Spinal Tap: It Might Get Louder
Originally published in Guitar World, September 2009
One louder, to be exact. On the 25th anniversary of their debut, Spinal Tap resurrect their career with Back from the Dead. GW plugs in and guitarist Nigel Tufnel speaks volumes.
Locusts, herpes sores and ex-wives seeking alimony are just a few of the things in life that disappear for a while only to come back when one least expects or wants them to. Now the legendary British hard rock band Spinal Tap can be added to that list. Ever since Marti DiBergi’s documentary film, This Is Spinal Tap, reintroduced the band to America in 1984, Tap have broken up, reformed and gone on reunion tours more often than Pamela Anderson has reconciled with Tommy Lee (in fact, she’s probably reconciling with him as you read this).
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film that pulled them out of obscurity and threw them into the spotlight while it simultaneously threw them under a bus, Spinal Tap have reformed to record the album Back from the Dead. If upon hearing it you think the album sounds familiar, rest assured it is, as the band—Nigel Tufnel (guitar), David St. Hubbins (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Derek Smalls (bass)—remade all 11 songs featured on the movie’s original soundtrack. Most of the songs sound virtually identical to the original versions, but uncharacteristically clever fans will notice differences, such as several brand-new solos recorded by Tufnel, funk and reggae arrangements (respectively) of “Sex Farm” and “(Listen to the) Flower People,” and a mix that puts the balls into “ballistic.”
To further entice fans the band recorded four new songs: “Back from the Dead,” “Rock & Roll Nightmare,” “Warmer Than Hell” and “Short and Sweet.” Tap have also given us the first studio recording of the long-execrated “Jazz Odyssey” (in three parts) and the throwaway a cappella number “Celtic Blues.” Guitarists Steve Vai, John Mayer and Def Leppard’s Phil Collen trade licks on “Short and Sweet,” giving guitar fans at least one reason to buy the album. The package also includes an hour-long DVD featuring track-by-track commentary and 10-inch cardboard cutout figures of the band members that you can enjoy in the privacy of your own home.
For Tufnel, the reunion is welcome relief. After the band’s Live Earth concert performance at London’s Wembley Stadium in 2007, Tufnel planned on retiring permanently from the band to work on his sophomore solo effort. To make ends meet, he purchased a riverside manor in Oldham-Upon-Rhye, where he hoped to start a grouper farm. But even though Tufnel previously became a junior ichthyologist after visiting the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, he was not aware that grouper is a saltwater fish, and he watched aghast as his financial investment went belly up. Literally.
Fortunately, St. Hubbins decided to reform the band after he consulted a numerologist who convinced him that the band could stage a successful 24th anniversary reunion in China. Unfortunately, the Chinese were unaware of the band, as the film was never released in that country. Worse yet, the number 24 is very unlucky in China, where it means “easy death,” so ticket sales were not particularly brisk.
Preparations for the Chinese tour set the stage for the current reunion. Tufnel is excited about his return to live performance and the pages of Guitar World. The self-proclaimed “guitar god #349” reckons that his number has finally come up, and since Eddie Van Halen’s new line of picks was delayed a month, we stubbornly had to agree. A relentless innovator who invented such breakthroughs as the amp capo and an amp that goes to infinity, Tufnel has many ingenious new ideas to share, but unfortunately we ran out of time and space before he could do so. Instead, we talked about caves, ports and Shakespeare.
GUITAR WORLD What was your mindset when you went into the studio and revisited your checkered past?
NIGEL TUFNEL Basically we wanted to do a better version of what we did originally to begin with, because those cuts were not really studio grade. So we redid them, and I think it sounds much better, to be honest. And then we’ve got the video part where we talk about the tunes and describe to the public what was goin’ on. That’s an added bonus, I suppose.
GW There are some interesting things happening in your solo to “Back from the Dead.” What exactly were you doing?
TUFNEL That’s like, How do you describe a moment in time? It’s hard to describe, because you’re in it at the moment, and then it’s over. Then someone hears it, presumably, and then they say, “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” But it’s not like I can articulate what it is about. It works; it doesn’t work. It’s fast; it’s slow. It’s moody—I try to capture a mood. The title “Back from the Dead” means that we’re not literally dead, although I have a theory about that: I believe seriously that people don’t actually die.