Most of the music here bears only a coincidental resemblance to the sort of 45s that the Wiz, Dean Swift, and the rest of Colin MacInnes' absolute beginners were buying from department-store gramophone sections in 1950s Britain. But MacInnes' fictional mods certainly appreciated style, and the soundtrack to the film adaptation of his classic novel was, first and foremost, a stunningly cool showcase for the jazz currents that flowed freely through the U.K. pop scene in the mid-'80s, via artists like Sade, Working Week, Eighth Wonder (featuring Patsy Kensit, who also starred in the film as Crepe Suzette), and of, course, Paul Weller's Style Council. (Weller, according to legend, turned down the chance to play Swift; he'd already used the title of MacInnes' book for one of his last hits with the Jam.) The remainder of the collection, meanwhile, is perfectly complementary, instead of odds and sods. The two numbers with the strongest connections to the music of MacInnes' era are both delights; Slim Gaillard's "Selling Out" reprises the hipster jive of his '50s hits, and Ray Davies recommends the "Quiet Life" over a charming trad jazz arrangement. A pair of instrumentals contributed by legendary arranger Gil Evans and ex-Specials leader Jerry Dammers are also memorable -- Evans' playful "Va Va Voom" morphs from straight-up swing to Afro-Cuban sass with ease, while "Riot City" sounds like the jazz counterpart to the Specials' spooky ska smash, "Ghost Town." And the coup de grâce comes from a first-generation mod: David Bowie's title track is the gem of his post-"Let's Dance" '80s output, a big, breathtaking ballad allowing him to indulge the Sinatra croon that's driven many of his best performances. Whatever Absolute Beginners lacks in historical accuracy, it makes up for with great songs and savoir faire, and it stands as one of the finest soundtracks from a decade filled with good ones.
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AllMusic Review by Dan LeRoy