Talk about a drip feed. Twentyfive years on, Tap’s legend still runs, hoary riffs and gormless notions resonating throughout pop culture. Only this year, the band filled Wembley Arena for their Back From The Dead tour (one date, admittedly…). If you meet anyone who tells you they’ve never half-inched a Tap line for bar-side yucks, they’re lying. And chances are every film writer in the land has said a movie goes up to 11 at some point or another.
If you know Rob Reiner’s original semi-improv satire, any excuse will do to turn it on again. If you haven’t, whack the speakers up, stuff a cucumber down your spandex and hold your sides in. Commercials director Marty DiBergi (Reiner) introduces his ‘rockumentary’ account of a US tour by Brit-metal pillocks Spinal Tap.
In pitch-perfect character studies, we meet three muddle-headed horsemen of rock: tache’d pipe smoker and bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), lustrously haired singer David St Hubbins (Michael McKean) and blank-faced guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest). As for drummers – tragedy lies therein…
Everything that can go wrong, does. Stages are lost. Stonehenge is shrunk. Tap’s Smell The Glove album cover is deemed “sexist”, confusing its STDravaged auteurs (“What’s wrong with bein’ sexy?”). As band dynamics shatter, gigs are pulled due to “selective” interest and endlessly quotable gags fly fast, a weird whiff of plausibility pervades. How many real bands have dumped a “new direction” on fans? Or got stuck in a stage-prop?
Reasons for and proof of Tap’s lasting stench are found on a fine doc made for this newly amplified three-disc release. Up To 11 sees kings of rock and comedy opining on Tap’s armadillo-scaled importance. Anvil bring the Tap link full circle, mainmouth Lips gushing while – oh, the irony – Robb Reiner says zilch and sports the expression of a man in pressing need of the bathroom. Kasabian’s Sergio Pizzorno looks spookily Tufnel-esque. Kings Of Leon claim to have seen the movie 61 times collectively. Rob Brydon calls Tap “the little engine that could” and eulogises its Sinatra-loving chauffeur. Ricky Gervais, meanwhile, marvels at the post-Office existence of bad bosses and spies a reason why in Tap: “They don’t know how stupid they are.” Given that Leppard and Saxon still haul spare tummy tyres around on tour, why would such prize dolts as Tap be smart enough to retire?
Most of the extras on this excellent reissue prove that age becomes the gag, not because Tap have weathered well but because they haven’t. Talking about recording Back From The Dead on a featurette, a dozy St Hubbins boasts about “dominating death” over evidence that he can’t even dominate his midriff. Footage of ‘Stonehenge’ from Live Earth is included, where Guest’s aged glower seems to situate Tufnel’s vacant grimace several miles further from reality than ever. (Shame the gig’s ‘Big Bottom’ bassoff doesn’t feature on the discs, but then how much bottom can you take?)
The genius of such extras is that they build on the original. The commentary here is the previous DVD release’s priceless in-character one, which has you at “Hello” (DiBergi: “Hello.” Tufnel: “’Ello.”), sees the band lambasting their treatment by DiBergi (DiBergi: “I make a lot of commercials.” Tap: “He does a lot of shit…”) and runs with an ace gag about how Smalls reckons most people associated with the film are now dead. Tufnel isn’t having it: “You’re just assuming everyone’s dead except us,” he whines, “and it’s not fair.”
You don’t get the once-available filmmakers’ talk-tracks but that’s fine. This isn’t just a one movie disc plus Making Ofs; it’s the film plus nearsequels in quality spin-off style. Outtakes from the last Tap double-disc set carry over, stretching to nearly 70 minutes’ worth of material and playing like an accompanying feature. You’re glad they kept them: scenes of Tap at the zoo and St Hubbins being thoroughly disagreeable toward his new romantic son are killers. In addition, Return Of Spinal Tap combines a London gig from ’92 – Tufnel models spider’s web spandex – with Tap-back-home footage. As Smalls joins his dad’s “SaniFone” work in deepest Nilford, Tufnel invites you into his “inventing shed” to admire his picnic-friendly fold-up wine glass design, a patent about as smart as amps that… you know.
There’s a lot of extra meat here: it’s a wonder the disc is big enough to fit it in. That’s testimony to the original’s genius for treasurable detail, character and gags-per-minute pacing. Indeed, the humour is hustled past so fast that Tap newbies might well miss the segue from ‘Big Bottom’ to the cover of ‘Intravenus De Milo’. Granted, the discs don’t cough up much Making Of material. But when the illusion sustains so well, ringing down the decades like notes plucked on Tufnel’s top-of-the-heap 1959 special, to complain would be nitpicking, wouldn’t it?
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