soundtracks

REVIEW: Queen – Flash Gordon (with 1991 and 2011 bonus tracks)

Flash Gordon – Original Soundtrack Music by QUEEN (Originally 1980, 1991 and 2011 Hollywood CDs)

When mom and dad rented the movie Flash Gordon, we sat and watched it as a family.  “It’s terrible,” a family friend told us.  There were only so many movies available to rent at the local store (Steve’s TV), just one small wall of VHS and Betamax.  Flash Gordon came home with us one weekend, and because we tried to make the most of our movie rentals (including the VCR, also a rental) we watched it twice.

I have not seen Flash Gordon since that childhood weekend.  It really was awful.  Maybe we hoped for more because Max Von Sydow was in it.  Neither Sydow, nor Brian Blessed, nor a young Timothy Dalton could save Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon, New York Jets

Queen also could not save the movie, though their soundtrack is certainly one of the best things to come of it.  (Another is the movie Ted, basically a love letter to the original Flash Gordon).   All four Queen members wrote music for the film, and recorded it as a band.  Brian May wrote the lion’s share of material, though Freddie Mercury was responsible for “Vultan’s Theme”, later ripped off for an Atari video game called Vanguard.  I wonder if Freddie ever saw a dime from that?  I knew Freddie’s song from the video game by heart, long before I ever heard the album by Queen!

The soundtrack gave us one Queen hit single, “Flash’s Theme” written by May.  The 2011 double CD has a single version, and a live cut from Montreal in ’81 (also on Queen Rock Montreal), as bonuses to the album track.  “Flash’s Theme” is sparse but catchy, featuring movie dialogue that makes it seem like the film should be much better.  Queen’s bombast was ideal for this.  When Roger Taylor sings the highest notes in the chorus, it’s sheer musical delight.

The album plays like a soundtrack, with lots of atmospheric keyboard instrumentals and movie dialogue.  Because of its ambient nature, you might not at first recognise some tracks as Queen.  Some is similar to the ambient work that closed their last album, Made in Heaven.  The music is far more grand than its onscreen imagery.

One of the most memorable instrumentals is “Football Fight”, a Mercury synth workout.  Perhaps sometimes we forget what a great keyboardist Mercury was, simply because he was such an amazing vocalist.  “Football Fight” is super fun, and you can also get it in a piano-based demo version on the 2011 CD.  Check out a Queen-tastic version of Wagner’s famous “Wedding March” performed by May on guitar.  Finally there is the rock track “The Hero”, a riffy song with full vocals by Freddie.  It reprises some prior themes from the soundtrack, such as “Vultan’s”.  Queen is augmented by an orchestra on “The Hero”, which is as grand as you would expect.  Like “Flash”, you can also get “The Hero” on disc two in live form, in Montreal 1981.

A long forgotten bonus track for this album was released on the 1991 Hollywood Records CD.  A remix by somebody called “Mista Lawnge” starts off well enough, with a grinding beat synched to May’s guitar.  It goes downhill when somebody starts rapping, “Flash, one time!  Flash, two times!”  Note to all remixers:  Never, ever add random rappers to rock songs.  Don’t.

Rest assured, no matter which version of Flash Gordon you pick up, there are some definite musts on the album.  Much of it will only appeal to fans of soundtracks.  If that sounds like you, take a ride with Flash to planet Mongo and get down with some Queen.  Skip the movie!

4/5 stars

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#618: Qui-Gon’s Noble End

GETTING MORE TALE #618: Qui-Gon’s Noble End

The excitement for a new Star Wars movie was never higher than it was in May of 1999.  After all, before Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released, George Lucas could do no wrong.  Sure, sure, he hadn’t actually directed anything since the original Star Wars in 1977.  That only added to the mystique.  He had served as a writer/producer on all three Indiana Jones films, but other than that his credits were not that impressive.  Surely, with George Lucas directing Star Wars again, we’ll get something just like we always wanted, right?

Were we ever naive.

There is one figure that never let us down, and that is composer John Williams.  His soundtracks always had a few key themes that would stick with you forever.  And he was busy through the 80s and 90s, working with his pal Steven Speilberg frequently.  Of course, Williams had to return for the new Star Wars.  There was nobody else who could do it.

The hit single “Duel of the Fates” premiered worldwide before the movie itself.  Hit single?  “Duel of the Fates” had a stunning music video…really, a long kick-ass extended trailer.  It made the rotation on MuchMusic and MTV, for good reason.  Not only was the video a showcase for Darth Maul and our heroes Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, but the music resonated with people too.  It’s tense track with a choir, which Williams always saves for the most dramatic moments in Star Wars.  It’s fraught with drama and it’s brilliantly composed, and performed by the London Symphony.

