Trainspotting Soundtrack Revisited : One of the Best Ever?
Your humble blogger has a rare opportunity to tie together three of my steadiest, long-running gigs. First at 366WeirdMovies, I’ve been doing video movie reviews on their YouTube channel and I’ve drawn 1996’s Trainspotting as my next review, also with a post write-up. Since that movie is so famous for its soundtrack, I have to give it a nod here. And since that movie revolves around drug addiction, it’s good meat for a DabConnection post as well.
So how’s that for a trifecta of cultures? After this, I will be very, very done talking about Trainspotting.
Accolades For the Trainspotting Soundtrack
Just the album alone (the first, as there were two releases) sold 3x platinum in the UK, platinum in Canada and New Zealand, 2x gold in France, and was a general worldwide top seller.
In addition, it’s made several best-of lists…
- * Ranked #13 in Rolling Stone's "The 25 Greatest Soundtracks of All Time"
- * Ranked #7 in Vanity Fair’s ranking of the best motion picture soundtracks in history
- * Ranked #17 on Entertainment Weekly's 100 Best Movie Soundtracks
Given that Trainspotting is seen as mostly a cult film, the soundtrack is at least half the reason why. It came along at that perfect time where the world was transitioning from 20th century music to embrace modernity. The songs on the soundtrack break down into three categories:
- * 70s proto-punk music, with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop
- * 90s Britpop with Blur and Pulp
- * 90s techo/dance with Underworld, Bedrock, and Ice MC
Reportedly, Trainspotting director Danny Boyle approached Oasis about including one of their songs, but frontman Noel Gallagher turned him down because he thought the movie was actually going to be about trains, taking the title at face value.
The soundtrack’s success was enough to prompt a sequel album, with more songs from the soundtrack that were left off the first album, along with some oddball songs Boyle said were inspirations for the film’s aesthetic. It didn’t sell as well, but was still a moderately successful follow-up.
But this isn’t merely a collection of cool songs. The songs support the theme of the movie, even up to including some artists who were specifically mentioned in the novel the film is based on.
Oh, by the way: lead actor Ewan McGregor is also known for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels, a fact not lost on game developers...
Trainspotting Soundtrack Moments
We start with “Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop as the movie’s main theme. The lyrics are a bit opaque, but lines like “no more beating my brain with liquor and drugs” do have synergy with the movie’s theme of addicts struggling with addiction. Iggy returns with “Nightclubbing,” a trance-like ode to dancing which plays over the main characters taking heroin and nodding right off in their dealer’s apartment.
Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” gets an awesome showstopper moment when the main character Renton overdoses on heroin. “Perfect Day” has this ironic gloomy tone, contrasting with the lyrics saying “it’s such a perfect day; I’m glad I spent it with you,” suggesting the way these characters waste their lives getting high and suffering the inescapable consequences. Renton’s dealer shows him no more concern than to shove him into a taxi with the fare tucked into his pocket. At the other end, we see the taxi driver unceremoniously dump Renton on the sidewalk in front of the hospital, as if he were just a bag of garbage. It’s a brutal scene and Reed’s transcendental lyrics make the perfect commentary on it.
“Atomic” by Sleeper plays over scenes of Renton pursuing romance in nightclubs. Sleeper’s cover is notable for being a cover of a Blondie song, adding just a dash of American New Wave cred to an already highly credible soundtrack.
Pulp’s “Mile End” plays over what I think of as the “roommates” scenes of the movie, as Renton has cleaned up his act only to find his two old partners in drugs and crime, Sick Boy and Begbie, shacking up with him and slowly reclaiming his apartment as yet another junkie paradise. “Mile End” is a song steadily describing the squalid conditions of poverty housing. The lyric “Nobody wants to be your friend ‘cuz you’re not from round here; as if it were something to be proud about” resonates with the typical slum neighborhood tribalism.
Underworld’s “Born Slippy (Nuxx)” plays over some of the final scenes of the film, which I won’t spoil. But it’s yet another song about substance abuse, with Underworld front man Karl Hyde recounting that he wrote this song after coming home from a night at the pubs, and wanted to capture the way an alcoholic sees the world in disrupted fragments.
Though it’s mostly left out of the film, in the book, the character of Sick Boy is infatuated with James Bond. Thus the end credits music plays Albarn’s James Bond tribute “Closet Romantic.”
Cultural Shout-Outs in Trainspotting
In the third act, there’s an unmistakable Abbey Road reference when the four principle cast members stroll across the street in single-file Beatles’ fashion.
In the book, the character of Spud is a huge Frank Zappa fan. In the film, Spud is a combo character kludged together from several minor characters that didn’t make it into the film, which is perhaps why Spud comes off as a useless chewtoy character, just there to experience hard luck, and also why you’d never suspect him of having the intelligence to appreciate Zappa. The endcap to all this is when Spud is fantasizing what he will do with the money after a big drug score, he mentions that he wants to marry a “Jewish Princess,” an idea which he got from the Zappa song of the same name.
The Volcano nightclub in the film is (was) a real place, in Glasgow, Scotland. Notably, the interior is decorated in a manner that pays homage to the Korova drugged-milk bar in A Clockwork Orange. There’s quite a bit of similarity in the structure of the two films. One tells the story of Renton as a reforming drug addict, while Alex in A Clockwork Orange is addicted to pure “ultra-violence” and the film is the story of his rehabilitation.
So, what does Trainspotting mean as a movie? For that, watch this space which I’ll update with links to my movie analysis for 366 Weird Movies and an examination of drug addiction in this film when I cover that on Dab Connection.