Has there ever been a British film with a more coruscating, era-defining soundtrack than the original Trainspotting back in 1996? From the breathless energy of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life in the opening credits, to the shimmering chords of Underworld’s Born Slippy that accompany Ewan McGregor’s Renton’s iconic, valedictory ‘Choose Life’ monologue, there is barely a note out of place, with every track selected complementing the action with seemingly effortless brilliance.
Apart from the aforementioned bookends, Lou Reed’s sublime Perfect Day, which introduced the ex-Velvet Underground legend’s work to a whole new audience, is perhaps the best-known moment, but the less glamorous supporting cast – for example Sleeper’s Atomic, pulsating in the background as Renton is swept of his feet by gamine schoolgirl Diane; and Pulp’s jauntily seedy Mile End, which adroitly encapsulates the squalor of his London flat after psychopath Begbie’s unwanted arrival, are no less important to the soundtrack’s success.
Rather like the film itself then, the T2 soundtrack, released in January after what seems like years of anticipation, had an awful lot to live up to. The fact that in both cases, the 2017 sequels fall some way short of the lofty standard set by their predecessors, was all but inevitable. Taken as pieces of work in their own right though, they have much to commend them.
The T2 film generally does a fine job of recapturing the vibrant pace and rich characterisation of the first Trainspotting, with numerous ingeniously crafted, heart-warmingly nostalgic nods to the earlier film. Likewise, the new soundtrack stays true to the spirit of 1996, with an expertly curated blend of older classics and contemporary cool combining into a cohesive whole. We also get a radically reworked Lust For Life, courtesy of The Prodigy, and Slow Slippy, Underworld’s magnificently stoned bastard offspring of their most famous composition.
It’s to the T2’s creators’ credit that rather than cosily returning to the sounds of 1990s Cool Britannia that played such a major role in Trainspotting, they acknowledge that like Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud (and indeed the Edinburgh they inhabit), music has also moved on. So, we get Wolf Alice’s Silk, a wistful, slow burning anthem par excellence, and two tracks of winningly woozy modern trip hop by Edinburgh natives Young Fathers, as well as more eclectic choices like the quirky, mumbled rap of Ireland’s Rubber Bandits. All work well, both as part of the film’s sonic palette and as independent listening experiences.
The rich seam of earlier popular music that ran through Trainspotting isn’t tapped into quite so effectively here. Songs like Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax and Queen’s Radio Gaga are unquestionably powerful (the latter, in particular, has a real dramatic impact in the film) yet one cannot help but feel that such universally familiar, commercially successful choices lack something of the leftfield, cult oddity of Pop or Reed. The less polished rhythms of The Clash’s (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais and Blondie’s Dreaming feel like more appropriate inclusions.
The one T2 track that really doesn’t work at all is Eventually But; Spud (Ewen Bremner)’s Underworld-backed spoken word letter to the estranged mother of his child, which comes across as both mawkish and musically slight. It’s the only genuine misstep in a collection that makes a laudable fist of emulating a record that is part of an entire generation’s DNA.
Only time will tell whether any of the music on the T2 soundtrack will come to occupy the same universal popular culture status that Lust For Life or Born Slippy enjoy two decades on. Like the film it accompanies though, the prevailing sense is that it will be remembered principally as a top-notch tribute to its timeless progenitor; first class entertainment but without those inimitable zeitgeist qualities that made the original Trainspotting so uniquely compelling.