The sheer scale of everything Star Wars in May 1999 meant that we would be stocking The Phantom Menace soundtrack front-racked at the Record Store.  That was rare for us.  Previously, we stocked James Horner’s Titanic soundtrack, but that boasted Celine Dion’s massive “My Heart Will Go On”.  In a sense, perhaps “Duel of the Fates” was the “My Heart Will Go On” of Star Wars.  It wasn’t as big but it sure helped put the soundtrack CD on the racks.  There were some incredible themes on the soundtrack, but unfortunately also a lot of music that, to use a phrase of my friend Erik Woods, was just “sonic wallpaper”.

The CD was released on Tuesday, May 4, 1999, in advance of the film.  We received our copies on Friday, June 30.

Of course I was going to buy my copy right then and there, but I couldn’t believe what I saw when I scanned the back cover.  Track 15 caught my eye.

What.  The.  Hell?

“Qui-Gon’s Noble End”.  Everybody knew that Liam Neeson was playing a new Jedi character named Qui-Gon Jinn.  A little after that, another track includes “Qui-Gon’s Funeral”!

Why…the fuck…would you advertise that Liam Neeson is dying in the fucking movie, two weeks before the movie is even out?  Who named these tracks?  Why the hell would you spoil the end of the movie so badly for everyone?

It was baffling.  It’s still baffling.

The track list for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi has leaked.  I’ve seen it.  There are really no colossal spoilers on it.  You’ll still want to avoid it if you wish to remain completely spoiler free, but at least they’ve learned their lesson about naming tracks.

One of the most anticipated movies of all time was bound to sell more than a handful of soundtracks in advance.  That’s why The Phantom Menace was on our charts!  Every single person who bought that CD knew that Liam Neeson was going to die.

The Phantom Menace came out on May 19.  My sister and I sat there, watching the final duel.  As lightsabers ignited, “Duel of the Fates” began to play.  We both sat wondering exactly when Qui-Gon was going to meet his noble end.  It became obvious when he and Obi-Wan Kenobi were separated by a force field.  Right on cue, Darth Maul impaled him with his red-bladed weapon.

It could have been shocking, but the bigger surprise was that they killed off such a cool villain as Darth Maul after just one movie.  (Yes, I know he was resurrected on Clone Wars, a good TV series.)

As we gear up for The Last Jedi in a few short days, let those who wish to remain spoiler-free do so in peace.  There will hopefully be no Death Star-sized screwups like “Qui-Gon’s Nobel End”!

 

 

REVIEW: Spaceballs – The Soundtrack (1987)

I will be going LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  If you’re in the UK, why not wake up with us and some cool soundtrack music?

May was Star Wars month on Visions In Sound, but now it’s June and it’s also the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars parody Spaceballs!  We will be spinning music and discussing this comedy classic.  Jason Drury and I will help Rob with the celebration.  Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET)

 

SPACEBALLS – The Soundtrack (1987 Atlantic)

Hello, baaaaabay!

Composer John Morris has a long career working with Mel Brooks.  The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles…all that was John Morris.  He is also responsible for the “Spaceballs Main Title Theme”, which is intentionally cheesy complete with laser beam sounds.  Any spoof of Star Wars should also spoof the music, and the title theme suits that role.  It sounds 50% Star Wars, and 50% The Last Starfighter.  It’s rousing but not at all serious, and a fine indication of the kind of movie that Spaceballs is.  The film wasn’t so well received back in 1987, but today it is fondly remembered.  Mel Brooks is even considering a sequel.

Kim Carnes and Jeffrey Osborne provide the love ballad “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own”.  I enjoy Kim’s rasp, always nice to hear, but I couldn’t tell you what scene in the movie this goes with (and I’ve seen the movie 100 times at least.)  You can safely skip this one. Berlin have a cool track called “Heartstrings”, produced by none other than Bob Ezrin! This one is worth a listen.

The “Spaceballs Love Theme” is a violin piece composed Morris and performed by Gerry Vinci.  It too has a hint of corniness, but it could also fit into just about any Hugh Grant rom-com.  Also by Morris is “The Winnebago Crashes”, the point in the film in which our heroes crash on the desert planet.  This is an action packed centerpiece, with drums pattering away and horns ablaze.  This is melded with a tension-filled “The Spaceballs Build Mega Maid”.  Too bad these bits had to be edited together for the album.

