“My automatic melancholy” – the all-too-short pop career of Lara Croft

Rhona Mitra as Lara Croft

At the height of the Tomb Raider games’ success, and before a film had been made, a succession of actresses, models and promo girls — including a young Katie Price — queued up to be the real life face of Lara Croft. And somehow one of them, Rhona Mitra, ended up making an in-character pop CD with Dave Stewart.

come alive

Come Alive came out on EMI in 1998, between Tomb Raider II (the one with the Venice and sunken ship levels) and Tomb Raider III (the one where Lara keeps getting run over by a tube train). It only went on general release in France, and there’s so little about it on the web you’d think someone had tried to quietly erase it from pop history.

Most of the songs have a post-Madchester, indie dance vibe with flashes of guitar, landing on a sound somewhere between Sneaker Pimps and Chumbawamba. There’s even the occasional ragga toast. So far so 90s. But what about the subject matter?

Brilliantly, Lara sings about her own fictionality, her longings for a physical life and her confusing symbiotic relationship with you the gamer. In this way it very much picks up the metafictional baton from the ending of Tomb Raider II, in which Lara, about to undress for the shower, magnificently breaks the fourth wall by turning to face you and shooting you dead, saying “Don’t you think you’ve seen enough?”

Lead single Getting Naked follows the same template, teasing nudity while admonishing the listener “I know you want to be my lover boy, but I’ve got a lot of things going on.” And the balance between titillation and domination continues in songs like Beautiful Day where every seductive “Tell me all your fantasies and I’ll tell you mine,” is set off by a stern “I’ll do what I want to.”

The prospect of physical love rears its head in Really Real in which a somewhat listless Lara breathes “I’m real! Really real! Just like you!” While in the next song, Feel Myself, she does what any of us would after making the transition from digitised form and proceeds to “Feel myself for the first time,” complete with some little panting noises. Charmingly, she describes her self exploration in terms any gamer will understand, giggling “Moved on to level 2!”

The album’s themes peak on title track Come Alive, in which Lara muses on her life as a pixellated puppet. “I see myself up on a wall,” it opens over some lovely downbeat electro. She goes on to consider her “fated path,” reflecting “all the walls that I was climbing, all the time that I spent falling… and all was fine when I was drowning.”

The whole thing’s a triumph. A very odd triumph, to be sure, but then those are my favourite sorts. It’s a rare album that lets you hear an iconic video game character sing come-hither lyrics about “fish and chips in Streatham” and “a pint of lager & lime” and somehow carry it off, but this is the one. In case you hadn’t noticed, I spend every other post on this blog deliberately muddling fictional things and real ones (with hilarious consequences etc etc), so once in a while it’s nice to find a piece of pop culture that’s managed it all on its own. And is real — really real.

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