1984 wasnt nearly the dark image of government control that George Orwell envisioned in his 1949 masterpiece, and although he created The Party and Big Brother, not even Orwells flamboyant imagination could have conceived the very real, over-the-top fashions and sounds of the eighties or the lovable metalheads that were Spinal Tap.
Released in the spring of 1984, the film This Is Spinal Tap was a hilarious mockumentary depicting the misadventures of band members David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) during their tour for the fictional album, Smell the Glove. Although it wasn’t a huge success during its initial release, the Rob Reiner film has since developed a huge following and has become one of the most loved comedies of the eighties. Who could forget such great scenes as the amp that went to 11 or the band members getting lost in the arena hallways on their way to the stage?
The resulting soundtrack was an 11-song collection of heavy metal sugar that captured all the wit and charm of the film in its wonderfully clichéd guitar riffs, and in such lyrics as “where the dewdrops cry and the cats meow”.
Now, 25 years later, the boys are back for their third release, Back from the Dead — their first since 1992s Break Like the Wind. The album includes re-imagined versions of old favorites such as Stonehenge and Big Bottom, intermingled with five new songs, including the first recorded version of Jazz Oddyssey, which had previously only appeared on film. An hour-long bonus DVD which includes a track by track analysis by the band, as well as a pop-up standee set of the three members, is also included in this very affordable package that should please both old fans and new recruits.
Spinal Tap knows its niche, and the new album doesnt stray too far from the classic Tap formula. Other than a funkier version of Sex Farm and a reggae inspired rendering of Listen to the Flower People, most of the reworked songs, such as Big Bottom and Tonight Im Gonna Rock You Tonight, stick pretty close to the original recordings. The biggest difference here is the crisp production of CJ Vanston, and although the songs are sleeker and more modern, theyve lost a bit of the quirkiness of the original sound.
Of the new songs, the standouts are the Judas Priest-ish Rock n Roll Nightmare, and the seven minute jam-fest Short and Sweet, with guest guitarists Steve Vai, John Mayer, and Phil Collen. Often lost in the humor of the band is the fact that theyre actually pretty good vocalists and musicians, and their underrated talent is showcased throughout the album’s 19 tracks.
Of course, some long time fans would probably have wanted a few more new songs, and you could make a case for the exclusion of a song like Lick My Love Pump. But anyone who overanalyzes a Spinal Tap album is missing the point. From the remakes of the old favorites to the new songs to the fun packaging and all the extras, Back from the Dead is undeniably entertaining, and thats all it ever wanted to be. So put your brain away, turn the dial to 11, and get lost in a sea of mullets and power chords.
Even Big Brother would have a hard time not smiling at this one.
Back from the Dead