Various Artists – 24 Hour Party People

It’s time for the last of our movie soundtrack reviews for the time being, and this time for a film that I have actually seen, and as I recall enjoyed very much, the history of Factory Records, 24 Hour Party People.

Given the nature of the subject matter, you can obviously expect a lot of Joy Division, New Order, and Happy Mondays, but it begins back in 1977 with defining the Sex Pistols track Anarchy in the UK. Listening now, nearly forty years on, it’s surprising quite how tame it sounds – is this really the same record that got so many people worked up?

The first of three Happy Mondays tracks is next, with 24 Hour Party People, remixed by Jon Carter. Despite not knowing them particularly well as a band, I think it’s fair to say that this probably isn’t their finest hour – it’s era defining, and a great choice for title track, but it’s also a little bit overwrought at times.

Joy Division were really the act that defined Factory Records, and so it is only right that there would be four of their tracks on here – well, five, arguably. The first is the brilliant Transmission, representing the early sound of the record company.

It’s then time for a bit of a sidestep for some other music from the era, with The Buzzcocks‘ brilliant Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have), and then The Clash‘s Janie Jones, which is good, but less exciting. Either way, your transition to the late 1970s should be pretty solid by this stage.

The next track is exclusive, as Moby joins New Order for a live performance of the Joy Division track New Dawn Fades. Moby has long been a fan of this particular track, having recorded a cover version for the b-side of Feeling So Real back in 1996, and he gives it all he can on this version. But I’m not sure he really gives Ian Curtis‘s lyrics the performance they deserve. I wonder if anybody could.

Another slice of actual Joy Division follows, with Atmosphere, taking us into the 1980s, before time starts really jumping around to The Duruitti Column‘s brilliantly ethereal 1989 track Otis. Then comes A Guy Called Gerald‘s once iconic acid house piece Voodoo Ray, which has to now be one of the most dated tracks on this entire album.

New Order always had their ups and downs, and I’ve never been entirely convinced by Temptation. The lyrics are among Bernard Sumner‘s weakest, the vocal isn’t particularly well delivered, and the instrumentation is a little uninspired. What it does do is represent its era perfectly – few tracks would represent the Factory Records of 1987 in the way this one does.

Next up is a great moment from Happy Mondays, with Loose Fit from 1990, again very much reflecting its age, but somehow sounding really good for it. And the era-defining sound of Pacific State by 808 State follows. It feels as though this is a soundtrack for an era of music more than a film – a particular type of music, admittedly.

We’re then briefly transported back to 1983 for the superlative Blue Monday by New Order, without a doubt their finest hour, before house music arrives with a vengeance in the form of Marshall Jefferson‘s Move Your Body.

The tail end of this soundtrack is probably either unnecessary or euphoric, depending on how you feel about the Factory Records roster of artists, as it basically just retreads the ground we’ve been treading for the last hour or so. Not having had any Joy Division for a while, it’s about time we heard the brilliant She’s Lost Control, and then more Happy Mondays with the fantastic Hallelujah, which surely never sounded this good?

There’s then an exclusive new track from New Order, Here to Stay, which was subsequently also a single. It’s good – it’s got all the iconic pieces of New Order, particularly in this longer version where it does sound like one of their 1980s 12″ versions. But somehow it isn’t entirely satisfying. Not in the way that the last track, the essential Love Will Tear Us Apart is, anyway. Quite why Joy Division never included it on either of their albums was always a bit of a mystery to me – it’s such an amazing song, and so well delivered.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that 24 Hour Party People is the best of the movie soundtracks which we’ve reviewed recently – it has some weaker moments, but they are few and far between, and every track is clearly there with good reason. If you’re in the market for an album to introduce you to the world of music, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

You can find 24 Hour Party People – Music from the Motion Picture at all major retailers, such as this one.

Various Artists – The Beach

Another soundtrack which I own to a film that I’ve never seen is The Beach, which picks a mixture of electronic and dark beats to accompany the Leonardo di Caprio film of the same name.

It opens with Snakeblood, an exclusive track from Leftfield, which like all of their work is good, and is definitely interesting, but it’s not really their best. If I’m not mistaken, it samples Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark for an interesting soundclash, but not an entirely inspiring one.

Less inspirational, but also enjoyable, is All SaintsPure Shores, another of William Orbit‘s many productions from the turn of the millennium. Far from being just yet another pop act, they turn out to be pretty good vocalists, and Orbit’s backing does bring out the best of them.

Moby‘s brilliantly relaxing Porcelain is next, slowing the pace in time for Dario G‘s Voices, which I never entirely got the hang of when it was originally released, but I now find myself really enjoying it, with its gentle ukulele strumming and soft vocals. Underworld turn up next with 8 Ball, which is far from the contrast you might have been expecting from them. As with so many tracks on this album, it’s good, but it’s just not all that great.

