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This Is Spinal Tap Soundtrack
LP (12" album, 33 rpm)
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This Is Spinal Tap
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Audio CD, Extra tracks, Original recording reissued, August 29, 2000
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The original 11-song soundtrack on vinyl for the first time since 1984. Deluxe gatefold package with original liner notes from Rocklopedia Brittanicus. "Big Bottom," "Sex Farm," "Stonehenge"... it's all here. Within its eleven tracks you may find the meaning of life, discover the exact coordinates of the Fountain Of Youth, learn how to fly, finish Moby Dick, gain the confidence to ask that stripper you always get lap dances from out on a date, find out how to regain your virginity only to lose it again while listening to This Is Spinal Tap, learn how to fly, and listen to music.
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The premise of the film is quite simple: documentary filmmaker Marty DiBergi (played by Reiner) sets himself the task of following his favorite rock group, Spinal Tap, on a North American tour in support of the band's new album, "Smell the Glove." The initial shows in the Eastern United States seem to go well. But the efforts of "England's loudest band" to make their way back to prominence along the proverbial comeback trail are repeatedly derailed by gig cancellations, technical difficulties, and personality differences among the group's three key members -- guitarist/vocalist David St. Hubbins (played by McKean), lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (played by Guest), and bassist Derek Smalls (played by Shearer) -- until one wonders if the band will even make it to the tour's scheduled conclusion in Southern California.
Any discussion of this album must begin with the plain-black cover -- which, one learns on watching the film, was mandated by the band's record company, Polymer (not Polydor) Records, because the original cover was sexist. David is appalled, but Nigel is philosophical: "It's like, 'How much more black could this be?', and the answer is none. None more black." The allusion to the Beatles' White Album is plain enough.
From the cover, we go to the content. The opening track, "Hell Hole," seems to have been the band's choice of hit single, judging from the music video that accompanies the DVD release (it's available on YouTube as well). The video's painfully literal visual interpretations of each line from the song, its gratuitous shots of young women in bikinis, and its equally pointless skull imagery all join with the song's guitar-and-organ power chords to put one back in those hair-band days of the 1980's, when MTV regularly played videos much like this one from bands that took themselves seriously. Nigel sings the verses, while David sings on the chorus. I can't decide what my favorite line is from this tale of an impoverished rocker who makes it big but then decides he doesn't like stardom after all. Is the best line "The rats are peeling" (whatever that means) or "I'm flashin' back into my pan"? Either way, the song always gets a smile from me.
The following song, "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight," gets kudos for a title that seems to come straight from rock music's Department of Redundancy Department. This song, which plays during the film's opening credits, and toward the end when a band member who has left Spinal Tap rejoins the group, reminds us of a longstanding if unspoken Rule #1 for rock and roll: if you can't think of something else to write a rock-and-roll song about, write a song about rock and roll! It is fast-paced and power-chord-based, with some keyboard-synthesized vocals that made me think of when acts like Peter Frampton and the Cars were using that guitar talkbox; and in the guitar solo, Nigel seems to be doing his best to replicate Eddie Van Halen's plectrum-tapping technique.
"Heavy Duty" is slow-paced and, appropriately, heavy. It's subject is rock-and-roll music (please see Rock-and-Roll Rule #1 above). It captures well the anti-intellectualism that one saw at work in much of the rock music of the day (favorite line: "Why waste good music on a brain?"), and features a characteristically disorganized guitar solo by Nigel. Yet the real treat comes near the end of the song, when, in a backhanded compliment to all those rock bands that have incorporated classical-music structures in a bid for respectability, the band works in the well-known minuet melody from Luigi Boccherini's String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5 (G275). I'm still waiting to see the "Spinal Tap" outtake where Nigel asserts that Boccherini travelled forward in time, attended a Spinal Tap concert, stole the melody, and returned to the 18th century.
"Rock and Roll Creation" takes, for its subject, rock-and-roll music (please see Rock-and-Roll Rule #1 above). Its pretentiousness in assigning to rock-and-roll a key role in the creation of the universe reminds us of how Spinal Tap, like so many rock bands of the 1980's and the time before and since, takes itself *very* seriously. My favorite line from the song brings together Eastern and Western visions of the universe, with a bit of biblical diction: "Yin was looking for his Yang/And he looked, and he saw that it was good!" Power chords, falsetto harmonies, and heavy blasts on the synthesizer, along with a middle 8 that combines keyboard arpeggios with high-register bass, give us a sense of how determined the band is to make a statement. The rock critics' response to this "statement," as quoted by DiBergi in the film: "What day did the Lord create Spinal Tap, and couldn't He have rested on that day, too?"
"America" (not included in the film) shows us this English band setting for itself the task of defining the United States of America. Good of them to do so. Here, ST seems to be going for the power-ballad feel in the beginning, with acoustic guitar and church organ supporting the band's harmonies; soon, however, the heavy electric guitars kick in, and we're back in more familiar Spinal Tap territory. They almost seem overcome by their own sense of an emotion that the listener inevitably won't share. My favorite lines: "Each religion, race, and creed/Gets exactly what they need/God bless Johnny Appleseed." As an analysis of American democracy, it's not exactly Alexis de Tocqueville.
