Review: Isles of Wonder, Music for the Opening Ceremony

Music and Art

Danny Boyle’s downloadable double disc release of the soundtrack to Friday’s majestic Olympic opening ceremony is sure to be divisive.

Those blown away by the spectacle will happily part with a tenner to relive the magic, while the cynics will view it as a speedy attempt to cash in on Olympic-mania. Positioning myself comfortably on one of those fences which adorned Boyle’s idyllic countryside scene, I am glad to appreciate once more the emotive music while lamenting that it has been denuded of its outstanding visual counterpart.

Indeed, the release itself is divided into two; the first half covering the dramatic elements of Boyle’s production with the second providing the mixtape which accompanied the athletes as they entered the stadium.

It’s the new tracks which are the gems here – it is possible to forgive the omission of Pink Floyd, Muse, The Jam, The Sex Pistols, Blur etc from this compilation (and indeed Led Zeppelin and Oasis from the ceremony itself) because most of us will own their music already.

The album is Underworld-heavy as Boyle collaborated with the 90s dance group when putting together the ceremony. It is the “Born Slippy” musicians which steal the show with their thunderous “And I Will Kiss” and encouraging anthem “Caliban’s Dream”.

The first track clocks in at over seventeen minutes with Dame Evelyn Glennie’s pounding percussion driving the breathtaking Industrial Revolution scene – the seemlingly endless repetition perfectly conveys the backbreaking toiling in the eighteenth and nineteenth century factories.  Yet without the terrifying sight of chimneys rising out of nowhere or Olympic rings forged overhead, the piece somewhat lacks purpose.

“Caliban’s Dream” on the other hand is nothing short of inspirational – instantly re-conjuring the imagery of flames rising to form the Olympic cauldron. The simple whistling motif is a reflective theme which works equally well for running or relaxation.

The other individual tracks however are hit and miss. Fans of the Arctic Monkeys will want to get their hands on the Sheffield outfit’s faithful cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together”, even if the live recording of 2005 hit “I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor” is somewhat lacklustre.

Dizzie Rascal’s classic “Bonkers” and Boyle’s nod to Slumdog Millionaire composer A. R. Rahman appear disjointed when disassociated from the musical medley which depicted a typical night out in London set to British hits of the last 40 years. The same can be said of the Mike Oldfield medley which just goes back to being the Tubular Bells we know and love – the additional magic provided by the defeat of an inflatable Voldemort by clone Mary Poppinses is lost on the record.

Thankfully we are spared the catwailing crooning of Paul McCartney, whose bumbling rendition of “Hey Jude” was the only dampener on a stunning musical and visual show. Perhaps Boyle simply forgot to hit record, just as Macca forgot the lyrics to his singalong favourite.

As we move into the mixtape, the mood shifts dramatically to crowd-pumping dance tracks as The Chemical Brothers’ anthem “Galvanize” announces the entrance of the first athletes to the arena. Without the procession of the competitors however, the progression through the Underworld back catalogue to a triumphant blasting of Bowie’s “Heroes” serves little purpose other than to give me a new gym playlist. Given my dislike of physical exercise, at least this soundtrack can claim it’s inspired a journalist, if not a generation.

It’s time to dismount from the picket. Having listened all the way through, it’s clear there’s a gaping hole in this soundtrack. While Boyle and Underworld have done a sterling job in curating an inspirational, uplifting and moving collection of music, their efforts simply do not work without the stunning visuals they accompanied.

Unless you want to stride through the English countryside with the chaos of the Industrial Revolution ringing in your ears this summer, you’ll be better off saving your pennies for a DVD release.

★★☆☆☆