Spinal Tap - This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
I don’t think there’s any doubt that most modern metal bands leave very little room for belly laughs or humour of any kind. I mean being funny is simply not allowed for under kvlt underground metal guidelines & regulations now, is it? But we’re about to take a step outside of our dark, cavernous comfort zone for a few minutes as we discuss the world's first heavy metal soundtrack release in the shape of Rob Reiner’s classic comedy spoof “This Is Spinal Tap”.
The film was made in a documentary fashion that sees us following the misfortunes of legendary hard rockin’ heavy metallers Spinal Tap; a fictional group of English rock stars with a taste for all of the indulgences that come with the profession. In actual fact, the band was formed by a team of talented American comedians based in Los Angeles with the filming of the movie being almost completely improvised. Approximately 100 hours of footage was recorded with the script kept very open to encourage spontaneous hilarity & it’s clear from the result that they've succeeded brilliantly. There’s an abundance of fantastic one-liners throughout the movie with many of them having been ingrained in rock folklore for all time & if you haven’t seen “This Is Spinal Tap” then I order you to go & check it out as soon as you’ve finished reading this review.
But I might divert our attentions away from the film for a moment because what we’re really discussing here isn’t actually the movie, but the soundtrack release that came along with it. It’s always a point of contention as to whether the songs are good enough to stand up in their own right with these sort of comedy soundtracks & that’s a very pertinent question on this occasion. There are a few genuinely funny songs included in the film & we get them all here but we also get a number of other tracks that didn’t make the final cut for the movie too. Personally, I think you really have to buy into the music from a hooks point of view or else the jokes will likely lose their impact after several listens. And not all of these songs here are terribly funny mind you. Some could actually be mistaken for unintentionally cheesy song-writing if you’re not paying attention too closely but overall the humorous aspects of the record are very clever.
The production & musicianship aren’t amazing but that was likely intentional as we can’t have our goofy heroes showing themselves to be too polished now, can we? There’s a lot of variety here too & although Spinal Tap seems to be commonly lumped in with the heavy metal genre there’s really not all that much legitimate metal to speak of. Spinal Tap have a much more 70’s focused sound with the more metal moments possessing a similar feel to 70’s Black Sabbath & early Judas Priest. Priest’s “Rocka Rolla” debut often springs to mind actually & as with that album there’s a lot more hard rock to Spinal Tap’s sound than actual metal & a fair whack more progressive rock too. You can often pick out the exact bands, albums or songs that Spinal Tap are trying to parody with each piece & they’ve done a pretty amazing job to copy the dominant characteristics of each artist whilst presenting them in an overblown & inherently funny way at the same time. The more proggy stuff often sounds a lot like the more self-indulgent Rush, Yes or Pink Floyd material of the time while the couple of cheesy psychedelic pop songs are clearly a take on Beatles albums like “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” & “Magical Mystery Tour”.
Interestingly enough, I would never have much time for music in the style of some of these songs but when you know they’re done in jest it seems to open you up to enjoying them on a different level & I find that I end up having a bit of fun with it. Just don’t expect much metal. The metal link seems to be over-exaggerated due to the fact that the rock star lifestyle of the band hits closest to home for metal & hard rock musicians. For example, one of the most well-known tracks from the album is “Stonehenge” which was meant as a piss-take on Black Sabbath’s huge Stonehenge props for the “Born Again” tour with Spinal Tap ordering a similar product but getting a tiny sculpture only 18 inches high to perform in front of. That scene was one of the most memorable of the film but the music survives comfortably on its own merit & often reminds me of Manilla Road's early works, only a little less cheesy & a lot more enjoyable.
Overall, I find "This Is Spinal Tap" to offer enough entertainment value to make it worth a few listens. Particularly if you're already a fan of the movie.