Trainspotting's success was grounded in the way Danny Boyle managed to bring energy and excitement to an otherwise depressing subject. Though the situation is dismal and the scenery is bleak, he added an element of pop that brightened the film, brought some humor to the story, and made viewing enjoyable despite deeply upsetting imagery (like the death of Baby Dawn). He did this in part with color scheme, filmic techniques, and energetic performances. The most recognized way that he achieved this, however, was with his soundtrack, which has been voted the 7th best film soundtrack of all time by Vanity Fair, and 17th best by Entertainment Weekly.
First and foremost, the soundtrack seems intended to reflect the musical interests of our main character and his friends. The film opens with a song by Iggy Pop, who is mentioned the most of any musician in the film. Other musicians that come up and whose music made the cut include Lou Reed and David Bowie. In this way, the soundtrack reinforces the hand of our narrator not just in the narration but also in the editing of the film as a whole; Renton is the curator of everything we see and hear in the movie. This is important for the plot, as it undermines our trust in the objectivity of the film, but also gives us an understanding of Renton’s perspective and choices. Additionally, the rock and punk rock on the soundtrack contributes to the feeling of frenzy that the film attempts to elicit. This is clearest in some of the montages which often employ energetic, fast past songs, over rapid cuts of confusing images; some examples of this include the opening montage (Iggy Pop, “Lust for Life”) and the withdrawal montage (Bedrock, “For What you Dream Of”).
The soundtrack was also important as part of the controversy that the movie stirred up among politicians in many English-speaking countries (the US, England, and Australia, notably). Many politicians asserted that the film glamorized drug use, which was a massive problem globally. In the US, Bob Dole made this criticism a part of his presidential campaign. They argued that by associating heroin use with ‘Rock n Roll,’ an aspect of youth culture that many appreciated, Boyle was encouraging drug use as an acceptable part of youthful rebellion. Such criticism was mostly written off as having misunderstood the film’s intentions (and Bob Dole later admitted that he never actually saw the film), as the content and imagery of the film certainly portrays heroin and addiction as overwhelmingly negative forces. Additionally, the soundtrack itself is used to draw out negative consequences of drug use; for example, the lyrics of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” contrast with the near-death experience of Renton’s overdose, to highlight how awful the situation is.