loopy side (the songs were written when she was just 15, recorded when she was 16, and released by the time she was legal, which, I suppose, makes this the sole “teen pop” selection on our Vital Pop list), Milla’s messages are mostly conveyed through passion, not words, a claim only the finest performers can make. The listener is transported into Milla’s medieval faerie land of Russian folk influences and contemporary synth-pop via a series of eclectic yet seamless tracks like the mesmerizing “Charlie” and the dramatic “Don’t Fade Away” (produced by Richard Feldman and Rupert Hine, respectively—Feldman’s tracks have a more Celtic sound while Hine’s are more pop-friendly and otherworldly). Although many were quick to dismiss Milla for attempting to crossover into yet another industry (she has since gone on to headline the Resident Evil film franchise and continues to record music independently), The Divine Comedy stands as one of the best lost pop albums of the ‘90s.