A new career overview
of the late British rocker is so well programmed that it may very well be the
definitive Epic Soundtracks album.



The late Epic Soundtracks – born in 1959 as Kevin Paul
Godfrey – may be best remembered for his participation, beginning in the late ‘70s
while still a teenager, in a slew of experimental underground bands of some
renown: Swell Maps (with his brother Nikki Sudden), the Jacobites (ditto),
Crime & the City Solution and These Immortal Souls (both with Australian
icon Rowland S. Howard). But a certain strain of discerning fan reserves
adoration for the trio of piano-based pop records the
songwriter/multi-instrumentalist recorded in the ‘90s with famous friends from
Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, the Lemonheads, Primal Scream, the Chamber Strings
and Thee Hypnotics in tow.


On Rise Above, Sleeping Star and Change My Life, Soundtracks took the confessional singer/songwriter
model of the ‘70s and updated it for the self-conscious indie ‘90s, ditching
any contemporary irony and simply writing and singing straight from his heart. His
unexpected death in 1997 (and that of his brother, also executor of his estate,
in 2005) delayed the production of a well-deserved compilation record, but Wild Smile: An Anthology has finally
arrived via the Troubadour/Easy Action label.


Subtitled “The Best of…,” disk one lifts tracks from the
three studio records released in Soundtracks’ lifetime, plus Good Things, the Kevin Junior-assisted
demo session that constituted his posthumous final album. Simply put, it’s an
excellent selection of songs that well demonstrates his heart-on-sleeve pop. Deceptively simple confections like “Farmer’s Daughter”
(whose main character reappears in “Emily May [You Make Me Feel So Fine]”), “You
Better Run” and “Wishing Well” reveal a student of pop music who can channel
his inspirations (Brian Wilson, Alex Chilton, Carole King, the Monkees) into
music that sounds most like himself. Intricate mini-symphonies like “Fallen
Down” and “Big Apple Graveyard” indicate more ambition than Soundtracks is
usually given credit for, with an attention to detail that belies the raw
emotions on display. Ballads like “There’s a Rumour,” “Sweet Sixteen” and “Waiting
for the Train” tend to strip down to little more than voice and piano (or
guitar), giving the listener no barrier between Soundtracks and what he’s


Diehards (and there is no other kind of Soundtracks fan) can
quibble about song selection – indeed, the exclusion of “She Sleeps Alone”
seems puzzling by any measure. But, given the one-disk limitation and the
generally smart selection, it’s difficult to argue that “The Best of…” doesn’t
deserve the appellation.




Disk two collects twenty-three rare and unreleased tracks,
from studio demos to alternate versions to concert cuts. For familiar songs,
there are live songs played solo (“Meet Me On the Beach,” “Something New Under
the Sun,” an a cappella “Don’t Go to
School”), instrumental mixes (“She Sleeps Alone,” “Hear the Whistle Blow,”
“House On the Hill”) and intimate takes on favorite covers (the Beatles’ “I’ll
Be Back,” an especially fevered reading of James & Bobby Purify’s “I’m Your
Puppet,” a version of the Monkees’ “I Wanna Be Free” with Nikki Sudden
associate Max “Lizard” Edie on vocals).


All very fine, but it’s the passel of unreleased songs that
really get the blood pumping. “King of Everything” is a delightful pop trifle,
“Midnight” a lovely piano instrumental, “I Have Seen the Light” a gentle
ballad, “I Wish I Had a Girlfriend” a fragile balance of sweet honesty and
uncomfortable confession. The snarky Sleeping
outtake “Teenage Heart” appears in two different versions,
instrumental and vocal, as does the amiably goofy “C’mon Daddy,” once sung by
Soundtracks and again as a hidden cut sung by its co-author Evan Dando. The
stark, plaintive ballads “Fade Away” and “Unfaithful Arms” are noted as the
last two songs Soundtracks ever wrote, taken from his final gig. The disk
officially ends with the earliest track: “Jelly, Babies” is a minor-key
psychedelic pop song written by Soundtracks, sung by Robert Wyatt and released
in 1981. Though tracked by rejects and ephemera, disk two is as strong and
enjoyable a listen as the compilation of official releases on disk one.




It’s unfair to assert that this set is all the Soundtracks
one needs – his catalog, slim though it may be, is rich enough for neophytes to
hear and pick their own favorites. But Wild
is so well programmed that it may very well be the definitive Epic
Soundtracks album, and with a discography as consistently fine as his, that’s
truly saying something.


Ed. note: I try to
keep to a minimum my intrusions in the BLURT writers’ narratives, but in this
instance I can’t resist noting (in addition to seconding everything the good
Dr. Toland says above) that Epic was also a delightful human being in person. In
the late ‘80s I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours with him before and
after a These Immortal Souls concert, and the conversation was a non-stop
barrage of pop culture referencing, record collector geekouts and ale-powered
geniality. May he rest in peace. – Fred Mills


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