Friday, June 15, 2012

Spinal Tap: This Is Spinal Tap

Thirty years ago, who would have guessed that a movie about a fake British metal band would have been so enduring? More to the point, who would have guessed that of any collaboration between Meathead from All In The Family, Lenny from Laverne & Shirley, a guy who quit halfway through a replacement season of Saturday Night Live (a feat he’d repeat in 1985, making him the only guy to leave the show twice) and some other guy we’d never heard of?
If there’s anyone who doesn’t enjoy the mock-“rockumentary” This Is Spinal Tap, we haven’t met them. Even given the propensity of the “musicians” to revive the characters every now and again, the film is still pretty funny, and arguably, only Christopher Guest has created something as original since. (And he doesn’t get enough credit for copping Jeff Beck’s hairstyle.)
It was either Michael McKean or Harry Shearer (we can’t remember which) who said that they never considered Spinal Tap to be untalented, just that they weren’t blessed with good taste. It’s for that reason that much of the “soundtrack” album could easily be mistaken for other hard rock bands of the early ‘80s.
Right from the beginning, “Hell Hole” sports a nicely fuzzy riff and an organ part straight off a Deep Purple album. Only when the lyrics of the chorus kick in is there a suggestion of comedy. Similarly, “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight”, redundancy aside, stays fairly subtle in the same pattern. “Heavy Duty” is played for a few more laughs, but is best known for Nigel’s Boccherini quote at the end, just as “Rock And Roll Creation” will mostly remind listeners of the pod sequence of the film (including the finger-in-the-ear harmony section). The rarity of the album is “America”, heard for only a few moments in the studio argument scene, while “Cups And Cakes” is happily rescued from the where-are-they-now file.
Side two goes straight for the obvious, with some of the more quoted songs from the movie. “Big Bottom” and “Sex Farm” need little explanation, while “Stonehenge” continues for another verse past the mandolin solo. “Gimme Some Money” and “(Listen To The) Flower People” appear in their throwback versions; sadly, the live soundcheck runthrough of “GSM” is absent. (A short album to begin with, the current CD includes both mixes of the rare “Christmas With The Devil” single.)
Besides writing the music, the creators put a lot of care to the production. For example, “Gimme Some Money” is presented in extreme stereo, with the drums panned far left, just as they would have been in 1965. “Cups And Cakes” has full orchestration despite its brevity, and all the songs are filled with sonic details worthy of a professional multitrack recording.
The original LP was packaged just like the legendary Smell The Glove, with an all-black cover and minimal legal copy. The gatefold helpfully showed some “other Spinal Tap albums you may have missed”, alongside hilariously inconsistent track info and a page from the Rocklopedia Brittanicus. As ever, its grandeur is exponentially reduced in the CD packaging.

Spinal Tap The Original Soundtrack Recording From The Motion Picture “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984)—
2000 CD reissue: same as 1984, plus 2 extra tracks

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