David Browne
January 08, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

Could there be an easier gig than soundtrack compiler? From The Waterboy to You’ve Got Mail, most film-music discs have been reduced to oldies collections that were probably a cinch to assemble, not to mention fun — imagine playing DJ for millions. Yet the formula has grown stale faster than you can say ”closing-credit power ballad.” Thankfully, a few renegade soundtrack producers are shooting higher, commissioning new, untested material and performances and aiming for anthologies that are more than just K-tel compilations for the DVD era.

In saluting the glam era, the soundtrack of Velvet Goldmine could have been a glittery mess. Its combination of oldies, remakes of oldies, and glam-style new songs had the potential to make us all long to hear more score music with tin whistles. Instead, it sounds like the freshest rock album that never actually existed. The feather-boa anthems (from Lou Reed, Brian Eno, and Roxy Music) still conjure the delicate decadence of that era’s fashion and mood, and remakes of Bryan Ferry’s ”2HB” and the Stooges’ ”TV Eye” — featuring vocals by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and film star Ewan McGregor, respectively — give karaoke a good name.

Arty alt-rockers Shudder to Think’s two ersatz-Ziggy Stardust cuts are meant to compensate for David Bowie’s absence, and they more than do the job; each could have fit perfectly onto a circa-’73 Bowie album. And the normally stultifying Grant Lee Buffalo pull off a British accent and swagger with ”The Whole Shebang.” Despite its detailed evocation of this moment in the ’70s, the movie left those of us who didn’t play dress up wondering what we’d missed. The music, which finds a middle ground between pop sweetness and rock orgy, nails it. What does it say when one of the crispest-sounding rock albums of 1998 sounds as if it were 25 years old? A

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