“Spaceballs” by the Detroit Spinners is a hoot.  This is pure 80s soundtrack music.  Who you gonna call?  You’re in the right ballpark anyway.   It’s fun, and funny.  The Pointer Sisters have “Hot Together”, and it sounds just like the Pointer Sisters.  Disposable 80s pop but fun in the moment.  In a similar vein is “Wanna Be Loved By You” by a group called Ladyfire.  If you miss the days of the Bangles and Bananarama, then you’d dig Ladyfire.

Of course the Spaceballs movie had a lot more music than this.  It’s clear that this CD is just a cross-section with an emphasis on pop, which would have been the selling point for most.  Those who have seen the movie know there were two more big songs.  One was “Raise Your Hands” from Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet.  That’s not on the CD, but Van Halen’s “Good Enough” is.  Fans will recall that this song is playing as Barf (John Candy) and Lone Star (Bill Pullman) enter the space diner, just before John Hurt’s chest explodes and gives birth to an Alien.  It’s good to know that Eddie Van Halen’s axe will still be wailing away in the distant future.  Van Hagar were perfect music for the sleazy diner and it’s nice to get one rock song on this CD.

There is also a 19th Anniversary Edition available, expanded with all the cues and alternate takes too.  Still no Bon Jovi though….

2.5/5 stars (for this edition)

REVIEW: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story soundtrack (2016)

I will be going LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning coffee.

Rob says:  “Star Wars For A New Generation – May is Star Wars month on Visions In Sound and we will be celebrating the 40th Anniversary with a slew of special shows. Joining me this week will be special guests Jason Drury, Michael Ladano & Erik Woods to help with the celebration. Featured music will be from Star Wars – The Force Awakens (John Williams), Star Wars – Rebels (Kevin Kiner) and Rogue One – A Star Wars Story (Michael Giacchino). Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET)”

ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story original motion picture soundtrack (2015 Lucasfilm/Disney)

A Star Wars soundtrack without John Williams?  Blasphemy!  Right?  Right guys and girls?  No John = No Star Wars, right?

Wrong!

It’s not like Rogue One is even the first!  20 years before, Joel McNeely composed Shadows of the Empire, the soundtrack to a massive multi-media Star Wars story.  It accompanied a novel, a comic, a video game and action figure line.  The only thing missing was a movie.  Since Disney’s $4 billion acquisition of Star Wars, Shadows of the Empire is now considered “legends”, or non-canon, so if you’re not aware of it, that’s OK.  The point is, a non-Williams Star Wars soundtrack is nothing new to long time fans.  And Rogue One is the perfect vehicle for such a soundtrack.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first non-episodic, non-Skywalker-saga Star Wars film ever.  There are two very obvious ways that it differentiates from the main line of films.  One is that there was no opening crawl (nor should there have been).  The second is that Williams didn’t do the music.  Michael Giacchino did, a man who has plenty of credits on his resume including a large number of J.J. Abrams productions.

Giacchino wisely didn’t overuse established Star Wars music.  You won’t hear the fanfare.  The sudden crash opening music of “He’s Here For Us” was actually a pretty cool moment of shock, and it’s right there at the start.  The music feels like the storyline.  When Director Kennic suddenly pays a surprise visit to his “friend” Galen Erso, you couldn’t ask for more abrupt and appropriate music.  The threat has arrived.  Better hide.

Though Giacchino borrows music only sparingly from John Williams, he seems to embody that classic style.  While unfamiliar, these new pieces sound like part of that universe.  There are memorable parts; not so many as the classic films, but they are there.  “He’s Here For Us” introduces one such theme, and there are more, such as the main theme contained within “A Long Ride Ahead” (and again in “The Master Switch”).  You’ll notice the Rogue One theme music in “A Long Ride Ahead” is very similar to the Star Wars main theme, in particular the first two notes.  It’s the same interval, transposed down to a different key.   That’s why the Rogue One and Star Wars themes sound similar, but different.

Other tracks like “When Has Become Now” have bits and pieces that recall prior Star Wars music without copying.  Another fantastic theme is “Jedha Arrival” which really captures the vibe.  You will get to hear the legendary “Imperial March” in “Krennic’s Aspirations”, in which he meets the Dark Lord Darth Vader in his castle on Mustafar.

For action scenes, “Jedha City Ambush” hits a double:  It’s different from past Williams work, but really gets the adrenaline running.  “Star-Dust” is more contemplative, and very unique.  The drama of “Confrontation on Eadu” has that awe-inspiring mix of ingredients that good Star Wars music always has.  Then, for sheer terror, the ironically titled “Hope” gives you all you need in pure musical form.  The solo violin on “Jyn Erso & Hope Suite” will make you weep.