Things become more unremarkable still, with a trio of dull inclusions from Sugar Ray, Asian Dub Foundation, and Blur. There’s nothing particularly wrong with any of them, but there’s nothing particularly right with them either. It’s left to Hardfloor to pick things up with their iconic remix of Mory Kante‘s Yeke Yeke, which is always a real treat to hear.

Returning to the theme of amazing artists recording relatively uninteresting tracks, Faithless turn up with a submission entitled Woozy, which is dark, dreamy, hypnotic, and not really anywhere near as good as We Come 1 or Insomnia. Barry Adamson follows with the dramatic, military sound of Richard, It’s Business as Usual, and then there’s another exclusive, this time from New Order, who if I remember correctly were on one of their many hiatuses at the time.

Brutal is probably the best of the exclusive tracks too. It’s a lot livelier than anything else, and while it’s pretty much New Order at their most rock-sounding, it’s actually a pretty good song. Remember, as they have said themselves, a lot of what they put on their albums isn’t entirely up to standard.

I’ve never been entirely convinced by what I’ve heard from Unkle, and while Lonely Soul is certainly interesting, and Richard Ashcroft‘s vocal is characteristically strong, it doesn’t seem the most captivating track in the world until right at the end when you find yourself fighting the urge to listen again as you realise that actually you quite enjoyed it.

Finally Orbital and Angelo Badalamenti turn up, collaborating on the truly exceptional Beached. You could probably dispense with the slightly vacuous voice-over by di Caprio, but otherwise it’s a great piece of music – another example of Orbital at their best, and while I’m not sure exactly what Badalamenti is up to on the track, somehow it all seems to come together perfectly.

The Beach has a patchy soundtrack, then – when it’s good, it’s exceptional, but it has its fair share of filler too. But if you don’t already have those tracks from Mory Kante or Orbital with Angelo Badalamenti then it’s highly recommended.

You can still find The Beach – Motion Picture Soundtrack at all major retailers, such as here at Amazon.

Sparks – The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman

Five years old this week is Sparks‘ most recent album, the entirely bizarre The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman. You really have to put any kind of expectations to one side when listening to this, otherwise you are inevitably going to miss the point.

I was lucky enough to see what was the one and only live performance of this to date, a couple of years ago at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and can testify to its total brilliance. I can’t help but think though, that as a pop album it might be something of a failure.

Sparks are famously obsessed with films, with a discography full of tracks like Tsui Hark, and lyrics about Psycho. For this project, originally a play for Swedish radio, they tell the surrealist story of Ingmar Bergman‘s abduction from a Stockholm cinema to mid-1950s Hollywood, where the film producers try to persuade him to make a movie under their guidance.

Bergman is played by Jonas Malmsjö, with a quite brilliant broody quality, replaced by Finnish actor Peter Franzén for the live show. Neither does any singing, and for much of the piece their contributions are sidelined in favour of Russell Mael‘s vocals, as the story is set up. Which makes for a slightly odd drama, but a very good Sparks release.

The first track that sounds anything like the Sparks of old is Limo Driver (Welcome to Hollywood), in which Russell plays the part of a very lively driver. Mr. Bergman, How Are You? is a quite brilliant moment, in which the lyrics are translated into Swedish by an interpreter, while the backing takes a very traditional Mael turn.

Other highlights include the bizarre I’ve Got to Contact Sweden, which could quite easily appear on any Sparks album. It mixes into a brilliant song, The Studio Commissary, with a very jaunty backing and a chorus that largely consists of fake laughter. Why Do You Take That Tone with Me? features a quite exceptional vocal from the Hollywood starlet, and some typically dramatic Sparks backing.

But the best song of all turns up just as the film enters its final act – We’ve Got to Turn Him ‘Round is an entirely brilliant piece, and could have easily appeared on any recent Sparks album. After that, every track is full of drama, but the standout ones are Escape (both parts) and the lovely Garbo Sings.

Sparks are apparently still working to turn this into a film, so for the second time in their career they have taken a break from releasing new albums. Which is perhaps a shame, but then they do have a back catalogue of several million releases for you to enjoy in the meantime. And this one may be quirkier than most, but it’s still a very enjoyable release indeed.

The CD versions of The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman have long since fallen out of print, but you can still find downloads of the English version here, and the original Swedish version here.

Various Artists – Tomb Raider

Finally! A film soundtrack to review where I’ve actually seen the associated film. Not that I actually remember it in the slightest.

But the soundtrack begins with a special mix of Elevation by U2, who always leave me with slightly mixed feelings. So this manages to be at the same time both one of their less good tracks and one of their better ones – it’s a good pop song, but ultimately it just falls a bit flat.

