Alongside albums like Blur's Parklife, Massive Attack's Blue Lines, Pulp's Different Class, Portishead's Dummy, and Radiohead's OK Computer, the original Trainspotting soundtrack stands firmly as one of the era-defining records of the '90s. British culture was experiencing a real boom at the time with the establishment-baiting work of Young British Artists like Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, the rise of influential designers like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, and the advent of Brit-pop. All of which led to a swath of self-congratulatory headlines declaring the return and rise of "Cool Britannia." In addition to Danny Boyle's blistering film, the Trainspotting soundtrack seemed to distill a great deal of what made the '90s such a thrilling decade. The heroin chic aesthetic (troublingly popular at the time) was matched by a track listing that resurrected masters of the past while celebrating contemporary rave culture and guitar music. It wasn't just the soundtrack to a film; it was the soundtrack to the hedonism of the final chapter of the 20th century.
Arguably, the cultural homogeneousness of the '90s has now been replaced with a more fractured yet nonetheless liberating range in culture. So how have the filmmakers attempted to reconcile the essence of the original with a very different modern landscape? Quite simply, they haven't. The track listing mirrors the original in that it's bookended by Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" and an alternate take on Underworld's "Born Slippy." The Prodigy's remix of Pop's track isn't a radical departure, and its muscular maximalism undermines the playful sass of the original, and Underworld's sardonically titled "Slow Slippy" is a plodding nod to the original's youthful vim and vigor. Undoubtedly, these reworkings are a deliberate gesture to signal the 20-year gap that now finds our heroes in middle age. The soundtrack also apes the original in its use of older material, although compared to Lou Reed and New Order, it uses more established pop-bangers like Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" and Queen's "Radio Ga Ga." Being the filmmaker that he is, Danny Boyle was never going to allow the music to be entirely nostalgic, and one of his most inspired contemporary picks is Fat White Family, who lend their sleazy, ramshackle psych-punk to the affair with "Whitest Boy on the Beach," a perfect fit for the amoral escapades of a bunch of heroin addicts. Grunge simulators Wolf Alice are also pitched perfectly, providing one of the quieter moments on the record with the excellent "Silk," and Irish comedy hip-hop duo Rubberbandits' "Dad's Best Friend" humorously encapsulates the pathetic nature of middle-age hedonism. But the stars of the show are Young Fathers. Their thrilling, visceral, experimental hip-hop feels, appropriately, like the wheels could fall off at any moment, as both the previously released "Get Up" and "Rise or Shine" attest -- added to which they contribute the excellent new track "Only God Knows," which is as energized and emotionally invested as anything they've produced. So does it capture the Zeitgeist again? Probably not, but it is likely to authentically reignite memories of more wild and youthful times for a certain generation.