The 1984 movie This Is Spinal Tap is one of the best movies ever made! The concept was genius and the execution was flawless. Few, if any, movies are as re-watchable or as quotable as This Is Spinal Tap. Not even Road House.
Yes, this (mock) rockumentary about a British heavy metal band’s disastrous 1982 tour (in support of their dubious Smell The Glove LP) is a true masterpiece! The humor is often subtle, and other times ridiculously over-the-top. There, in the balance, lies the movie’s charm. While lampooning heavy metal (and the music biz as a whole), This Is Spinal Tap is a special kind of satire, one that doesn’t pass judgement on its subject(s). That is to say, This Is Spinal Tap is not a “biting” satire (or at least I don’t think so). It isn’t cynical or mean-spirited. The characters of Nigel, David, Derek (and even Marty and Ian) are lovable and (mostly) well-meaning folk. Much of the movie’s humor comes from Spinal Tap’s clueless pretense. But their cluelessness far outweighs their pretentiousness. They are oblivious to the fact that their career has hit the skids, never mind that they were never all that good to begin with! We are given plenty of back story on the band, which included a fair bit of bandwagon jumping (they sang of flower power in their early days). But ol’ Spinal Tap weren’t calculating in their trend-hopping. Nay, they were just blindly riding the tide. The Tap are very childlike in that way, and it’s incredibly endearing.
While This Is Spinal Tap gets its notoriety from its many pot-shots at rock n’ roll excess, the true heart of the story lies in the bond between band-mates Nigel and David. (If you watch the movie’s deleted scenes, you will see this relationship was fleshed out in much greater detail than in the final cut.) Nevertheless, this is my favorite part of the movie. Nigel and David have a strong, brotherly bond — one they aren’t consciously aware of. My favorite scene in the movie is one of its last. Spinal Tap are playing their tour finale in Los Angeles. Nigel (having earlier quit the band) peeks out from backstage as his former band belts out a spirited version of Tonight I’m Going To Rock You Tonight. Nigel is seen bobbing his head and mouthing the lyrics to himself. (David then asks him to come out on stage and re-join the band.) I get chills when I see Nigel singing along from behind the amps. It’s a song he has performed a million times before, but there he is rocking out — because he just can’t help himself! Rock n’ roll is in his blood and he truly believes in Spinal Tap and their music. It doesn’t matter if everyone thinks they’re clowns. Spinal Tap do what they love. Who are we to laugh in their face? When all the ridiculousness is stripped away, this scene shows that the music itself is more important to Spinal Tap than the sex, the drugs, and the excess. A great way to end a great movie!
Okay, enough about the movie, let’s talk about the record. Released in ’84, the movie soundtrack was written and performed by Spinal Tap. This, of course, adds even more credence to the whole Spinal Tap universe. The eleven tracks are culled from Spinal Tap’s long career, including two tracks from their early days when they were known as Thamesmen. The LP does a great job of expanding the Spinal Tap canon by including a copy of Tap’s entry page in the Rocklopedia Brittanicus. For Tap-o-philes like myself, there are some tasty little nuggets in the fine print. The album cover itself is (of course) completely black, juts like the ill-conceived Smell The Glove LP. The music is something to be behold, and essential to fans of the movie. That goes without saying (though I just said it). The “actors” who play on the album are actually very competent musicians, giving great authenticity to their satire. While at the same time, the guys purposefully write “bad” songs — because Spinal Tap is not supposed to be a very good band. It’s all really a complicated balancing act that (much like the movie) is executed to perfection! To judge the album, one has to ask whether the music herein is, in fact, what it intends to be. The answer is a resounding YES! Spinal Tap hits the nail right on the head! This is hilarious stuff for sure, but also surprisingly catchy. Bad in a good way, and good in a good way. My score: A