Since it premiered in 2011, HBO’s Game of Thrones has evolved from reliable water cooler fodder to full-blown pop culture leviathan. As such, the show’s final season has been accompanied by one mighty, desperate last push of ‘branded content.’ For the Throne, Columbia Records’ 14-song compilation “inspired by” the show, falls under this category. Since only one of the songs on For the Throne actually appears in the show itself, it has as much in common with Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack as it does with brand musical extensions like Ethika’s RGB series (available on Spinrilla), 1800 Tequila’s Pusha T-curated 1800 Seconds mixtape, and Hamburger Helper’s instant classic Watch the Stove EP, rapped from the perspective of the pasta brand’s mascot, a white glove named Lefty.
For the Throne is not the first HBO-approved GOT musical undertaking. The ‘Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience’ just announced that it will be returning this year for a 20-date fall tour, and the two-volume 2014 mixtape Catch the Throne featured metal bands, established rappers, and an impressively broad coalition of Latin artists. While For the Throne also features an eclectic array of artists, it’s engineered to optimize mass appeal – Travis Scott stands alongside The Lumineers, Ellie Goulding, and a guy who won X Factor. The project does not celebrate that eclecticism; executive produced by reputed industry hitmaker Ricky Reed, it amounts to a fuckless, self-serious, vaguely gothic slog through the mud that possesses none of the show’s knack for intrigue. Game of Thrones may be a complex web of incest, Machiavellian power plays, and Bugatti dragons, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to literally any of the songs on this compilation.
For the Throne opens with “Kingdom of One,” a song built around “All Along the Watchtower” chords fingerpicked on a dusty acoustic guitar and Cudi-esque hums from pop-country starlet Marin Morris. “Ash to ash,” she sings. “Dust to dust.” For the Throne overflows with these kind of dramatic clichés that lack specificity and only tangentially relate to Game of Thrones. This could be the soundtrack to any medieval high fantasy film or TV show. It might as well be “inspired by” Eragon.
The second song and tentpole single – The Weeknd, Travis Scott, and SZA’s “Power is Power” – is a bald-faced rip-off of “Pray For Me” from the Black Panther OST. The two songs are even in the same key. The only difference is that this time, the lyrics are much worse. (“I was born of the ice and snow,” Abel muses in a rather on-the-nose Led Zeppelin homage.) Things do not improve on The Lumineers’ nausea-inducing “Nightshade,” which grafts the melody from Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” onto melodramatic pop piano.
For the Throne is not without a small handful of bright spots. Ty Dolla $ign adds a tender personal flourish to Lil Peep’s “When I Lie” by remembering the sudden death of his friend Fredo Santana (“Pour that drip up in my Faygo…”). “Devil in the Eye” is a tightly written and arranged Mumford & Sons folk jam that’s quite chipper by this compilation’s standards. The artists here attempt to have fun on their own terms but come up with mixed results; while Joey Badass’s GOT-themed hashtag rap (“Bent the flow harder, Valyrian steel”) is a light-hearted moment, A.Chal opens “Me Traicionaste” with a worrying proclamation – “back on my bullshit” – before delivering on the promise, spoiling ROSALÍA’s exquisite flamenco with the line, “I poke her face, but it’s no cards.”
“When you’re having fun, you don’t feel the weight of the pressure,” Ricky Reed said of For the Throne in an interview with Billboard. “The fun gives you wings.” While he surely had a bit of fun overseeing the making of the definitive musical statement of the most popular TV show of all time, there is nothing fun about listening to For the Throne. The only song that captures GOT’s epic scope is Matt Bellamy’s concluding number “Pray (High Valyrian),” an orchestral piece with little spoken word, aside from the occasional whispered prayer delivered in the High Valyrian tongue. Understated and nerdy, “Pray” really puts the failures of For The Throne in perspective. In truth, any Game of Thrones musical project assembled according to the logic of a cash-grabbing major label was doomed from the start.