Late in 1970, when progressive rock was still relatively new and exciting and its key practitioners weren't above having a laugh (or indeed composing something short enough to go on a 7" single), Pink Floyd were hard at work on that most radical and indeed progressive of concepts - a song that would take up the entire side of an album and stretch the available studio technology to its limit. They had of course been building up to this for some time - from the nine minutes and forty one seconds of Syd Barrett-led space-riffing that made up Interstellar Overdrive to the previous year's side-long instrumental suite Atom Heart Mother - and indeed would go on to take the idea further and expand the 'concept' to a whole album, but the technically demanding epic that they had variously labelled 'Nothing - Parts 1-24', 'Son Of Nothing' and 'Return Of The Son Of Nothing' marked a real turning point. Unfortunately, this turning point involved everyone else turning into a humourless cul-de-sac where 'real' musicianship was prized above all else and frivolity was to be avoided at all costs. Possibly not what they had envisaged when providing a wry commentary on some bacon frying onstage the year before.
Late in 1996, things were starting to get all serious and heavyweight and stoneyfaced yet again, with the likes of The Verve and Kula Shaker and even makeweights like Embrace reminding us all at every given opportunity that their music 'meant' something more substantial than silly frivolous Britpop, and the laugh-a-minute likes of Trainspotting and Our Friends In The North doing much the same for visual entertainment. Leading the charge were, inevitably, Oasis, though much like a certain other Knebworth-favouring outfit once upon a time, maybe that wasn't what Noel Gallagher had in mind back when he was composing witty throwaways like Married With Children. Suffice it to say that the mood suddenly became very much stop-that-laughing-at-the-back fact-times-importance-equals-news mister-carpark-has-been-kind-enough-to-come-here-this-afternoon-all-the-way-from-nottingham, and even the most hardended disliker of Play Away-esque novelty gurners Space must have winced at the Select review dismissing their album Tin Can Alley or whatever it was called alongside a cartoon of The Bloke From Space in a Hawaiian shirt taking a photo of himself on a 'fun camera' set against giant Rushmore-esque stone faces of Richard Ashcroft and 'Thom' Yorke. Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that the volume of Cult Fiction that sought to take a snapshot of this era - and followed on from the infectiously light-hearted This Is The Return Of Cult Fiction - should have adopted the mantle This Is... Son Of Cult Fiction.
Yes, only halfway through the entire series, the titular '...' that everyone automatically associates with Cult Fiction finally puts in an appearance. And... there's not really very much more to say about that, so let's take a look instead at the other more obvious visual re-routings. Gone are the jaunty retro flashes and judicious use of whitespace and pale colours that had defined both This Is The Return Of Cult Fiction and This Is Easy (and even arguably, to an extent, the original This Is Cult Fiction itself), replaced by moodier shades of blue with appropriately gritty decorative pattern, Action Movie-friendly fonts, and a whopping great cover illustration of a psychedelically-decorated cross between The Mystery Machine and the Fisher Price Daredevil Sports Van. Something about all this would seem to suggest that we're not exactly in for an album's worth of flute-heavy seventies sitcom themes, hamfistedly faded out or otherwise.
Yes, it's 'serious' film music for 'serious' film fans, and pretty much the same for the handful of 'allowed' TV shows, nearly all the way here, with no psychedelic spies, wide-tied crooners or surrealist animated dogs on hand to frighten people. The rough, tough outdoorsy vibe is almost overpowering, and there's very little room left for anyone who's turned up hoping for a bit more safari-jacketed fun. This is, on face value, the compilation equivalent of Paul Weller's contemporaneous bit of ridiculousness Woodcutter's Son. But it's also a Cult Fiction compilation, so we're almost certainly in for the odd surprise or two.
This Is... Son Of Cult Fiction kicks off in fine style with Quadrophenia's dynamic curtain-raiser The Real Me, sounding so punchy and loud that you feel like jumping onto a scooter in front of some back-projected London streets and shouting "BOLLOCKS! FUCK OFF!" at some rockers, followed by the dynamic collision of Loungecore and hard rock in CCS' one-time Top Of The Pops-introducing cover of Whole Lotta Love, but it all goes very rapidly downhill. Well, not downhill so much as off-script. Film and TV-associated the opening tracks may well be, but they are both 'proper' songs that predated their use in a soundtrack capacity, and, well, that's what the bulk of this compilation is composed of. There are very few hard-to-find gems previously hidden away in title sequences or beneath film dialogue here, just a collection of admittedly very good pop and rock songs that happened to later show up on soundtracks that anyone could have got hold of and stuck together on a tape easily enough. What's more, it's all very much leaning towards the bluesy stoner-friendly hard-rock gentlemen-welcome-to-the-second-base-mobile end of the scale, with the likes of All Right Now, Born To Be Wild, Smoke On The Water and Be-Bop-A-Lula queueing up to give you the impression that you've inadvertently picked up one of those point-missing late seventies The Old Grey Whistle Test spin-off compilations by mistake. Throw in a Trainspotting-referencing Lust For Life and it's all starting to sound a bit like what the most boneheaded of 'New Lads' circa 1995 would put onto the student union jukebox on a loop to show them namby pamby Blur fans wots wot uh hur hur hur.