The crux of the soundtrack is this:  It’s nearly impossible to listen to it without consciously or unconsciously comparing it.  That’s natural.  No matter who composed it, fans would notice it’s not John Williams.  Just like fans can tell the Kiss band of today is not the Kiss band of 1978.  What else could Disney do?  John Williams is 85 years old, and they plan on making these movies for years and years to come.  It’s reasonable to think John Williams will be able to complete the third trilogy of Star Wars, as we hope.  It’s not realistic to think he’ll be around as long as Disney plan on making Star Wars movies, as sad as that is.

We’ll leave this review with just some fun speculation.  It is widely known that, at some point in the late 1970s, George Lucas mentioned there would be 12 films.  Not 3, 6 or 9.  12 films.  He later backtracked and said, “Yeah, no, I meant 6.”  And of course he also used to deny he’d even make the prequel trilogy at all.  Then we found out he was already writing Episode I.  And recently, we learned he was actually planning to do the sequel trilogy after all, meaning you can’t trust anything Lucas backtracks on.  Fans always assumed 12 films meant 4 trilogies.  A fourth trilogy (probably focusing on Rey, Finn, Poe or Kylo’s children) does not seem impossible any more.   As long as these movies make money, it’s feasible that Disney could continue the actual saga beyond just these anthology films.  If we imagine that one day we’ll get Episodes X, XI and XII then who could compose the music?  Certainly not John Williams, since this could not happen until the mid-2020s at the soonest.  If it ever comes to pass, the fourth trilogy would have to be composed by somebody new, be it Giacchino or someone else.   Giacchino established himself as a real contender on Rogue One.  Well done.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Raiders of the Lost Ark – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2008 CD reissue)

scan_20170116RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Originally 1981, 2008 CD reissue)

When it comes to sci-fi nerds, movie geeks, and Speilberg buffs, there is one name that we all salute:  composer John Williams.

In 1981, Williams was given the task of composing yet another soundtrack for his buddy Steven:  Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back before it, it needed identifiable themes to accompany our characters:  the heroic school teacher (!) Indiana Jones, his one true love Marion, and a whole slew of evil Nazis.  This time Williams needed to come up with appropriate music not for epic space battles, but to inspire awe in the wrath of God and the Ark of the Covenant.

To go with the 2008 theatrical release of (the atrocious) Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Lucasfilm remixed and reissued the original Raiders soundtrack with 30 minutes of bonus tracks.  (Unfortunately, both the LP and box set have music not on this CD, but we don’t get this stuff for free, so a review of this CD is all you get.)  Virtually every note will be familiar to fans both casual and die-hard.

Indy begins his adventure “In the Jungle” and immediately you can picture the spiders and creepy-crawlies that Indy had to step through.  “The Idol Temple” has even more creepy-crawlies, and Williams expertly finds the musical effects to go with the eight-legged chills.  Just like the movie, be ready to jump startled at certain cues.  Serious action begins on “Escape from the Temple”, the kind of track that is a benchmark for such scenes.  The “Flight From Peru” is the very first appearance of the famous Indiana Jones theme, as he escapes death…barely!

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In America, Indy is paid a visit at the school by two “Washington Men” who want him to find something.  This is the eerie, understated debut of the Ark’s theme, though Indy’s own theme plays around with it, indicating the two will eventually collide.  “A Thought for Marion” introduces her theme, and then back to the Ark’s music once again.  The ominous overtones indicate that Indy’s mission to find the Ark will not be easy.  He is then off to Nepal with music that hints at the dangers ahead.  In Nepal he finds both Marion and the medallion, which has its own dark music.  The military drums foreshadow the involvement of the Nazi forces also searching for the Ark.

The score takes a slight middle eastern turn with “Flight to Cairo”, also augmented with Indy and Marion’s themes.  The two must find the Ark before the Nazis do with the help of Indy’s old Egyptian friend Sallah.  Marion finds herself in trouble almost immediately.  “The Basket Game” is one of the most memorable cues from the movie, though it ended badly for Marion and Indy.  Williams uses articulate melodies in a cartoon-like style to hint at the motion happening on screen.  With Marion gone, Indy must continue his quest with Sallah.  Together they visit a wise man, and discover that someone is trying to poison them with “Bad Dates”.

“The Map Room” is the setting for the next piece, building tension back with the Ark theme.  This incredible cue ends with Indy discovering the location of the Well of the Souls.   What I always assumed were sound effects in the scene is actually music (chimes).  Soon he finds Marion alive and well.  Her theme and that of the Ark return for another go-round as the heroes finally find the treasure.  The music when the Ark is found is similar to that in the Star Wars scene where the first Death Star explodes.   More creepy-crawlies (“Snakes…why’d it have to be snakes?”) infest “The Well of the Souls”, surely the creepiest scene in the movie.

