❉ An appreciation of the era-defining soundtrack album for Wim Wenders’ ‘Until the End of the World’, released on this day in 1991.
It’s rare for a movie to be remembered more for its soundtrack than the movie itself, but that’s exactly what happened to Wim Wenders’ 1991 film ‘Until the End of the World’, writes Don Klees.
The film itself is an affecting but admittedly rambling science-fiction take on the “road movies” that initially made the director’s reputation in the 1970s. What it wasn’t was the kind of film that the audiences and critics that embraced his most recent international successes, ‘Paris, Texas’ and ‘Wings of Desire’, wanted to see. Whatever its flaws, even detractors had to concede that Wenders had at least one undeniably great idea – how to assemble its soundtrack.
Anyone who’s watched more than a couple Martin Scorsese pictures knows how effective music can be at conveying a sense of time and place in a movie. Perhaps recognizing that this is a trickier proposition for a movie set in the futuristic year of 1999(!), Wenders asked Elvis Costello, R.E.M. and a dozen or so other artists to imagine what their music would be like in 1999 and come up with songs to reflect that. The end result was a coherent collection where even the lesser songs are memorable and the best stand as some of the performers’ finest work.
Talking Heads had effectively disbanded by the time the movie and soundtrack were released, but Sax and Violins was as good as anything on their terrific final album ‘Naked’, while Lou Reed’s What’s Good was further evidence that his late-80s renaissance on ‘New York’ wasn’t a fluke. Of the less well-known acts, T-Bone Burnett and Jane Siberry (with an assist by k.d. lang) contributed songs that were more low-key but still striking.
The same is true of the two bands who had also appeared in ‘Wings of Desire’, Crime & the City Solution and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. The latter’s performance of From Her to Eternity provided the backdrop for the earlier movie’s pivotal scene. (I’ll Love You) Till the End of the World isn’t quite as captivating – or used to nearly the same effect in ‘Until the End of the World’ – but is nonetheless another highlight. Then there’s that band who provided the title song.
Nothing U2 has done over the past 25 years has made the band less polarizing than they were in the wake of 1988’s ‘Rattle & Hum’. Arguably they’re even more polarizing than they were in the late ’80s. That aside, nothing diminishes the quality of the song Until the End of the World. The band’s mix of religious overtones and religious fervor has made for an inconsistent cocktail over the years, but this song – imagining a dialogue between Jesus and Judas – set the bar for nearly everything of quality they’ve done since.
The strongest testament to the strength of the soundtrack’s underlying concept is that it doesn’t even include a pair of terrific songs used in the movie. Robbie Robertson’s Breakin the Rules appeared on his album ‘Storyville’, while Peter Gabriel and Sinead O’Connor’s duet on Blood of Eden became a hard-to-find b-side (Gabriel’s solo version appeared on his album ‘Up’). However good the movie, soundtrack albums have more often than not been a piece of product – a trend exaggerated in recent years by the dictates of corporate synergy. ‘Until the End of the World’ is a reminder that they can also be artistic expression in their own right.
❉ ‘Until The End of the World: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack’ was released on CD by Warner Music in December 1991. Although it is no longer in print, used copies can sometimes be found from Amazon, Ebay and other vendors. A vinyl reissue from Music On Vinyl must surely be on the cards!