Meanwhile, the actual from-the-original-soundtrack selections start off well with the theme from The A-Team, complete with oft-omitted Hannibal-dressed-as-a-crocodile middle eight, but quickly lose their way to the extent that it's actually a challenge to listen towards the end. Echo And The Bunnymen's bafflingly overlauded banda copier facsimile of People Are Strange from The Lost Boys and Urge Overkill's still-overexposed sub-Crash Test Dummies Strepsil-averse twang through Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon are skip button-friendly enough, but out in the furthest reaches you'll find such endlessly listenable fare as Duelling Banjos from Deliverance, the theme from Northern Exposure (so devoid of melody that it makes those of The Cosby Show and St. Elsewhere look like lost Gershwin tone poems), and John Williams arpeggiating his way through Cavatina, included here on account of its The Deer Hunter credentials though surely it would have been more saleable to the album's target audience on the basis of its contemporaneous adoption as the 'The Gallery' music in Take Hart. True, the theme from M*A*S*H (as performed by, of course, 'The M*A*S*H') is on board to add an upbeat note (well, relatively speaking), but when the most musical selection in this long procession of album-closing atmospherics is that Calling You song from Bagdad Cafe, you know it's set to be something of a slog. In fairness it all just about works in the context of the compilation's 'mood', but the last album's sign-off was the theme from Roobarb. All of this 'serious' business can sod off and frown to itself in the corner, frankly.
Fortunately - and indeed precisely why this prolonged downbeat ending works in the context of the album as a whole - there are a couple of brighter passages earlier on. There's a refreshing run of mid-sixties sourced psych-tinged selections midway through, taking in White Rabbit, Venus In Furs, Louie Louie, Green Onions and Herbie Hancock's Deee-Lite sampled Bring Down The Birds from Blow-Up (which is a convenient point at which to mention the nameless NME hack who, while sneering at a James Taylor Quartet album in a wince-inducing 'look at me I'm controversial' fashion around this time, scoffed of their cover of the main theme from Blow-Up that "halfway through they decide to start playing Groove Is In The Heart for some reason"), though the lone unwelcome feature of the previous Cult Fiction album makes an equally unwelcome reappearance here. Presumably for space-saving reasons, the compilers have opted for the shorter edit of The Monkees' The Porpoise Song from the actual Head soundtrack album, which is more of an audio collage than a collection of songs, meaning that we get the abrupt police siren-drenched fade in while the glorious extended coda is completely missing, and it's literally not half the song it should be. Still, it must have been worth it to get the Northern Exposure theme squeezed on there.
Meanwhile, if you've been paying attention, you'll already be aware that the greatest strength of the Cult Fiction series was that the compilers were always prepared to go just that little bit further and include rarities and obscurities that were wowing fans of the genre or scene and deserved wider exposure, and happily This Is... Son Of Cult Fiction is no exception. Not only do we get Warren Zevon's decidedly odd (though not that odd when you know about his former musical escapades as half of Lyme & Cybelle) slice of late seventies soft-rock Werewolves Of London, which like Brown-Eyed Girl, I Believe In Miracles and The Whole Of The Moon is one of those records whose enduring popularity far outstrips its actual success at the time, there's also the sexually aggressive sitar groover The Lions And The Cucumber by Vampyros Sound Inc., drawn from the soundtrack of deeply hallucinogenic early seventies Spanish horror/soft porn crossover Vampyros Lesbos, which like many films of a similar vintage, origin and persuasion had recently become a cult favourite with UK viewers on account of their Sunday night appearances in stray German sattelite channels (a phenomenon that you can read more about here). In case you were wondering, Vampyros Lesbos is set on a party island that hides a secret society of nubile young lady vampires desperate for a bit of girl-on-girl B Negative-siphoning action. And if you're thinking that sounds like the plot of an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer only with more shagging, or indeed like the plot of an episode of Torchwood only with less shagging, you'd be exactly right. By the end of the year Quentin Tarantino would have reused the track in Jackie Brown, but this compilation came out nearly twelve months earlier and, in effect, the Cult Fiction compilers had outdone the very person they were originally inspired to emulate. Stitch that, 'Trackspotting'.
Yet for all of its isolated shortcomings, it has to be said that This Is... Son Of Cult Fiction hangs together incredibly well as an album. Though the preponderance of well-known rock classics makes it by far the least interesting of the series, this is actually a strength from a listening point of view, starting off as a superbly judged bit of air-punching anthemic fun before taking a turn in a weirder - and ultimately bleak and haunting - direction. Meanwhile, Pink Floyd's follow-up to the album that nearly had 'The Return Of The Son Of Nothing' on it, as the history books know only too well, built on their experiments in a direction that saw it unexpectedly become purportedly the biggest selling album of all time. The follow up to This Is... Son Of Cult Fiction, however, didn't...