There was just something about Brett Easton Ellis’ book Less Than Zero that just hooked me the second I started to leaf through it in the shop. There was sex, drugs, an Elvis Costello connection, the glamour of LA noir, the dead-eyed depravity and conscience free privilege conspiring to scarify the souls from any number of beautiful teenagers. As a rural scruffbag who used to shovel goat shit in order to afford LPs I could relate to it all.
Fast forward an unspecified number of years and Aaron over at KMA mentioned the Less Than Zero: Original Motion Soundtrack* to me when we were discussing another Def Jam compilation. After a little research I had one of those little blackouts that I’m prone to and snapped out of it a week later when the LP hit the mat.
I can’t believe I had never checked it out before, maybe because the film totally passed me by, but Less Than Zero is teeming with some great Def Jam stars and others. A running order of Aerosmith, Roy Orbison, Poison, LL Cool J, Danzig and Slayer is hardly shabby; that’s just the first side.
There are some great ideas hereabouts too – Slayer covering Iron Butterfly, Roy Orbison singing Danzig and the first ever appearance of one of rap’s great tunes Public Enemy ‘Bring The Noise’. Rick Rubin got his name up in lights and Andy Wallace got to produce and mix every damn thing!
In the sleaze rock camp Aerosmith give us ‘Rocking Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu’ and Poison hit us with ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’. Poison win this particular death match, I like their offering it fizzes and swaggers, whereas Aerosmith just go through the motions here, albeit with a very good Joe Perry solo.
Less Than Zero serve us up two Danzig moments, Roy Orbison singing the Danzig-penned ‘Life Fades Away’ and it captures the moment Danzig stepped away from Samhain into solo life with ‘You & Me (Less Than Zero)’**. Roy O is a treat as always, the lyrics hint at more angst than usual and the Danzig tune is great, more Evil Orbison than Evil Elvis this time around. You can hear the birth of Rubin’s work with Johnny Cash right here.
Which leaves us with LL Cool J and ‘Going Back To Cali’ which is a great, eccentric, laid-back hymn to how much better life is by default on the East coast. I wasn’t expecting to love this, Mr Cool J not being much of a favourite of mine, but this was a great track, knowing and understated.
Side one finishes with an absolute ripper of a track, Slayer’s cover of ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’. As an exercise in gleeful demolition it touches on genius. The boys knock almost 14 minutes off the original and should have won a Grammy for efficiency. I play this a lot.
The second side of Less Than Zero is not as stellar but has a couple of belters on too. Opening with Public Enemy ‘Bring The Noise’ I wonder just what this first outing of the track would have sounded like without the context that the rest of It Takes A Nation Of Millions lends it, quite alien I expect. The Black Flames ‘Are You My Woman?’ is an unexpected smooth treat afterwards, the lotion on the burn.
I rather like the Bangles take on Paul Simon’s ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’, it’s satisfyingly artificial and inconsequential, in a good way; a bright red fizzy-wizzy drink you know isn’t going to do you much good. It’s a perfect tune in the context of Less Than Zero. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts fare less well with the Zephyr’s ‘She’s Lost You’ and the less said about Oran ‘Juice’ Jones the better, on this showing at least.
I really enjoy Less Than Zero. I miss soundtracks that consist of a load of bands thrown together to produce originals and covers, it seems to be something there’s less of these days. Too much risk maybe? studios wanting to just hit us with monster tunes we already know, to lubricate the passage of their product?
Still we’re drifting off topic here, back to Less Than Zero and its’ tale of casual drug use, abhorrent sexual behaviour and exploitation amongst the rich scions of LA. There is true horror here on the LP sleeve, check out the young Tony Stark on the back cover committing an utterly indefensible act that is rarely admitted to, even more rarely photographed and utterly morally bankrupt. I have to hide this LP from my children because of this.
Yes. He’s wearing socks with sandals.
PS: Thanks again Aaron for tipping me off to the joys of this one.
*Less Than Zero from here on in, to save wear and tear on my typing finger.
**credited to Glen Danzig And The Power And Fury Orchestra. You’d need a big T-shirt for that to work.