Then industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails turn up with Deep, which is probably very fitting, and not entirely unpleasant, but ultimately it’s nothing particularly amazing. Third come The Chemical Brothers, always enjoyable but not always quite as interesting as their reputation might suggest, sounding very like themselves with Galaxy Bounce.

The first half of this CD isn’t unduly interesting – Missy Elliott and Nelly Furtado do their none-too-interesting collaborative version of Get UR Freak On, with a lot of talking, noodling, and general repetition; Outkast turn up for one of their less interesting moments with Speedballin’ and even Moby is far from being at his best with Ain’t Never Learned.

BT picks things up eventually at track seven with The Revolution, which, while it does sound a lot like BT, is at least a good track, and it gets better after that with an exclusive mix of the brilliant – and entirely apt for the Tomb Raider franchise – Terra Firma by Delerium.

If you never saw the slightly disturbing video for Basement Jaxx‘s Where’s Your Head At, then that’s perhaps no bad thing, because it seems to be indelibly marked in my mind now, but the song still sounds good even now, over a decade after its original release. Which is not so true of Fatboy Slim and Bootsie Collins‘s Illuminati, which is a worthy collaboration, but nothing special. The real theme of this album seems to be that artists haven’t had much opportunity to branch out from their typical sound, and this is a typical example.

Surprisingly, though, things really start to pick up towards the end of the album. Fluke‘s Absurd is a surprising and extremely worthwhile inclusion, as is Leftfield‘s fantastic Song of Life, from Leftism. Whoever compiled this collection was clearly keeping all the good stuff for the end.

Groove Armada‘s beautifully chilled out Edge Hill provides further evidence of this, and then I’d never heard Satellite by Bosco before listening to this compilation, but it turned out to be a great track. After that, even Oxide & Neutrino don’t sound too bad – and in fairness to them (I’m not sure why they deserve it), Devil’s Nightmare is probably their least bad moment.

Film soundtracks are, as it turns out, strange beasts, with selected tracks from all over the place which are only really justified in sitting side-by-side because of one particular film. And this soundtrack, while it started off pretty patchy, got extremely good towards the end, so is definitely worth finding the time for.

You can find Tomb Raider – Music from the Motion Picture at all major stores, such as here.

Various Artists – Metropolis

This week’s movie soundtrack comes direct from 1984, while the original movie was released all the way back in 1926. As a huge fan of the original film, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this album – on the one hand it’s the legendary Metropolis, with a soundtrack by the legendary Giorgio Moroder. On the other hand, it is pretty awful. But I haven’t actually seen this version of the film, so I can only really judge the soundtrack on its own merits.

First up is Freddie Mercury delivering a typically lively performance on Love Kills, which also sees Giorgio Moroder excelling himself with an enormous 1980s backing track. It doesn’t always quite seem to complement Mercury’s vocal, but by and large it works. Whether or not you think it’s any good will probably depend on how you feel about the performers, but however you look at it, this is a pretty strong opening track.

Next we get Pat Benatar to perform a pretty poor song called Here’s My Heart. Although written and mixed by Moroder, he doesn’t seem to have had much a say on this particular track unfortunately. Jon Anderson (of And Vangelis fame) turns up after that for the entirely competent Cage of Freedom, followed by Cycle V with Blood from a Stone.

Without having seen it, it’s difficult to even begin to imagine how this might have sounded as the actual accompaniment to the film. At times you wonder how it ever could have worked, but at others it’s rather more clear, such as the pleasant instrumental The Legend of Babel, which closes side A. But even in its better moments, it is, unfortunately, extremely dated. It might well be only thirty years since its release, but it sounds like considerably more.

Side B opens with Bonnie Tyler, whose heart seems to have recovered to the degree that she can deliver Here She Comes with some degree of flair. It doesn’t help hugely – it’s a pretty poor song, but she’s doing her best.

Slightly better, but still very much a 1980s power ballad is Destruction by Loverboy. You can almost see them making silly faces on Top of the Pops when you listen to this. Was it just that Moroder’s sound was so defining of the early eighties, or did he go out of his way to make this album sound as dated as possible? It’s difficult to be sure.

The later tracks don’t really help matters, as Billy Squier and Adam Ant do their level best with On Your Own and What’s Going On, but neither really achieves a huge amount unfortunately. Finally, Moroder turns up again for another instrumental, Machines, which this time proves just to be a bit of fairly aimless synth noodling.

I’ll watch it one day, but for all I know the Giorgio Moroder version of Metropolis may work extremely well. It is, however, difficult to see how this album might reach its sixtieth birthday and stand the test of time anywhere near as well as the film had when it was released in this form. Best avoided.

The 1999 reissue of Metropolis still seems to be available from major retailers, such as here. You can find the DVD of this version here.

