Trouble Man– never seen the movie, but good lord its got one of the coolest soundtracks ever. It is the definitive 1970s cool soundtrack- if ever you enjoyed Isaac Hayes’ Shaft music or gritty 1970s crime thrillers like Dirty Harry, or grew up with tv shows like Kojak or Starsky and Hutch… well, this score is right up your street – and if you didn’t well, its a street you should visit! Recorded and released in 1972, it was Marvin Gayes’ somewhat odd follow-up to his monumental What’s Going On album. The film itself ( a vaguely standard-for-the-era Blaxploitation piece) came and went, largely forgotten, the album remaining a curio for Gaye fans who generally preferred his traditional studio albums. For himself, Gaye always believed his score would stand the test of time and one day be reappraised, feeling it had some of his finest work. Now for the albums 40th Anniversary a two-disc extended edition has been released which really highlights how important and ground-breaking this piece of work is, and leaves it cooler than ever. You’ll hate me over-using the word ‘cool’ on this, but really, there’s no better word that captures this music.
The Trouble Man album is wonderfully, yes, cool, and funky in a way only an actual product of the 1970s could be- much imitated in years since, this is the real deal . Smooth saxophone, funky percussion, jazzy piano and early-Moog synthesizer textures deliver an atmosphere of urban streets so vivid you think you can hear the traffic, smell the air… effortlessly transporting you back to another world, the seedy New York of Taxi Driver, or the gritty night-time streets of Dirty Harry. What the world of Trouble Man‘s actual film was I have no idea, as I’ve never seen it.
The original album released in 1972 was an extended suite of music based on the score that Gaye had produced for the film- here, for the first time, is the actual original film-score on a second disc, with several alternates and session tracks added to the remastered original album over on disc one. The original lp remains a fantastic piece of work, a construction of the film music developed for a more balanced listening experience- sort of how Vangelis treats his soundtrack albums, here Gaye layering vocal tracks over instrumentals that sometimes reminds me of Morricone’s use of vocals in his scores. I’ve often been frustrated by how Vangelis reconstructs his soundtrack scores as albums, but in this case you can’t argue with what Gaye fashioned. That the original score is also now available is just icing on the cake.
The alternates are very rewarding- indeed, my favourite track of the entire two-disc release is an unedited version of ‘T Plays It Cool‘. There’s no words to express just how cool and funky this track is- the newly-released extended version approaching seven minutes in length is worth the price of this new release all by itself. It demonstrates perhaps better than anything else on this release just how ahead of the curve Gaye was- it truly sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. Anyone hearing this on the radio now would be astonished to learn it dates back to 1972.