On the pecking order of likely prospects to make the worst vanity-project album imaginable, waifish teenage fashion models (on their way to becoming grown-up actresses) fall somewhere between stars’ drug dealers and relatives of Bill Gates. Kiev native Milla Jovovich’s desire to make a record is a mild surprise; that she had the nerve to write all of the lyrics and some of the music would seem to be a major risk. But the crowning shock of The Divine Comedy—a folky and grown-up pop tapestry sung in a fine, skilled voice—is that it’s genuinely good. Not just good for an eighteen-year-old model, but good for anyone—a record album by a talented young woman possessing all the prerequisite aptitudes to make credible record albums.
Like some medieval princess delivered into a modern recording studio, Milla displays classical romantic sensibilities, describing a timeless kingdom of pale lips, burning fires, falling skies and breaking hearts. (The fact that the only actual folk song here is in Russian doesn’t deter Milla’s penchant for Anglo-Saxon stylings.) Set into handsome arrangements of strings, pennywhistle, acoustic guitar, dulcimer, harmonium, mandolin and piano played by Anglo-American studio pros like Eric Bazilian of the Hooters, Rupert Hine, Ethan James and Phil Palmer, words like “pavement” (“The Alien Song”) and “freak” (“Charlie”) provide the only lyrical clues that Milla is not a devout traditionalist. The Divine Comedy is a throwback to English art-rock like Renaissance, Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die and Jethro Tull’s Minstrel in the Gallery. (Comparisons to Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention would be misleading, as this is too glibly modern a production to make any convincing folk pretense.) Highly enjoyable for what it is and stunning for what it isn’t (namely awful), The Divine Comedy achieves the unthinkable: it makes the thought of a sequel welcome.
After that sterling start, Milla’s recording career went and got all weird in 1998. She apparently entered the studio with friends to work on demos, which — to her great surprise — were released commercially as The Peopletree Sessions. Jovovich disavowed the release and took legal action to prevent its distribution. The album was actually reissued with different artwork in 2002 on the Cherry Red label. (Whether this version meets with Jovovich’s approval any more than the original has not been made public.)
Taken on its own merits, The Peopletree Sessions is not bad at all. Jovovich’s rough ideas and toss-offs are still of higher quality than many artists’ finished work; informality contributes to its lo-fi, trip-hoppish appeal. Sketchy synthesizer patterns bubble and pulse under Jovovich’s sweet voice as she works out obviously unfinished but intriguing lyrical ideas. Intentionally or otherwise, she manages to locate a meeting ground between Portishead and Guided by Voices. A far cry from the intricate folk-pop of The Divine Comedy, this lands like short-wave transmissions of a supermodel cooing and whispering sweet nothings in the wee hours.
In 2000, with her film career going great guns, Jovovich contributed a fascinating cover of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” to the excellent soundtrack of the Wim Wenders/Bono/Mel Gibson headscratcher The Million Dollar Hotel, in which she appears. Other than one-off contributions (she’s on a Crystal Method album as well as the soundtracks for Dummy and The Rules of Attraction), Jovovich has been all quiet on the musical front.