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Luther: Soundtrack Review

Reviewed by David Selby

luther-soundtrackIn retrospect, I must have been in the minority. I was simply thrilled when I heard the news that the brilliant music from Luther was finally going to be showcased in a twenty-two-track-long soundtrack, and I anticipated – apparently, alone – its eventual release. Luther is one of those unfortunate shows whose music goes unappreciated. Perhaps it’s because the stories are so magnificently complex and engaging that one doesn’t even find time to evaluate the score on its own.

It’s not the kind of soundtrack you’d have your afternoon tea to. The tracks go from poignant to powerful to exhilarating to high unnerving within seconds and there are times where you have to hit the pause button and take it all in. And you are lucky if the whole soundtrack appeals to you – it’s so generic, so wide-ranging that there’s essentially a track for everyone.

Luckily, there are very few tracks that aren’t memorable thanks to this wide assortment, so it’s worth looking at every track in detail. And it’s a time like this where I’d say to buy the soundtrack as a whole: if you’re going through iTunes, at least, you can’t get any of the songs featured in the show without buying the whole album, and the prices of the incidental music make up the price of the whole soundtrack, so you may as well fork out some cash and listen to the soundtrack in its entirety.

Track Overviews

Paradise Circus (Massive Attack)

This is the only track that’s used in every episode, accompanying – somehow perfectly, in all its eccentricity – the opening titles. I was initially taken aback by the song choice, but now I look back, I don’t think any other track would have suited the series so perfectly. It’s Massive Attack’s best work and has an almost seductive quality to it (I daresay I can envisage Alice singing it herself), not to mention some gorgeous instrumental solos that, when played with full blast down a set of headphones, are immensely powerful. I’d go as far as saying, in fact, that this is a contender for my favourite song of all time. 5/5

The First Case (Paul Englishby)

It’s the first incidental track on the soundtrack, and it’s pretty thrilling. It does feel a bit unremarkable; I couldn’t sit and listen to it on repeat as I could with Paradise Circus, but it’s an electrifying start to the original soundtrack nonetheless. 3/5

Big Bad Wolf (The Heavy)

This one’s not to my tastes especially; maybe the vocals are a bit too ‘screamy’ for my liking. It starts off quite promisingly, but it doesn’t develop in the way that I’d hoped it would. Even so, it was still fairly pleasurable listening, and I’m sure some listeners will be blown away, if it’s their style. 3/5

Carnage (Paul Englishby)

A melancholy tune that borders slightly on the deeply disturbing, Carnage bizarrely blends some very contrasting themes but is largely successful in its endeavours. It’s one of the shorter tracks in comparison to some of Englishby’s other contributions, but it works the way it is. 4/5

Me and the Devil (Gil Scott-Heron)

After a dramatic and rather startling antiquated start that works terrifically to build into a rather catchy tune, we’re treated to one of the most interesting tracks on the whole album. It’s quite weird and intense but it works surprisingly well on re-listening. 4/5

Luther Does Things His Way (Paul Englishby)

The First Case and Luther Does Things His Way aren’t massively different tracks. They’re pleasurable enough listening, but they seem to rely on the same kind of instrumental structure and pacing and, actually, it’s even more frequent in the latter tracks. Thankfully, there’s an addition to the orchestra towards the end that makes this particular track stand out above the others. 4/5

Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down (Robert Plant)

The theme of God and Satan; two diverse moral standpoints, is apparent through the lyrics of these soundtrack. But Luther – Series One especially – is largely structured around themes of temptation and corruption; Luther being a character who fights injustice (acting, perhaps, as the singer in this particular song), but often gives into temptation himself.

The track is very memorable and is certainly one of my favourites. The lyrics are astonishingly thought-provoking (yet simple) and you soon find yourself humming along to the very catchy tune that runs throughout the whole piece. 4/5

John Luther (Paul Englishby)

Luther’s character theme was a track I’d been massively anticipating since its debut in the dramatic opening of Series Three. Solemn notions of tragedy echo through every hit of the piano keys and it’s the track that leaves the most impression. It justifies Luther as a character and it doesn’t get boring; after a powerful, slightly ominous start, it becomes something gentle and poignant (as depicting the fall of Luther in the last two episodes). There’s even a sudden jump to something quite sinister, just to throw you off-balance. A must-hear. 5/5

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Nina Simone)

Disregarding Paradise Circus, I see Nine Simone’s gorgeous track as the soundtrack to the series, being featured twice (once on-screen, once in promotional material). Luther is a soul whose intentions are good – and he’s frequently misunderstood, so the lyrics are enchantingly appropriate. It’s also worth noting that anything else that comes out of Nina Simone’s magical vocal chords is worthy of eternal praise. 5/5

