Album review: Isles of Wonder - Various

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Album cover for Isles of Wonder. Photo / Supplied
Album cover for Isles of Wonder. Photo / Supplied

Though the title Isles of Wonder makes Britain sound a little like a new age retreat, and there are a few tracks here that make you want break out the fire pois (but please don't), the soundtrack to film director Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony is an unlikely triumph.

For the record, Isles of Wonder comes from Shakespeare's The Tempest which is alluded to on the chiming, choral-led beauty Caliban's Dream, one of two new compositions by veteran British electronic dance duo Underworld who were musical directors for this project.

And the pair - led by Rick Smith and side-kick Karl Hyde who have worked on a number of Boyle films, most notably Trainspotting - manage to make 36 tracks over 150 minutes sound seamless, as it takes in everything from grand classical crescendos and obscure electronica to bleepy dancefloor action and top of the pops hits.

Early on, two epics are paired beautifully alongside each other, with Underworld's 17-minute pulsing synth and percussion-driven masterpiece And I Will Kiss (another specially composed track) and an elegant mash-up of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and In Dulci Jubilo getting a fitting 11-minute outing.

It's And I Will Kiss, which features percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie's rousing and often breathtaking drum score, that is the highlight of this vast and diverse musical landscape.

Elsewhere it's the best of British with a mix of upcoming talent (like the jazzy drum'n'bass soul of Emeli Sande's Heaven), with recently established talent like Dizzee Rascal's Bonkers, and veterans including David Bowie's Heroes and the Pet Shop Boys best song, West End Girls.

The Arctic Monkeys live versions of I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor and the Beatles' Come Together went some way to restoring their past, but slightly faded, glory as bright young things.

The Brits have always done dance music and club culture best and Underworld push the work of Welsh drum'n'bass and dance producer High Contrast. His rolling and transitory beats and grooves take up much of the second part of the soundtrack and he's at his best with a remix of F*** Buttons Olympians.

It's the inclusion of an obscure band like that Bristol duo (who are credited as F Buttons on the artist list), alongside traditional songs such as Flower of Scotland and Danny Boy, and then famous orchestral tunes like Chariots of Fire, that makes Underworld's musical Isles of Wonder so inspired.

By the way, those fire poi-meets-outdoor dance party raver anthems include High Contrast's Moonwatcher and the 90s house inflected Can't Stop This Fire, and Slumdog Millionaire composer A.R. Rahman's Nimma Nimma adds a rah rah Bollywood factor.

Underworld's Born Slippy, made famous by Trainspotting, would have been good to end the album instead of an interlude length version of Chemical Brothers' Galvanize. But hey, maybe that delirium-inducing tune is being held over for the closing ceremony because Wiggo, Phelps, and you at home sure will be gagging for a party after the final race has been run on August 12.

Stars: 4/5

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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