Album Review: Isles Of Wonder

30 July 2012 | 4:19 pm | Kris Swales

Music Director Rick Smith channels over 20 years of programming music to smash dancefloors.

Baffling, eccentric, occasionally hilarious – Isles Of Wonder, the soundtrack to Danny Boyle's spectacular Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games, is none of these things. Instead, it sees Music Director Rick Smith channels over 20 years of programming music to smash dancefloors with electronic dance music innovators Underworld into a joyous celebration of both Great Britain's musical legacy and his own.

Now who'd have thought, that after all, something as simple as rock'n'roll would save us all?” asks a ramshackle Frank Turner to open disc one, which moves through choral standards, the London Symphony Orchestra's Chariots Of Fire, Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, AR Rahman's Nimma Nimma, Dizzee Rascal's Bonkers (the only nod to the contemporary pop medley section), and Emeli Sandé's stunning Abide With Me like it's perfectly logical. The Arctic Monkeys deliver serviceable live readings of their own I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor and The Beatles' Come Together, but the latter potential showstopper pales in comparison to the two new Underworld compositions.

The Alex Trimble (Two Door Cinema Club) vocal on the cauldron lighting theme Caliban's Dream is suitably uplifting, but in a career littered with epic moments, And I Will Kiss is Rick Smith's – and by extension Underworld's – magnum opus. A jaw-dropping, percussion-driven 17-minute tour de force featuring Dame Evelyn Glennie and the Pandemonium Drummers (with help from the LSO), it builds to such a synth-heavy crescendo that it feels like it should be soundtracking first alien contact rather than the Industrial Revolution.

The second disc represents the Athletes' Parade section of the ceremony, and it's party time as Smith unleashes a bevy of Underworld (and other) bombs without playing the Born Slippy card dealt so cleverly in the ceremony itself. Kicking off appropriately with The Chemical Brothers' (“World, the time has come to…”) Galvanize and ending with David Bowie's Heroes (in tribute to the entry of the Great Britain team), the track sequencing has changed slightly but the spirit remains the same.

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It's Smith and Underworld's show, but the real star here is Welsh producer High Contrast. Stepping out of his drum'n'bass comfort zone, he breathes fresh life into Underworld classics Rez, Dark And Long and Crocodile, gives U2's Where The Streets Have No Name a guaranteed festival-smashing makeover, links back to And I Will Kiss with the thundering percussive additions to Fuck Buttons' Olympians, and even delivers half a dozen new house and halftime breaks tunes of his own – all with enough soulful substance to match his style.

In a perfect world, Isles Of Wonder would be the gateway drug for an entire generation of aspiring producers to drag 'EDM' out of the brainless populist vacuum it's currently lost in. In this imperfect world of ours, though, it's enough that it encapsulates that magical four hours where even the most baffled citizens of the world were united as one.