Reissue of the week: The Man Who Fell to Earth OST - still an oddity four decades on

The Man who Fell to Earth OST
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Artist: Various
Genre: Soundtrack
Label: Universal

With Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 cult classic film celebrating its 40th anniversary, it was understood that its accompanying soundtrack would be reissued.

Yet this isn't a reissue. In fact, due to creative and contractual disputes between Roeg and the film studio, as well as his refusal to use original music composed by the movie's preternatural star, David Bowie, the actual soundtrack was never officially released. (A portion of it did make it on to Bowie's 1977 Low album).

And so, like a weighty enigma crash-landing into a skyscraper full of ambiguities, this new soundtrack is a genuine head scratcher. To make matters even more cryptic, most of the music was overseen by John Phillips (formerly of dainty US pop/folk group The Mamas & the Papas) and Japanese composer/percussionist Stomu Yamash’ta.

Factor in stock music by such well-known names as Louis Armstrong, Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell and Bing Crosby. The result is a mish-mash of styles that too often run parallel alongside each other.


This is especially noticeable when Phillips's Americana/roots songs follow Yamash'ta's lengthy percussive and prog- fusion woodwind sections. The former are brief, sometimes mercifully so, and range from hokey downhome roots (Boys from the South, Bluegrass Breakdown) to ersatz Ry Cooder (Desert Shack, America) and cod reggae (Liar Liar).

Yamash'ta's music follows a reasonably clear narrative tone, and are to a piece clued into the weirdness. Especially gorgeous is Wind Words; acutely rarefied is Poker Dice.

With the exceptions of Gustav Holst's Venus the Bringer of Peace and Mars the Bringer of War (both reassuringly sci-fi-friendly, albeit "blockbuster"-centric), the remainder of the music fits better with the movie than detached from it.

Ill-conceived options aside (a minor song from Phillips’s then wife, Geneviève Waite, is unashamedly included; Phillips’s MOR title track is putrid), the soundtrack remains part beguiling, part anomaly, sometimes striking, sometimes anaemic. But more to the point, perhaps – it is very, very different.

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture