We’re back with this (very occasional) column of cool vinyl. This time around, we’re heading back to the 80s!
Specifically, the tail end of the 80s, the time period of last year’s excellent Atomic Blonde. The movie mostly takes place in the divided Berlin, in the weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Starring Charlize Theron, the film itself is an excellent spy thriller, filled with unexpected double-crosses and some of the best, most brutal fight scenes put to screen.
Part of what makes the movie work so well is the soundtrack, filled to the brim with the decade’s best artists. It does an excellent job of mixing together the pop hits and the underground work that came to define the end of the Cold War, and the high-running tensions that preceded it.
This specific vinyl release, through Mondo, puts the songs together in a beautiful, cool packaging, as is their forte. Seriously, if you want to buy a movie or videogame soundtrack on vinyl, check to see if Mondo is selling it first. It’s guaranteed to be more interesting and appealing than the run-of-the-mill release you could pick up on Amazon.
The gatefold sleeve paints the film as the latest adventure with Lorraine Broughton (Theron), like she’s a James Bond type. It’s an apt comparison, though with less gadgets and somehow more ass-kicking. The inner sleeve contains a sharply-drawn scene of the debriefing Broughton gives to MI6 and the CIA, the framing device for most of the film. With the three characters sitting around a recording device, and their reflections appearing in the mirror behind them, it’s a lovely piece of art that would work on its own just as well.
Then there’s the record itself, a psychedelic swirl of blue-and-yellow that looks particularly captivating when it’s spinning.
For the most part, Atomic Blonde avoids the obvious hits of the era. Instead, it favors songs that splits the party atmosphere of 80s West Berlin with the gray of East Berlin, and the dark cloud of nuclear conflict hanging over everyone. For example, the album opens with the danceable fury of David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” and follows it with the more upbeat “Major Tom” by Peter Schilling.
At times, the music is downright inspirational and hopeful, such as during the gospel ballad “Father Figure” by George Michael or the cruise of “I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock of Seagulls. But those moments don’t last, fitting the ongoing barriers and pain that Broughton goes through during the film. Nowhere is that clearer than the two versions of “99 Luftballons.” The original take by Nena comes early in the soundtrack, full of fun grooves to disguise the concerns over nukes flying. But towards the end, Kaleida does a gorgeous, fragile cover that strips the music back to a mournful organ. It’s the sound of a world that’s fallen apart, and she’s singing among the wreckage.
The few other covers here put a modern spin on well-known songs from the era, much like how the movie is a modern spy throwback. Health’s cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday” hits harder with that type of pulse built for dance festivals. When Marilyn Manson and Tyler Bates cover Ministry’s “Stigmata” though, it’s somehow less intense than the original. Maybe that’s due to the cleaner production. But it fits alongside the other clear-cut tracks. Speaking of Bates, his incidental music found throughout the record fits in perfectly, sounding like Depeche Mode instrumentals. They make for great transitions.
If you like Atomic Blonde or the 1980s or just good music, you’ll find a lot to love on this release. It may seem impossible to incorporate the sounds of an entire decade in an hour of music. But this soundtrack pulls it off, and does it with style. Just like the movie, it takes you on a fun, seductive, dangerous journey. There’s not much more you could ask for than that.