Wednesday, 29 August 2007



Pump Up The Volume these days appears to be something of a great lost teenage rebellion movie from the early nineties. With Christian Slater in full Jack Nicholson mode it came coupled with Heathers as a cynical take on high school life in America viewed from the perspective of the cool outcast.

For some reason while Heathers is widely available (including even being given away free with a Sunday newspaper at one point), Pump Up The Volume is unavailable on DVD and seldom seen. Perhaps the movie is not up to the standards that the fifteen year old me recalls but with a pre-Nirvana alternative rock soundtrack it was quite possibly taping into a movement that was about to go overground.

The movie centres on Slater playing a shy high school kid who at night hits the airwaves as “Happy Harry Hard-on” with his subversive pirate radio show that initially plays loud and sweary songs that are not heard on normal radio stations while the DJ waxed lyrical in almost teenage Howard Beale style just how fucked everyone and everything was/is. Then as he gained a following and tapes of his shows were circulated things became serious as he message began to have an affect on the students causing great concern for the corrupt and evil teachers throwing out the troublemakers and dumb kids in order to bump up their pass rates. That would never happen in real life.

Slater would begin each radio show with “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen as his theme music. This was definitely my first exposure to the work of Cohen. Unfortunately here on the official soundtrack album the song comes in the form of a cover version by Concrete Blonde, a kind of L7 without the looks, talent or credibility.

And I this is probably the biggest problem of this album as it fails to fully represent what it is supposed to with regards to the meaning of the movie. Welcome to a world run by adults. Not least when oldie Ivan Neville is track two.

A band called Liquid Jesus chip in with a catchy, quirky number (a Sly & The Family Stone cover called “Stand”) that I guess is supposedly “out there” and to its credit it does possess a hook but ultimately, who the fuck are they?

Finally with track does the record reach genuine credibility with the Pixies and the “UK Surf” version of “Wave Of Mutilation.” I probably shouldn’t admit it but this was the first time I ever heard the Pixies and it was a pretty decent way to start, even to the point that for years I could stand the “normal” version of the song, finding it crass in comparison to this laidback, almost Beach Boys-esqe take on the classic.

It was probably the Henry Rollins collaboration with Bad Brains that drove me to part with my money for this album at a time when I really couldn’t afford more than a CD every week or so. Again I have to concede that this was the first time and place that I ever heard the MC5 call to action “Kick Out The Jams” in any form, not even realising that this was a cover. With Rollins’ trademark bellow he dominates the song, pretty much making it a song he was born to deliver.

From here token rap act Above The Law swear like troopers in early nineties hip hop style sounding like a combination of Gangstarr and an NWA solo joint. Actually a pretty good track from a no name outfit. Hell, its better than most things rap today.

Then comes the grunge future as Soundgarden chip in with the jokey “Heretic” while Sonic Youth drop “Titanium Expose” from Goo, which was always a classic multi layered whisk of excitement.

The Cowboy Junkies hop in towards the end with a cover of “Me And The Devil Blues” by Robert Johnson that comes caked in slide guitar and violin that truly serves to compliment the original and add a new haunting tone to the song in an efficient manner.

All in all this a half decent compilation of tracks that suggests didn’t have too much of a budget or the blessing of the older statesmen potentially involved. It is disappointed that “Love Comes In Spurts” by Richard Hell was absent in addition to the original “Everybody Knows” as the inclusion of both would have introduced a whole new generation to the wares of a couple of legends. From time to time the missing tracks from the soundtrack appear online as a kind of companion which are well worth searching out not least for additional tracks by the Beastie Boys and the Descendents.

These days the guy would just do a podcast but I don’t think you could really make a movie out that.

Thesaurus moment: almost.

Pump Up The Volume
MCA Records

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