Posted in Album Reviews

Trainspotting: Music from the Motion Picture (1996)

Trainspotting based on the Irvine Welsh novel follows the lives of several Scottish mates, most of whom are addicted to heroin. The movie depicts the staggering destruction the drug can do in a person’s life but also mixes in plenty of laughs and one of the best film soundtracks ever.  Mixing alternative classics, Britpop and techno – the soundtrack was massively successful upon release in 1996.  The album starts with the first of two big indie disco night hits with Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”. Originally released in the late 70s, the song gets a new release on life as a whole new generation discovers the classic drum beat from Hunt Sales.

The album immediately takes it’s foot off the gas for the ambient sounds of Brian Eno and the bubbling dance sounds of Primal Scream. Sleeper performs a very good faithful cover of Blondie’s “Atomic” before the New Order’s “Temptation” sings of “Oh, you’ve got green/blue/grey eyes”.  The album then takes one of the highlights from Blur’s underrated first album with “Sing”.  Lou Reed soundtracks one of the most powerful scenes in the movie when “Perfect Day” plays while Renton (Ewan McGregor) ODs before being revived in the hospital. The song’s deadpan singing of a wonderful day out perfectly fits the harrowing scene.

Originally a b-side, Pulp makes an appearance with “Mile End”, a fitting track that describes an unlivable flat in London that captures the domestic lives of the characters. Nearly bookending the album, Underworld’s smash techno crossover hit “Born Slippy .NUXX” appears. Playing in the final scenes of the movie, the song with it’s “lager lager lager” lyrics is regarded as a landmark electronic track. 

Arriving a few years before Napster and online streaming, the Trainspotting soundtrack plays like an excellent mixtape that people used to pass on to one another. While the segue from Iggy Pop to Brian Eno is an odd one, several of the tracks flow nicely from one track to the next.  Like any good mixtape, it has well known favourites and a few unknown gems for listeners to discover.  Like the movie, the Trainspotting soundtrack still holds up 25 years later.

9/10

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Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Endless Rooms (2022)

The third album from Australia’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever arrives with their familiar three guitar attack.  Several of the tracks have an environmental bent including the chiming “Tidal River” that strips everything back in the refrain and the midtempo “Dive Deep”. The crisp drumming of Marcel Tussie stands out on third single “My Echo”.  

There is a driving beat on “Blue Eye Lake” with its “you can ride the back of a star and go anywhere” lyric.  Likewise, “Saw You at the Eastern Beach” has an atmospheric, celestial effect. As with the first two Rolling Blackouts C.F. albums, there are a few songs that float by without leaving much of a mark.  On Endless Rooms, those moments are fewer and the songs that do resonate, really cut through to make a very good guitar rock record.

7.5/10

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Radiohead – Kid A (2000)

For a band like Radiohead, coming off the staggering success of 1997’s OK Computer, generally regarded as one of the best albums ever, following it up was going to be a challenge.  It was a situation that nearly broke the group as they struggled for what direction to take. In the end, Kid A released in 2000 was a monumental shift for an arena rock band to take even if some of the groundwork had already been laid.  Led by singer Thom Yorke, the band went down a path of adding the techno sounds of WARP records acts to their repertoire that would see some fans/critics rejoice in their newfound creativity and others regard the album as too far in left field for their tastes.

The minimalist “Everything In Its Right Place” opens the album with it’s distinctive synthesizer sound and robotic singing of “Kid A, Kid A”. The first sounds of a rock band appear on third track, “The National Anthem” that rides a repetitive bass riff and drums of Philip Selway. A saxophone jazz freakout helps make the song sound like an alien rock band beamed down to earth on a dark, windy night.  Thom Yorke punches through the icy synths and electronic drums of “Idioteque” with repeated lines of “women and children first” with an “ice age coming”.

A warmer synth and Yorke singing the falsetto “release me” adds a human element to “Morning Bell”, a track that includes the haunting lines “cut the kids in half” which has made many wonder if it’s a divorce song. An acoustic guitar leads the atmospheric “How to Disappear Completely” as the downbeat chorus goes “I’m not hear/this isn’t happening”.  A Jonny Greenwood lead string section brings even more of a human element to one of the finest songs on the album.  Originally written the same day as “Creep”, “Motion Picture Soundtrack” adds a finality to the album, with a harmonium effect that sounds like it’s from a different time.

With production from Nigel Godrich, the entire band shifted their way of recording and writing songs in order to break free of the constraints that they felt the band was under after a string of successful 90s albums.  No singles were ever released from Kid A, an album that has gone on to be regarded as one of the finest albums of the 21st century.   Today, Kid A still stands as a remarkable achievement from one of the biggest bands in the world.

10/10

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Siouxsie and the Banshees – Join Hands (1979)

The second album from Siouxsie and the Banshees was released less than a year about their spectacular debut. Join Hands has a distinctly different sound, one that is more haunting and introduces gothic tones that would later become popular.  “Poppy Day” opens the album with the ringing of bells and a brief snippet of a Canadian poem by John McCrae about Flanders Field. “Regal Zone” takes the war theme to Iran, with Siouxsie Sioux singing with a staccato voice and a sax interlude courtesy of guitarist John McKay.

Where the album really shines is on “Icon”.  The only track included on the Seven Year Itch live album released in 2003. It’s a spine tingling vocal with a guitar riff and pounding drums that slam in just before the first verse.   The only track released as a single, “Playground Twist” pulls in more bells, thundering drums and buzzsaw guitar. The dark chaotic song takes on a child bullying theme and lyrics of “hanging, hanging, hanging” before ending with children’s voices.

Siouxsie and the Banshees historic first gig was opening up for the Sex Pistols at the 100 club in September 1976. The only song played was an extended version of “The Lord’s Prayer”, that track is recreated as the last song on Join Hands.  At 14 minutes it brings in lyrics from Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Muhammad Ali.  To hear it live must have been mesmerizing but here, it needs some severe editing to make it more than just a noisy scattershot of sometimes interesting shouts. In all, Join Hands can be a hard, grim listen. 

6/10

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Arcade Fire – WE (2022)

“It’s the age of doubt/and I doubt we’ll figure it out”.  So begins Arcade Fire’s sixth album WE.  First track “Age of Anxiety I” from which those lyrics are pulled starts with a piano and a light pulse in the background before the pulse gets turned up and a beat comes in. At nine minutes, “End of the Empire I-IV” has a wistful yet futuristic feel, turning a neat Bowie trick as Win Butler sings of the end of the American Empire. Even though it’s slower in tempo, “The Lightning I,II” feels anthemic as Butler sings “We can make it if you don’t quit on me”.

Sung for Butler and Regine Chassagne’s son, “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)” is a modern folk track that is an album highlight before the title track settles the record down with an acoustic guitar.  Produced by Nigel Godrich with Butler and Regine, it is the last album to feature multi-instrumentalist Will Butler. As on many AF releases, Regine’s vocals popping in on tracks is often a highlight and the drumming of Jeremy Gara is rock solid. With its use of synths and slower moods, WE can drift in and out of consciousness that often works well as background music, that can be left on repeat for hours.

7.5/10