Various Artists - The Man Who Fell To Earth album review

‘Lost’ 70s soundtrack to David Bowie’s finest celluloid moment finally lands

Various Artists - The Man Who Fell To Earth album cover

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It’s still not entirely clear how David Bowie’s proposed soundtrack to The Man Who Fell To Earth, the 1976 sci-fi drama in which he starred as displaced alien Thomas Jerome Newton, never saw light of day. Some suggest it was due to various contractual wrangles, others say that director Nic Roeg was unhappy with its over-reliance on atonal instrumentals (one of which, Subterraneans, fetched up on Bowie’s next solo LP, Low). Whatever the reason, Roeg opted to commission John Phillips to oversee the score, intent on having music that would both clash with and complement the arthouse sensibilities of the film. Hence the inclusion of Louis Armstrong’s Blueberry Hill and Phillips’ own Bluegrass Breakdown, a banjo-fired knees-up that might’ve been more at home on The Beverly Hillbillies.

But the beauty of this belated release, finally issued to coincide with the 40th anniversary restoration of The Man Who Fell To Earth, is its sheer unpredictability. It’s enervating to hear the ambient weirdness of Phillips’ Space Capsule juxtaposed with The Kingston Trio’s straight-backed Try To Remember, or Robert Farnon’s version of Silent Night rubbing up against the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Mars: The Bringer Of War. Aside from Phillips – whose studio hands include ex-Stone Mick Taylor, pedal steel stalwart BJ Cole and renowned jazz hand Frank Ricotti – the other defining imprint is that of Japanese percussionist-composer, Stomu Yamashta. This is where the truly odd-centric stuff resides.

Poker Dice is a minimalist exercise in avant-garde soundscaping, as spaciously cool as Mandala, an experimental epic that recalls Frank Zappa at his most challenging, is dense and disturbing. They’re just two of a number of Yamashta pieces that give this two-CD set its proggy appeal. Meanwhile, it’s fascinating to discover (via the accompanying 48-page book) that editor Graeme Clifford used Dark Side Of The Moon as a temporary soundtrack while working putting the film together.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.