What Is The Point Of The Clunky, Confusing ‘Game Of Thrones’ Album?
'For The Throne' belongs in the crypts of Winterfell.
When The Simpsons was at the height of its popularity in the early ’90s, I begged my parents to buy the album The Simpsons Sing the Blues. It was a huge mistake.
I cared little for the blues but cared a lot about The Simpsons. The album contained zero music from the show, and the most popular song off the CD wasn’t even a blues number, it was ‘Do The Bartman’, a hip-hop track that introduced a novelty dance, The Bartman. I can’t remember the dance moves but The Bartman was more a state of mind for edgy primary school kids.
Listening to For The Throne (music inspired by the HBO series Game of Thrones), the crushing feeling of disappointment that comes from listening to a well-orchestrated, yet totally unnecessary selection of songs built around a pop culture phenomenon came flooding back.
It’s The Simpsons Sing the Blues all over again.
TV On Your Stereo
Soundtracks to TV shows are predominantly compilation albums of songs featured in a series. Often, they’re great: the soundtrack for Big Little Lies is a recent example of a series that leveraged its use of music to build upon the show’s success. In 1999, Songs from Dawson’s Creek was the fifth highest selling album of the year in Australia.
It’s easy to see why these albums are so popular, as they capture the emotions we associate with the shows themselves. After the Breaking Bad finale, Badfinger’s ‘Baby Blue’ will always evoke the hubris of Walter White.
‘Inspired by’ albums are a totally different, and rare. Often, they’ll take a TV show not known for its music, usually to do with a period setting, and build music around the show’s themes.
One of the best of its kind came in 1996, when The X-Files was one of the biggest shows on TV. The merchandise was coming thick and fast: compendium books, computer games and ‘The Truth is Out There’ posters began to pop up everywhere.
On the music front they released Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by The X-Files. The album contained remixes of the show’s opening theme, tracks from Foo Fighters, Sheryl Crow, Danzig and The Meat Puppets as well as collaborations between Elvis Costello and Brian Eno, Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper; these team-ups were an excuse for people to work together under the banner of a hit TV show.
As an album, Songs in the Key of X works because each artist delivers a song that matches the sinister vibe of the show. It’s the perfect album for fans to listen to while they wait for the next episode of The X-Files and it’s a miracle the producers made it work. While it may sound dated now, at the time, it reinforced why people were into The X-Files. The secret to these ‘inspired by’ albums is capturing a sound reminiscent of the TV show without being too literal.
For The What?
Read the books, watch the show, and buy the album.
Game of Thrones is so huge that HBO began meeting with companies years out from the final season to decide their marketing approach for the finale. According to Jeff Peters, Vice President of Licensing and Retail at HBO, the question they posed was: “What would people and what would brands and what would artists do ‘for the throne?’”
Record companies got word of HBO’s quest and most wanted to ride the show’s dragon tail. Columbia Records began calling their artists to find out who were the biggest Game of Thrones nerds, many bent the knee, and the deal was done.
So, Does It Work For ‘Game Of Thrones’?
For The Throne isn’t a compilation of artist’s doing songs from the show, but rather, a mixtape of tracks inspired by life in the Seven Kingdoms.
The album’s producer, Ricky Reed (Lizzo, Leon Bridges, Kesha, Jason Derulo), took the gig as a mega fan and got access to the show’s music supervisors to learn about how they approach music.
Talking to Billboard, Reed said: “I’d heard they have unspoken rules about the way the show looks and sounds and feels, so for me going in, sonically, I knew I wanted to represent for the fans of the show and I was inspired by the idea that the show’s fans listen to all kinds of music, so my goal was to say, genre to genre, ‘How do we make songs that have that mood?'”
The secret to these ‘inspired by’ albums is capturing a sound reminiscent of the TV show without being too literal.
Reed gets the feel right For The Throne — it’s dour enough to sound like someone from Westeros got their hands on a recording studio. Unfortunately, the album quickly falls apart when you consider anything other than this.
The lead single, ‘Power is Power’, has The Weeknd singing about being a Stark with emo Jon Snow vibes. The chorus lyric “a knife in my heart couldn’t slow me down” refers to the death and return of Westeros’ favourite bastard. SZA pretends to be Daenerys while Scott raps in a sinister way about how no bullet can stop him (I guess he’s a White Walker?!?).
‘Power is Power’ distills For The Thone’s main problem — that each song and each artist tries embarrassingly hard to make a connection to the show, and the result is hilariously distracting. Ellie Goulding’s ‘Hollow Crown’ sounds like she’s singing about dissing Cersei, A$AP Rocky and Joey Bada$$’s ‘Too Many Gods’ is a strange track about religion and war in Westeros, and The National sing about the number one trending topic in the fantasy series: betrayal.
Even the song titles are too heavy-handed, with The Lumineer’s singing about ‘Nightshade’ — a preferred poison in Westeros — and Muse’s Matt Bellamy doing an odd hymn-sounding track inspired by the ancient city of Valyria, a deep cut reference.
The bridge between Game of Thrones and modern music is a rickety one. Medieval imagery just doesn’t work lyrically when combined with contemporary music production. The songs on For The Throne sound more like the result of a reality TV competition where contestants have to come up with a Game of Thrones themed song within an hour.
If Reed was looking for a mood to capture there’s no greater inspiration than the work of the show’s composer, Ramin Djawadi, who has spent a nearly a decade taking the lyrics provided by author, George R.R. Martin, and fashioning them into songs.
‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ is a song that went from page to screen wonderfully in season three, episode three, thanks to The Hold Steady. The rock arrangement with a Dropkick Murphy’s vibe highlights the sea shanty nature of songs from Westeros.
Even though you’ve got a guitar solo and an up-tempo beat, the chorus is sung by the whole band and you can picture it being sung in a beer hall in the Iron Islands. Not only is the song about Game of Thrones lore but it’s composed in spirit, too, and sits comfortably between the two worlds.
What does work on For The Throne is having such different musical styles sitting side-by-side — if anything, the one joy of this album is coming to it as a Game Of Thrones fan and walking away exposed to such wildly eclectic artists. That said, you’ll probably never listen to a track from this album ever again.
A signal boost for everyone involved, but For The Throne belongs in the crypt at Winterfell.
Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.