Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

Can the Westeros-themed compilation revive the ‘inspired by’ album concept?

This subgenre of television soundtracks has a dubious history at best

The Weeknd is part of the ‘Games of Thrones’ music compilation ‘For the Throne’ Sife El Amine
The Weeknd is part of the ‘Games of Thrones’ music compilation ‘For the Throne’ Sife El Amine

It was one battle they were never going to win.

With emotions running high ever since Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D B Weiss announced that this year’s season would be the last, fans dissected each ­episode with a fervour unknown in the modern television landscape.

While that attention resulted in bumper ratings, it also led to some unprecedented hostility from the devoted, which included a petition to have season eight reshot.

All of this goes some way to explaining the lukewarm reception fans showed For the Throne, an album of modern pop songs inspired by the fantasy television show. Despite the high calibre of artists on the project, including The Weeknd, Travis Scott, Ellie Goulding and Muse frontman Matt Bellamy, the album has been dragged by some critics and hardcore fans who decried its relentless melancholy and the lack of references to Game of Thrones.

While some of the criticism is legitimate – the album is too po-faced at times and the links to the show can be tenuous at best – the compilation is a decent offering and its relative success in the charts could help revive this tired genre. A key reason is that all the songs are new and exclusive to this record. The show’s creators were also relatively part of the creative process in that they advised the album’s executive producer Ricky Reed, when it came to themes explored in Game of Thrones.

It is that attention to detail that makes the compilation stand out among a sea of dubious projects

It began with a bang

Like most things in the entertainment industry, the genre was born on the back of a few widely successful releases. And for this particular brand of album, we have The ­Monkees to thank. With their television show ratings a success in the mid-1960s, studio executives immediately bunled the group into the studio to record a bunch of songs to capitalise on their fame.

With the motives far from anything artistic, it is a minor miracle that the self-titled 1966 album turned out to become a rock ’n’ roll classic. The cold hard fact is, the songwriters hired to churn out the tunes were in brilliant form, with tracks such as Take a Giant Step and Last Train to ­Clarksville still sounding great to this day.

Four years later, another television troupe, The Partridge Family, got in on the act. Their debut, The Partridge Family Album was surprisingly better than it promised, and the single I Think I Love You went on to top the charts.

The slow decline

While television programmes, particularly throughout the 1980s, focused on incorporating pop songs within the show (such as Miami Vice and Police Story), and in turn releasing big-­selling compilations, it took more than two decades for the “inspired by” soundtrack to make a high-profile return.

This time around, it was tied to the sci-fi television drama The X-Files, which at the time, was nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. Released in 1996, Songs in the Key of X was an eclectic compilation featuring the heavy metal collaboration between Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper (Hands of Death) and R E M teaming up with author William S Burroughs for a new version of the band’s elegiac track Star Me Kitten.

While the compilation’s success opened the floodgates for similar releases, it unfortunately lacked any attention to detail and was crucially absent of any exclusive material.

From the album Music from and Inspired by Desperate Housewives (featuring tracks by Gloria Estefan, Macy Gray and K D Lang) to those linked to other popular shows such as the legal drama Suits (featuring The Winchester’s and The Rubix Cube’s) and sports comedy Ballers (with Cash Weezy and Mr Miami), these compilations seemed hurried and carelessly curated, providing scant insight into the programmes they tip their hats to.

A lot of that dip in form can be attributed to the rise of streaming services. With fans now allowed to create and share their own customised playlists, the idea of releasing an “inspired by” album without exclusive material is a recipe for commercial failure.

This is where For the Throne succeeds. The new songs have kept fans engaged, and judging by the decent streaming numbers it has accrued so far, it is another reminder to music and television executives that content is king.

Updated: May 21, 2019 08:00 PM

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