Waxing Nostalgic: METAL MAYHEM! with Spinal Tap, This Is Spinal Tap

Published on May 29th, 2013 in: Music, Waxing Nostalgic |

By Jeffery X Martin


I’m prepared to catch hell for this, but I believe that no band, and no album, captured the true spirit of the Hair Band era than Spinal Tap. All the excesses, all the tropes, and all the energy and exuberance are captured on their first album, This is Spinal Tap. I also believe they are often overlooked when discussing Eighties Metal when, really, they should be hailed as one of the best examples of the genre.

“But, X . . . ” people say, ” . . . they’re a joke band. It was supposed to be funny.”

Oh, they’re extremely funny. That’s undeniable. But I can’t consider them a “joke” band. All three main members (actors/comedians Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer) played their own instruments. I don’t think anyone would have complained if these funny guys had pulled in session players, but they didn’t. They played live. They toured. They showed a genuine appreciation for the genre. Who loves rock and roll more: Guns ‘n’ Roses, with their 20 years between albums and absolute disdain for their audience, or Spinal Tap?

Your heart knows the answer.

“But, X . . . ” people say, ” . . . they weren’t sexy.”

I’m not so sure that’s true, but I know we had a strange definition of sexy in the Eighties. Very few people know would look at Bret Michaels or Vince Neil in full makeup and feel their hearts (or other body parts) go a-flutter. It was a silly time and there was no difference between CC DeVille’s blue eye shadow and Christopher Guest’s.

Sexy lyrics didn’t matter either. We already know Hair Metal lyrics amounted to little more than a dirty limerick. Spinal Tap perfected the art with their song, “Sex Farm.” It’s hard to beat agricultural sexual metaphors like “plowing your bean field” and “poking your hay.” That’s a battle of the sexes Spinal Tap wins, hairy palms down.

“But, X . . . ” people say, ” . . . the musicianship really wasn’t up to par.”

There was a lot of guitar wankery going on during the Decade of Decadence. Folks like Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen hammered and swept their way through dozens of solos, all of which were technically perfect, but musically soulless and empty. “He’s a machine!” became a compliment in the era of Terminator 2, and musicians began playing like their non-human counterparts: stronger, faster, better.

You’ll find none of that from Spinal Tap. The guitar solos are off-key, off time, and sometimes off-putting. The solo in “Hell Hole” is essentially the same note, sometimes bent, sometimes not. It’s pretty much a one-fret wonder, but by defying the note-cramming style of the time, it highlights the ridiculousness of it. There’s plenty of staccato picking elsewhere on the album, if you absolutely need it.

I realize This is Spinal Tap is a soundtrack album and that most people have seen the movie. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking strictly about the music. Even the production on some of the songs sounds like Keith Forsey recorded them in a gas station restroom with a condenser mic. This was before digital, folks, and a lot of it sounds like shit. With the benefit of perspective and hindsight, even that is funny.

This is Spinal Tap takes everything that was horrible about Eighties Metal and turns it into something fantastic. With nods to Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, The Sweet, The Who, and damned near any other metal band you can think of, This is Spinal Tap is the perfect Eighties Metal album. It still stands today because it never meant to get up in the first place.

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