When Trainspotting came out, lazy tabloid journalists across the land declared that the film ‘glamorised heroin’, an argument which is about as convincing as saying that the film Titanic glamorised icebergs. I’m not sure which moment of the film put me off ever doing heroin more- Ewan McGregor’s character Mark Renton being haunted by hallucinations of a dead baby while going cold-turkey; Renton Shawshanking his way into a disgusting toilet to fish out a methadone suppository; or the sad death of Tommy, alone in his empty flat.
What made Trainspotting so great, for me at least, was the quality of its soundtrack. I watched an episode of US comedy Parks and Recreation recently in which the geekish political campaign manager Ben was made fun of for saying that a film soundtrack is like a mixtape made by his favourite directors. In most instances, I would be on the side of the nihilistically cynical April in scoffing at Ben’s statement; but there was something about the Trainspotting soundtrack that was just perfect for its time, and perfect for the film.
The soundtrack opens with the anthemic ‘Lust for Life’ by rock star turned insurance salesman, Iggy Pop (below). The song was incredibly overplayed at the time it was reissued for the Trainspotting soundtrack. But today, its thumping iconic drums and Pop’s restless vocals seem charming and uplifting.
‘Deep Blue Day’ by Brian Eno is full of ambient beauty, with dreamy string-like synths washing over a gentle bobbing bass-line that makes you feel as though you’re gently floating on waves as warm sunshine pounds down on your chest. The atmosphere created by the song adds to the surreal nature of the scene where Renton finds himself swimming deep under water after diving into a toilet bowl (below).
The titular ‘Trainspotting’ by Primal Scream brings to mind the melodic drum patterns of Björk’s ‘Human Behaviour’. It’s a piece of music that builds slowly over ten minutes, with scurries of found sounds echoing lazily over a wicked bass-line and laid-back organ and harmonium noodling. This is a piece about the potential of rhythm and feeling, rather than melody and pop sensibilities.
Sleeper’s version of Blondie’s ‘Atomic’ feels redundant as a cover, as it is pretty much exactly the same as the original, with its disco-infused rhythm section, and ‘Three Blind Mice’ guitar riff still sounding excellent.
The Black River by Irvine Welsh
‘Temptation’ by New Order (below) probably rates as one of my favourite songs of all time - it’s a perfect piece of indie-pop. The version found on the soundtrack is not the original mix, but rather a re-recorded version made for New Order’s singles collection Substance. It is much more guitar-heavy than the original and loses the sharp jabs of synth from the intro, replacing them with something altogether more subtle. Though I’m undecided as to which version I prefer, there is something about this version that highlights the anthemic quality of the song that the original single-release fails to do. I defy anyone not to be moved by this song.
Iggy Pop returns for his second appearance on the album with the gloomy and claustrophobic ‘Nightclubbing’, a song that prickles with cynicism and poison as Pop sarcastically croons “we’re nightclubbing / we’re what’s happening”. With its slow, deliberate bass and warped blues-tinged guitar riffs being punctuated by echoic snare shots, the song can’t help but make you feel itchy and restless.
‘Sing’ might rate as one of Blur’s greatest musical achievements. It’s a song that seems to straddle between late-80s Detroit House and geeky indie-pop, with its euphoric piano, relentless pounding drums and drifting vocal harmonies giving the song an ethereal quality that makes it stand apart from the Stone Roses-alike tracks that litter Blur’s first album.
Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ was ruined for me by the BBC’s ensemble version featuring Dr John’s line about it being “such a poyfict day” and Heather Small blasting the word’s “reap, reap, reap” all over the song’s outro. Though the song has been irreversibly tainted for me, it still remains an incredible piece of music. Reed’s vocals are crisp and pensive, and the pianos seem to pull at your emotions like few songs can... but then I just hear Boyzone and Lesley Garrett in my head ruining it.
‘Mile End’ by Pulp originally featured as the cheerier B-side to ‘Something Changed’. Beneath the track’s upbeat exterior lies a song that pulls on imagery of the deprivation and poverty found on a run-down tower block estate. This is Cocker at his lyrical best, with biting social commentary fused with an almost nostalgic longing for something grubby and violent.
‘For What You Dream Of’ by Bedrock featuring Kyo is an incredibly dated piece of dance music. It is one of the only tracks on the album where the quality really takes a dive. We are lifted slightly from the depths of boredom by Elastica’s ‘2:1’, with its rubbery bass-line and off-kilter vocals.
Leftfield’s ‘A Final Hit’ raises the bar again with a dark, atmospheric track built around a deep sweeping bass melody, with mechanical snaps and echoic synths creating a sense of paranoia. This is followed up by the stunning ‘Born Slippy’ by Underworld (below). With its warm, iconic synth intro, and Karl Hyde’s intense vocal performance, ‘Born Slippy’ is one of those anthemic tracks that managed to capture the feeling of a time and place perfectly.
The Trainspotting soundtrack closes with a daft little instrumental by Damon Albarn entitled ‘Closet Romantic’ - a piece of music that treads the same conceptual ground as Parklife album-closer ‘Lot 105’. It’s a composition that sounds as if it was made to be played by an organist in Blackpool, with its cheesy drum machine, its electronic organ riffs, and tumbling strings providing a bizarre and uplifting ending to the soundtrack.
As far as film soundtracks go, it is quite clear that the Trainspotting soundtrack ranks amongst some of the best. Apart from the one or two weaker tracks near the end of the album, this is an excellent collection of music to accompany a very good film.
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