Various Artists – The Next Best Thing

To be honest, it’s pretty common when I hear soundtrack albums that I haven’t actually seen the original film. And so it is with The Next Best Thing, a movie which probably has something to do with Madonna, and may or may not be any good.

What it does have is a pretty good soundtrack, kicking off with the fun – if largely incomprehensible – Boom Boom Ba by Métisse. When I say incomprehensible, I don’t mean because much of it is sung in what is presumably French – just that the vocal styles used on here are rather odd.

Of course, the same is true for Manu Chao‘s Bongo Bong, but its charming Latin stylings somehow never seem to grow tired. He may have spent most of his full albums going on and on about marijuana, but in edited form, he’s really rather good.

Madonna‘s hand never seems to be far away from this album, and so the poor grammar of Christina Aguilera‘s Don’t Make Me Love You (‘Til I’m Ready) is the first and only truly pointless inclusion on this album. Then Madonna turns up in person, with her widely derided cover version of American Pie.

Whatever you might think of it, you have to appreciate the production of William Orbit, which although perhaps a little formulaic by the time this album came out in 2000 is always a pleasure to hear. And frankly, if you’re not singing along by the time it reaches the chorus, then I’ll be very surprised indeed.

Mandalay may have very little to do with the Burmese city after which they name themselves, but This Life, which follows, is very good indeed. It’s an extremely sweet love song, which makes for a slightly odd contrast next to If Everybody Looked the Same, the 1999 hit single for Groove Armada. It’s at times like this that you find yourself wishing you had actually bothered to watch the film (OK, maybe not).

The narrative – of this album at least – seems to be a very simple one, as Moby turns up with Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? sounding every bit as brilliant as it ever does, but bringing a touch of melancholy which continues into Olive‘s cover of I’m Not in Love, the one and only single from their not-entirely-successful second album Trickle, the story of which we should probably explore on this blog one of these days.

Another friend of William Orbit turns up next, with Beth Orton‘s exceptional Stars All Seem to Weep, brilliantly produced by Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl. Orton’s haunting vocal and the ethereal synth backing come together to make an absolutely perfect song here.

Next Madonna turns up again for the pleasant but ultimately rather dull and entirely forgettable Time Stood Still, before passing the baton onto Solar Twins for the ambient sound of Swayambhu. Finally, Gabriel Yared is brought in to close matters with the beautiful Forever and Always, and this album is already over.

So The Next Best Thing may – for all I now – be an awful film or a really good one, but its accompanying soundtrack album is definitely worth hearing. It’s a concise selection of just twelve songs, collected together to tell what seems to be a very simple love story, but which also makes a pretty good album.

You can still find the soundtrack to The Next Best Thing at all major retailers, including Amazon here.

Air – The Virgin Suicides

The first movie soundtrack which we reviewed on this blog was Air‘s Le Voyage dans la Lune, a couple of years ago. It is therefore only right that we commence this series of reviews with Air‘s other main moment of cinematic glory, their soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides.

The first song on the soundtrack is the quite exceptional Playground Love. Somehow during their first few years, Air seemed not only to have a particular magic which they would suddenly bring out of nowhere, but it somehow managed to always be surprising too. Playground Love is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

For the most part, though, this album is largely instrumental, drawing on Air‘s passion for soaring strings with grubby electronic backing and acoustic noodling. Clouds Up may be the shortest piece on the album, but it’s definitely one of the best.

A bit of cross-referencing with the film might be useful here, but it’s the music we’re interested in. Bathroom Girl, with its haunting organ chords and somehow driving melancholy, is another excellent moment. This is followed by the grumpier Cemetery Party and Dark Messages, and then the almost iconically Air-sounding The Word ‘Hurricane’.

The central track on the album is Dirty Trip, which essentially does everything you might expect from the title – with a jaunty happy drum pattern, the deep and melancholic organ and bass help carry the truly beautiful mood through the album.

For Highschool Lover, we take a trip back to the first track, for a piano version of Playground Love, and while it was definitely the vocal which made the original what it was, it definitely deserves a reprise. Then Afternoon Sister is a return to the moody Air sound that you should have learnt to love with Premiers Symptômes (1997) and Moon Safari (1998).

The later tracks are no less haunting and beautiful – Ghost Song and Empty House both exude a particularly dismal mood while remaining no less enjoyable. The crescendo of Dead Bodies is truly chilling, and then Suicide Underground, with its bizarrely slowed down and effects-laden narrative is an exceptional closing track.

So even without having seen the film, it seems fair to conclude that The Virgin Suicides is definitely an album which can easily be enjoyed on its own. Even if you don’t agree with that statement, it does have the fantastic Playground Love, which can’t be found elsewhere.

You can still find The Virgin Suicides online at all major retailers, such as here. There’s also a compilation here, and the DVD of the movie is here.