Ready for a change of pace? Well, here comes a drastic one. "Cups and Cakes" epitomizes the early Britpop of the British Invasion period, and reminds us that not all U.K. bands of that time were as gifted as the Beatles or The Who. There's an air of Herman's Hermits-style preciosity to the way the song combines a horn section, a string section, piano, and tambourine to tell the story of a young Brit enjoying high tea. Note the use of "dear" to mean "expensive," after the British fashion -- a good example of the satirists' attention to detail. Appropriate, too, that treacle is mentioned; this is one very treacly song. Fans of the film will remember that this song, recorded when Spinal Tap was known as the Thamesmen, plays on the radio in a city where the band has just arrived for a show; the band members are thrilled to hear the song, but dismayed when the disk jockey subsequently describes Spinal Tap as "currently residing in the 'where are they now?' category."
I remember seeing "Big Bottom" being performed on "Saturday Night Live," back when "This Is Spinal Tap" was just coming out. Every rock act that somehow depended on novelty instrument choices (as when Gary Wright's band had only keyboardists, no guitarists) gets skewered here, as this song has lots of bottom, courtesy of three basses -- a lead bass, a rhythm bass, and a, well, bass bass. The song's sexist double entendres hit a low of their own, and the song reminds us of a Rule #2 for rock and roll: if you don't know what the next line of the song should say, or if you've forgotten the line, just sing, "You know what I mean."
"Sex Farm" offers more in the way of sexist double entendres. (This is the song that the band is playing during a gig at a U.S. Air Force base in the Pacific Northwest, when a radio-amplified guitar starts picking up and broadcasting control-tower transmissions to and from nearby aircraft.) My favorite feature of this song is probably the way the band goes for a big finish after the song has clearly run out of energy. I saw that done in real life plenty of times at concert venues like the Hampton Coliseum in Tidewater Virginia, or the old Capital Centre just outside Washington, D.C. At least when Spinal Tap does it, it's funny.
"Stonehenge" is one of my favorites. Jethro Tull, anyone? This song is a fun homage to Tull and all those other U.K. bands that have mined the riches of British antiquity in search of new material. I like the way the vocals switch back and forth between David and Nigel; and the mandolin in the middle reminded me of how Led Zeppelin fans would look forward to the acoustic set with John Paul Jones on mandolin. And, as always, this band takes itself *much* too seriously. "In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, lived a strange race of people: the Druids. No one knows who they were, or [long pause] what they were doing. But their legacy remains, hewn into the living rock -- of Stonehenge!" Visit the actual Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in southern England, and see if this song doesn't end up echoing in your mind, even if it is against your will and better judgment.
The guitar-and-organ-oriented "Gimme Some Money," another song from the band's Thamesmen period (it is seen as a black-and-white TV appearance on a show called "Pop, Look, and Listen!"), is studiedly irreverent. In their matching suits, the lads look rather like the early Beatles; but while the subject matter recalls the Beatles' "Money (That's What I Want)," the delivery seems more reminiscent of the Kinks. Favorite line: "I'm lookin' for pound notes, loose change, bad checks, anything..."
The following song, "(Listen to the) Flower People," with its gentle, hippie-esque delivery, represents another drastic change of pace. This song, like "Cups and Cakes" and "Gimme Some Money," conveys a subtle theme of the film: that this fictive band, like plenty of real bands out there, has been only too willing to respond to changes in the musical fashion of the day by altering their style and approach. (Happily, we have been spared any representation of Spinal Tap's disco period; unhappily, we *did* experience the disco interludes of Kiss, Rod Stewart, Electric Light Orchestra, and even the Rolling Stones.) "Flower People" seems like a mix of the Moody Blues and Donovan, with acoustic guitar, heavenly harmonies, a sitar solo from Nigel, an invocation of the beginning of Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik," and a wall-of-sound conclusion straight out of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper period.
Appearing as a bonus track, in both regular and scratch-mix versions, is Spinal Tap's ode to the holidays, "Christmas With the Devil." The devout are not likely to be amused; others will be delighted. Here, the band has great fun lampooning the Satanist posturings of acts like Black Sabbath. Lines like "So come all ye unfaithful/Don't get left out in the cold/You don't need no invitation, no/Your ticket is your soul" precede a typically chaotic Nigel Tufnel guitar solo. And the band members offer a spoken holiday wish at the end!
This CD offers everything the original LP release did: lyrics for the eleven songs that originally appeared on the album; covers of six prior Spinal Tap albums (all of them unavailable); and even the Spinal Tap entry from the "Rocklopedia Britannicus," which assures us that "Though neither a critics' nor a public favorite, Spinal Tap continues to fill a much needed void."
Director Reiner abandoned the "mock-umentary" genre and went on to make more conventional films; Christopher Guest has taken up that mantle, with fun films like "Waiting for Guffman" (1997), "Best in Show" (2000), and "A Mighty Wind" (2003). Spinal Tap, however, remains a more lasting creation; they have recorded two actual albums, "Break Like the Wind" (1992) and "Back from the Dead" (2009), have played live shows, and continue to inspire a fervent post-modern following. This made-up, satirical band has become, well, a band. This brilliantly fun album reminds us of how it all began.
The album stands on its own, the movie is a classic. Great songs, crank it up. This vinyl reissue sounds great.
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