Review: Smells like 1992: ‘Singles’ soundtrack returns

Singles was Cameron Crowe’s love letter to the city of Seattle, and its music scene. Released in 1992, the film caught some flak for seeming to ride the burgeoning “grunge” wave sweeping the nation, as it featured a number of newly minted grungestars (e.g. members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden), and a soundtrack that drew heavily on the music scene. But in fact, Crowe had been working on his film before Nirvana or Pearl Jam even released their major label debuts. His knowledge of what was going on musically in our region was genuine, not exploitational; not only was he a music fan, Crowe was also then married to Nancy Wilson of Heart, and so had been following the musical developments in the Pacific Northwest for some time. It’s a fun film to revisit; there’s the nostalgia factor of seeing a pre-amazon, pre-internet boom Seattle (though the traffic’s still lousy; Campbell Scott’s character envisions a light rail project that the mayor gives the thumbs down to), and some fun cameos by the likes of Sub Pop’s Bruce Pavitt, the Food Giant in Wallingford, and Tad Doyle (who gets the best punch line of the film).

In fact, the soundtrack is what saved the movie. The movie execs weren’t sure what do with Crowe’s film until they realized there were all these groups from the exploding Seattle music scene associated with it. Presto — a readymade marketing tool! The soundtrack was released three months before the movie, reaching the Top 10 and going double platinum, nicely fueling anticipation for the film itself.

Now the soundtrack’s back, in a deluxe edition featuring a second disc of rarities. The main disc holds up as a decent sampler of “grunge,” with the best-known songs by Alice in Chains (“Would?”) and Screaming Trees (“Nearly Lost You”), as well as some soundtrack-only cuts by Pearl Jam and Mudhoney (the latter nicely skewering the “grunge” craze in “Overblown”), as well as some Mother Love Bone, Jimi Hendrix, Lovemongers, Paul Westerberg, and, er, Smashing Pumpkins thrown in for good measure.

The second disc has enough good stuff on it that you’re left wanting more. The live tracks by Alice in Chains (“Would?” and “It Ain’t Like That”) and Soundgarden (“Birth Ritual”) are so great, when Crowe writes in the liner notes that the live masters “have been glowing in my closet for many years” you hope that means there’s more to come someday. There’s a demo of “Overblown” and another in joke, “Touch Me, I’m Dick,” a play on Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick,” as performed by “Citizen Dick,” the band in the film headed up by the hapless “Cliff Poncier” (played by Matt Dillon).

There are also the four songs Chris Cornell recorded for what became the “Poncier Tape,” recorded by him as something of a joke for Crowe. In a sequence cut from the film, Poncier was going to quit his band and go solo, selling his wares as a street busker. Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament designed a cassette package, and Cornell wrote songs based Ament’s imaginary song titles (including the original demo for “Spoonman”). Most of the tracks were previously only available on an EP that people paid insanely high amounts of money for on online auction sites. Plus there’s a couple of bits and pieces by Cornell and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready that ended up in the film’s instrumental score and some Westerberg demos (Crowe’s a guy who clearly saves everything).

A reissue package well worth getting if you’re a fan of the original.

You can pre-order the new release via the Pearl Jam website HERE.