Truly great soundtracks don’t come easy. This is what makes the companion to Trainspotting so unusual. Not only does it manage to nail the cultural moment the film portrays (and aurally recreate the film’s story in its running order), but it also escapes the film entirely becoming its own album. It plays out like a record sequenced by the world’s most versatile band. As a landmark of 90’s film and music culture, Trainspotting is an astounding document.
It helps that director Danny Boyle had his finger on the right pulse when it came to the zeitgeist of Cool Britannia. He harvested classic music that was finding itself echoed in the now. Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” was given a completely new lease on life through its positioning as the film’s de facto theme song. Pop himself would be the only artist to appear twice on the soundtrack, with the slinky and decadent “Nightclubbing” making an appearance near the half-way mark; fair since Pop is one of the artists specifically name-checked in the film. Boyle also pulled veterans Brian Eno, New Order and Lou Reed into the mix complementing the atmosphere of remainder of the soundtrack’s newer artists.
The newer music was mostly recorded either specifically for the film (Primal Scream’s insidiously grooving “Trainspotting“) or pulled from unreleased material. One of Britpop’s more overlooked and charming bands, Sleeper, takes an excellent run through a cover of Blondie’s “Atomic,” while Blur contribute “Sing,” one of their hazy, turbulent and most gorgeous, early, works. Pulp of course make an appearance, chipping in one of its snarkiest and wittiest songs never to grace an album, the devastatingly truthful “Mile End.” The new songs weave in and out amongst the classic tracks in a way that reads like a mixtape by an imminently hipper older sibling.
I was 15 when I first picked the soundtrack up – a good six months before I would even see the film. I was drawn in by the bands, and I found myself inexplicably enjoying the electronica tracks as much as my favorite more traditional rock songs. Leftfield’s “A Final Hit” goes along with what narrator Renton (Ewan McGregor) self-describes as his last hit of heroin in the film. Underworld’s “Born Slippy [Nuxx]” propels Renton through his final act of betrayal and ultimate moment of redemption at the film’s close. These songs were far from what I listened to at the time, but they still managed to grab me with their energy and seemingly obvious connection to the songs on the rest of the soundtrack. Don’t ask me to explain why I just knew the hypnotic trance of Underworld was linked to the ambient float of Brian Eno and the primal pound of Iggy Pop. It was obvious. It just was.
Though it is in many ways rooted to the very time in which it was created, Trainspotting‘s soundtrack is, somewhat contrarily, a timeless piece of culture mashing. Unlike other movies from the era that strove to be as relevant as possible with their music (and ended up being all the less, all the more quickly), Trainspotting tied itself into something larger than the sum of its parts. The results are a soundtrack that make me want to choose life every single time. words/ j neas