Absolute Beginners Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: fully restored and still suave

First full CD reissue for Bowie-powered retro-jazz mix-tape musical Absolute Beginners

Absolute Beginners: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
(Image: © UMC)

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Punk film director Julien Temple’s ambitious attempt to fashion a neon-lit, jazz-cool musical from Colin MacInnes’s cult 1959 novel was a notorious box-office flop and an enduring emblem of 1980s Britfilm hubris. Which is a little unfair, as this flawed Soho coffee-bar opera undeniably had visual panache and a stellar musical guest list. 

Produced by seasoned Madness/Elvis Costello collaborators Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, with help from veteran Miles Davis arranger Gil Evans, the soundtrack album was better received than the film, and still stands up today on this newly restored full-length reissue. 

Among the headline hits are David Bowie’s soaringly anthemic title track, a deliciously wry debut solo single from Ray Davies, Quiet Life, plus suave cappuccino-infused Latin-pop smoochers from Sade and the Style Council.

Less celebrated but worth revisiting are Bowie’s fragrant take on the Italian easy listening standard Volare, and a post-Specials Jerry Dammers channeling Lalo Schifrin on the cinematic jazz-noir epic Riot City

Gems on this expanded reissue that were dropped from previously truncated releases include Laurel Aitken’s fantastic vintage protest ska-pop song Landlords And Tenants, Ekow Abban’s sparkling Afro-jazz number Santa Lucia, and the lush, bluesy Langer/Evans instrumental Cool Napoli

A few dated duds aside, this album remains a generally rich and rewarding exercise in affectionate retro-pastiche.

Stephen Dalton

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.