Thom Yorke: Suspiria review – nape-prickling soundtrack sits in the shadows

(XL Recordings)

This is a very different beast from the other high-profile soundtrack recording of the season, A Star Is Born. That film’s songs rarely descend into mere signposting for the plot and work perfectly as a separate album. But without the luxury of diegetic songs, the Radiohead frontman’s music for Luca Guadagnino’s forthcoming Suspiria remake is instead much more traditional, belonging in the background to ramp up the emotional cues, and as such is not as satisfying a home listening experience.

The analogue synth pulses of Volk are imaginatively arranged and enjoyably raw compared with the sweeping Zimmer-lite of so much current soundtrack work – but are melodically basic, and tame compared with the uproarious prog-electronic bacchanal of Goblin’s soundtrack for the original 1977 film. Better are shorter pieces such as Voiceless Terror and The Room of Compartments, which swell with dread and will get napes prickling in cinemas. As pure audio, however, they are very much for Yorke completists only. The choral piece Sabbath Incantation, similarly well performed, feels like a signifier for religiosity rather than a standalone work. There are also outright failures: the echoey plink-plonk piano on The Hooks, The Balance of Things and Olga’s Destruction is dangerously close to horror movie cliche, and the film’s central theme Suspirium, based around unimaginative upward arpeggios, is a disappointment.

There is room for some fully fleshed-out songs, like the harmonium-heavy trip-hop trudge of Has Ended and seasick shanty Open Again, though only one is a true classic. Unmade is a stunningly moving piano ballad, built around a sturdy four-chord motif that nevertheless beautifully shifts on its foundations as top notes flutter above. It’s also a reminder of how powerful Yorke’s falsetto can be – he could have given a lyric like “I swear there’s nothing up my sleeves” his full jitters, but instead sings it as openly as a choirboy, a man humbled and unmade by love. Given Guadagnino’s brilliant set-piece deployment of the Rolling Stones and the Psychedelic Furs in his last two movies, you can imagine this getting a similarly sledgehammer moment.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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