Unlucky Young Couple (Paul Englishby)

As with most of Englishby’s tracks, Unlucky Young Couple is divided into two sections: one subtle and poignant, the other sinister and suspenseful. And, as per previously, it’s the former that gives this particular composition such a magically evocative quality. It doesn’t try to be big or clever and I could listen to those first few seconds over and over. 5/5

Gun (Emiliana Torrini)

It’s another somewhat ‘seductive’ track that is undeniably perfect. Luther’s music has a lot of recurring leitmotifs; the passionate, magnetic vocal sequences and the catchy, almost soothing bass tune. I can’t pinpoint what I like especially about this track, but whatever it is, it’s most certainly there. 4/5

Attack in the Attic (Paul Englishby)

‘The attic scene’ has become a legendary moment in Luther history, and a lot of that is down to its unsettlingly eerie score. Even the music alone is enough to make you jump and I commend it merely for that – although I would advise against listening to this if you’re looking for something soothing to fall asleep to. I wouldn’t call it easy listening, but it’s clever, and it would be a crime to say otherwise. 4/5

She (Suede)

It’s the horror movie-esque descending sequence that defines this particular song, but other than that, it’s one of those tracks that is unfortunately a lot better off where it belongs: in the episode. That’s not to say that it’s bad per se, but I never realised how well the scenes complemented the music, whereas it’s normally the other way around. Regardless, it’s still nice to nice to have.

The Children (Paul Englishby)

This was one of Englishby’s only tracks that genuinely struck me on first listening. It was played when pseudo-Spring-Heeled Jack drove a whole bus-full of children to what was very nearly their demise. You wouldn’t think it accompanied such a harrowing scene, but on going back over it, there are recognisable motifs of pathos and even progressive insanity – and it’s these underlying instrumental pieces, with beautiful, haunting melodies that make the series what it is. 5/5

Flash (Joan As Police Woman)

You’re unsure at first. Is it going to go somewhere? There are moments where it feels a bit mundane, but it progresses into a nice little track. Despite the unnecessary repetition of “I had a flash” – the least exciting part of the song – there are some pretty catchy parts in the mix, but those disturbing robotic vocals get in the way of what could be a very charming piece of music. 3/5

Double Crossed (Paul Englishby)

My favourite action piece – fun and stimulating; it would suit a Bond movie and it suits Luther. Highly recommended – especially when writing up homework. 4/5

Sweet Dreams (Marilyn Manson)

It’s a slightly disturbing, heavier version of Eurythmics’ famous song – and, actually, in concept it’s a bit too heavy for my softer tastes in music. Yet I rather like it, even if the vocals get a bit too overwhelming. I can’t quite place why, but it’s one of those songs that couldn’t not be used in Luther at some point. 3/5

He’s Behind You (Paul Englishby)

Another disquieting suspense piece that’s very obviously the theme to any of the many, many psychopaths of Luther. It doesn’t do much more than any of the tracks, but the gradual rise in volume and sporadic ‘hammering’ work for the better. 3/5

I Got a Thing (Hanni El Khatib)

A track I unfortunately can’t find myself taking to. Other than a progression of random vocal excretions, there’s not much that stands out here. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I find the use of the jumpy, ‘broken-record’ motif generally disconcerting rather than beneficial. 2/5

Alice (Paul Englishby)

In some ways, it’s almost underwhelming; you’d think a track called Alice would be something as unconditionally spectacular as the character herself. But there are traces of madness within the melody, and when not treated as a character theme, it’s quite a little gem. 3/5

Places of Montezuma (Grinderman)

You’ll recall this one from the unusually cheerful ending to the second series. For once on the soundtrack, it’s a happy, uplifting and fundamentally normal piece and it’s a definite highlight. 4/5

Black Whistler (Kasabian)

As a bonus track, it’s a welcome addition – but it’s not my favourite of the lot. There isn’t much to say about it – but as it comes cost-free, I’m loathed to criticise it. It’s just brutally mediocre. 2/5

It was a good soundtrack, and I have no regrets in buying it. However, it’s sad that both Never Gonna Give You Up by Black Keys and Breathe Me by Sia – arguably (other than Paradise Circus) the two best songs in all three series – are just completely disregarded. I don’t see it as a warranted absence, and the soundtrack isn’t complete without them. So my advice would be this: buy the soundtrack and listen to it in all its glory, but make sure you check out the aforementioned songs somehow shortly after.

Verdict: 8/10

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  • Yoshfiction

    Whoa! Had no clue the soundtrack was coming!

  • http://cultfix.co.uk/the-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-review-23589.htm TardisBoy

    Excellent article, David! I may ask for this soundtrack for Christmas, along with the DW Christmas Specials OST too of course! ;D

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