[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at
1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Friday, Nov. 6.]
Musicians behind the Wylde Ratttz -- a fictitious glam-rock band in the current feature film "Velvet Goldmine" -- are crying foul over what they're describing as an incredible screw-up on the movie's just-released soundtrack album.
The upset parties, including Mudhoney singer Mark Arm and veteran rock producer Don Fleming, say the Ratttz's sole contribution to the disc -- a cover of the Stooges song "T.V. Eye," featuring vocals by actor Ewan McGregor -- is unmastered and unlistenable, staining the names of all involved.
In a recent e-mail obtained by SonicNet Music News, Fleming urged his fellow Wylde Ratttz -- Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore (guitar) and Steve Shelley (drums), the Stooges' Ron Asheton (guitar), Mike Watt (bass) and producer/vocalist Jim Dunbar (vocals, percussion) -- to call London Records and demand that the McGregor version be replaced with a completed take featuring vocals by Arm.
"Three years in the making, and it's the worst-sounding piece of s--- I've ever heard," Fleming wrote. Fleming was in the studio Friday and unavailable for comment.
On Friday, Arm said that while he hadn't heard the released version of "T.V. Eye" (RealAudio excerpt of the McGregor version), he had received Fleming's e-mail. He said he was upset that listeners might see his name advertised on the album and think he was doing McGregor's vocal.
"I'm a little disappointed," Arm said, with a slight laugh, from a tour stop in Salt Lake City. "From what I understand, he's singing the verse over the chorus and vice-versa. Also, the music is scrunched -- all you hear is hi-hat. I don't know who would make a decision to pick a s---ty version of a song over a good version. What would be the motivation behind that? I'm stumped."
London Records publicity representatives referred questions about the album to soundtrack co-producer and music supervisor Randy Poster, who did not return calls for comment Friday.
According to Dunbar, the band has already initiated discussions about replacing the McGregor take. "The talk is now that if they do another run and press more, we go back to the original Mark Arm version," Dunbar said from New York. A decision to replace the song has not yet been confirmed by London Records representatives.
Dunbar was the only bandmember offered a cassette of the McGregor take for approval, according to both Dunbar and Fleming. After listening to it just once, he said he called London to tell the label the track was inferior. A label rep called him back later the same day and told him the album was already in the manufacturing stage and could not be changed, Dunbar said.
One source who has heard both the released McGregor version and the Arm take said the McGregor version of "T.V. Eye" stands out conspicuously as the worst track on the album, which also includes songs by Brian Eno, Shudder To Think, Pulp and Lou Reed, in addition to several cuts by Venus In Furs, another band assembled for the movie and featuring members of Radiohead, Suede, Roxy Music and Grant Lee Buffalo.
According to the source, the problem with McGregor's version has less to do with the actor's vocals than with the fact that the track was never mastered before adding it to the soundtrack. "It wasn't smoothed out; the levels don't match the levels on the rest of the CD," the source said. "All you hear is cymbals. It's all high end, and the midrange has been sucked out of it."
"Velvet Goldmine" depicts the sex- and drug-crazed '70s glam-rock scene in England by focusing on Brian Slade, a fictitious rock star inspired by real-life glam-rock pioneer David Bowie. The Wylde Ratttz are modeled on proto-punk-rockers Iggy Pop and the Stooges. British actor McGregor ("Trainspotting") stars as an American rocker named Curt Wild, who is a hybrid of Pop and minimalist-rocker Lou Reed.
In his e-mail, Fleming contends that the real-life musicians behind the Wylde Ratttz were told that the McGregor cut was to be an extra song for the movie "if it came out good." He said, however, that it never had a chance to turn out well because, rather than editing McGregor's vocals into the finished, multi-track version of "TV Eye" the Ratttz had recorded, officials at London instead had him sing over an inferior instrumental.
While only one Wylde Ratttz track appears on the Velvet Goldmine album, the supergroup has recorded a full album's worth of Stooges songs and original numbers. That album is expected to be released by London in early 1999.