This soundtrack to a 1992 instructional video is among the best music in Coil's vast catalog.
Coil, at this point comprising John Balance and Peter Christopherson, were working at peak performance in 1992. They had just released their best album, 1991's Love's Secret Domain, which combined their love of the occult and gay subculture with a newfound taste for UK acid house and ambient techno. Around this time they also composed the music for Derek Jarman's Blue, which chronicled the director's decline into blindness and declining health from AIDS. But where Blue is tragic, Gay Man's Guide To Safer Sex is sensual, alluring, even hopeful. The music happens to be some of the best in Coil's vast catalogue.
"Theme From Gay Men's Guide To Safer Sex" feels like a lost anthem. With its sinuous groove and damp textures, it's somewhere between New Age-y porn soundtrack and the kind of psychedelic dance music groups like Orbital and Primal Scream were releasing at the time. The vocal moans and tunneling bassline add a seedy undercurrent—this is Coil, after all—while the longer version has a striking Robert Johnson sample playing throughout that only heightens the drama. With Johnson's wailing voice and gorgeous synth melodies, "Theme From Gay Men's Guide To Safer Sex" predicts the sound of Moby's massive Play, the kind of slippery smooth downtempo house track that might have been a mainstream hit if it were released in a different context.
The other songs have an even more lascivious mood, appropriate for scenes involving leather and restraints. "Exploding Frogs" is a slow, lurking groove that sounds like a recording from some smoky jazz club, complete with meandering saxophone. Another version, "Omlagus Garfungiloops," features a matronly voice asking, "Have you been exploding frogs again?" The bongo-driven "Nasa-Arab 2" is a shorter, looser version of an 11-minute live performance also reissued here. Both are trips down a rabbit hole of bobbing beats and far-away melodies.
This music is mighty impressive on its own, but watching the film really completes it. There's something gut-wrenchingly emotional about Gay Men's Guide To Safer Sex, particularly for any gay kid who grew up under hectoring morality and judgmental sex education. This an early '90s film that presents gay sexuality as completely acceptable, even something to be celebrated, one that places monogamy, open relationships and anonymous sex on equal ground.
Choosing Coil to soundtrack it was a canny move. The duo have long represented the dual forces of gay men's subculture, from its dark side (take their HIV-inspired cover of "Tainted Love") to its more beautiful aspects. Few of their compositions bottle this all up into one feeling like "Theme From Gay Men's Guide To Safer Sex," a life-affirming track that deserves anthem status. Even if its creators have passed away in the 27 years since its release, there's something poignant about this reissue arriving at a time when gay culture has entered the mainstream in many countries around the world. Its roots in the film remind us not only of how far we have to go, but also how far we've come.