I love glam because it was the hardest that pop ever rocked; the fiercest
catchy choruses, nonsense sing-alongs, cosmopolitan travelogues, urbane
chic, fruity vocals/themes, etc., ever crunched. It looked at the landscape
of early-'70s Britain and saw a football field on one end and a discotheque
other and all sorts of Platonic ideals in between: What if the 1910 Fruitgum
Company weren't a bunch of studio hacks but an ambitious rock 'n' roll band
instead? What if Anthony Newley's Broadway melodies had Burundi beats (or
any rhythm at all)? What if Yes read Vogue instead of Kahlil Gibran
and Norman Vincent Peale? Glam rockers made mincemeat (mincing all the while)
of female musical distinctions (culturally aligned with pop) and male ones
rock). For anyone fed up with definitions or patterns of behavior petrified in
stone, this was a liberating music indeed, as it extended out from
blend into matters of gesture, dress, image, identity, power, etc.
The soundtrack to "Velvet Goldmine," Todd Haynes' gorgeous glam meta-
biopic, does a lot of blending and blurring as well. Since a certain
billionaire was too parsimonious with his seminal glam-rock catalog, Haynes
had to turn to modern-day rockers for some amazing simulations. Shudder To
Think's Bowie parodies/homages know the Ziggy Stardust tropes so well that
you can't help but laugh at how perfectly they surround the past. "Ballad of
Maxwell Demon" is an incredible "All The Young Dudes" rip.
Then there are the covers, particularly the Roxy Music ones. If, like me, you
got more out of the first six Roxy Music albums proper than you ever did out
of Dark Side of the Moon, then you'll be pleased as punch to learn that
Radiohead's Thom Yorke has a fruitful future in Karaoke. His Bryan Ferry
impersonations on such early Roxy classics as "2HB" and "Ladytron" are
absolutely jaw-dropping, so uncanny that I guarantee you could fool a Ferry
freak for a few moments at least. And Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (who plays the
film's Bowiesque lead character, Brian Slade) does good by Brian Eno's
"Baby's on Fire."
At first, all this play turned me off. Who would actually listen to an album
of eerily precise covers and imagined hits more than once, I wondered. It
seemed the only thing they had going for them was the fact that at least they
weren't the tepid approximations of punk that lessened the impact of "Sid and
Nancy." But after seeing the film and how beautifully Haynes deliberately
confused history and fiction (how much we accept, for example, Rhys-Meyers
singing the Eno song and having Shudder To Think sing the Bowiesque
song for him because it's all strung together so seamlessly, just like the
way we accept the image of a Barbie doll "singing" "Rainy Days and Mondays" in
Haynes' earlier "Superstar"), the songs retained a rather delightful,
prankish charm when I heard them again on the CD, a quality perfectly in
the glam aesthetic.
Of course, it helps, in the case of the covers, that the originals are so
brilliant themselves, and, just for comparison's sake, four are included here:
Eno's "Needle in the Camel's Eye," Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love," T. Rex's
"Diamond Meadows" and, best of all, Roxy's impossibly great "Virginia Plain."
My vote for the greatest millisecond in rock 'n' roll history is that
moment 2:09, in which you can hear the pick on human fly Phil Manzanera's
strings right before he enters that mind-melting guitar blam and prog synth
duet with Eno, lending his entry a city-leveling power. And this is to ignore
oboe, keyboard and engine-revving sound effects; lyrics that jet-set south
of the border and through "The Last Picture Show" at the drive-in and make
moderne observations as "You're so sheer, you're so chic, teenage rebel of
the week"; and an opening line ("Make me a deal and make it straight")
delivered with the utmost queeniness.
A few of the covers falter. Ewan McGregor's Iggy is simply no match for the
original Lizard Queen on the Stooges' "T.V. Eye." The Igster's self-
destructive self is too "there" in his songs and they remain uncoverable (just
ask EMF). And there's no excuse for how abortively Teenage Fanclub and
Elastica's Donna Matthews ignore the wall of noise in the New York Dolls'
"Personality Crisis." But overall, anyone entranced by the film
will want this soundtrack as a curio.