Another great Indy action cue is “Indy Rides the Statue”, a piece of music that recurs when our hero is in great danger.  Escaping the Well of the Souls, Indy must battle a massive German henchman in “The Fist Fight”.  The tension is turned up again, and fans will recall this piece from one of the most punishing action scenes in the film.  “The Desert Chase” is the longest piece on the album, to suit a roller-coaster scene of thrills and chills.  The music delivers the same thrills, as you can picture Indy on that horse chasing down those Nazis.  It’s among Williams’ finest music.

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A tender moment (“Marion’s Theme”) is short lived as the Nazis return.  The action-packed music takes Indy to a secret Nazi island in the Mediterranean (“The German Sub” and “Ride to the Nazi Hideout”).  The horrifying finale reveals “The Miracle of the Ark”, and again some of Williams’ best music.  The end credits music “Raiders March” is some of most memorable music in film history.  It revisits the most exciting music from the score.  It is similar in style and equal in quality to what John Williams did with the Star Wars saga end credits.  This single track should be in any serious music lover’s collection.

For a more knowledgeable take on the Raiders soundtrack, we spoke to Rob Daniels from the Visions In Sound radio programme.  He had this to add:

When I first heard John Williams’ score to Raiders I immediately fell in love with the theme. In fact it has been my ring tone on my phone for several years over at least three phones. That being said the score to Raiders is much more than its theme. By the way, the theme is actually two separate pieces that Williams had written to be the title theme for the film.  Speilberg loved them both and asked them to be combined.

John Williams is the master of memorable themes and Raiders is no exception. There are several wonderful themes such as the aforementioned “Raiders March” but also to be commended is “Marion’s Theme” and the “Ark Theme”. Though I have to admit that my favourite comes in the cue “Desert Chase” as Indy is going after the Ark as it is on its way to Cairo. As the cues play you can see the Nazi soldiers being thrown from the truck and Indy’s fight in the cab with one of them as he eventually gets dragged behind the truck to his final victory and escape. It’s an amazing piece of audio gymnastics in an 8:18 cue.

Williams is known for his broad themes (See Star Wars & Superman) but he also plays the smaller moments just as well. (See “The Medallion” & “To Cairo” cue). In the hands of another composer this could have been just another score but Williams elevated the film to a fun and epic adventure that can be playful, sad and triumphant, sometimes all in the same cue.

The remixing renders an awesome sounding CD with the depth and clarity you expect.  A nice looking booklet has the images to go with it.  Remember listening to a soundtrack while leafing through the photos in the LP?  Relive that with the reissued Raiders of the Lost Ark.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: 2001: A Space Odyssey – Original motion picture soundtrack (1996 remaster)

Hosted by Vinyl Connection, it’s the inaugural…
LP stack white soundtracks – Version 2

November 1 – November 14

scan_201611052001: A Space Odyssey – Original motion picture soundtrack (originally 1968, 1996 Rhino remaster)

Stanley Kubrick changed the sci-fi playing field with 2001: A Space Odyssey. When he and Arthur C. Clarke sat down to write the “proverbial good science fiction movie”, they strove for a depth and realism that had yet to be attempted.  No sounds in space.  No thruster sounds, no pinging space radar.  Music (or even lack thereof) would be required to tell the audio story.  Kubrick initially contacted Spartacus composer Alex North.  The plan changed, however.  Stanley had been editing the film to a temporary score of classical music.  Nothing North could come up with satisfied the fussy director as much as the classical pieces, so that is what was used on the final film.

The film was fiercely different, free of cliches and intensely determined not to dumb things down.  The same could be said of the soundtrack, reissued on CD by Rhino with four supplementary bonus tracks.  This fine release enables the listener to delve deeper and unlock even more of the secrets of the universe.  Ligeti’s dissonant “Atmospheres” delivers an uneasy feeling; after all we humans know nothing of what is really out there.  The conflicting (and conspiring) tones of “Atmospheres” is supplanted by the main title, “Also Sprach Zarathustra”.  The music implies great revelation, standing on the cusp of universal breakthrough.

Unease returns with the bee-like swarms of “Requiem” also by Ligeti.  Voices sing, each one in their own world, but joining together to join a coherent piece.  In the film, this unsettling music appears when we encounter the enigmatic Monolith.  The Monolith is a tool of our growth as a race and a stark warning that there are things beyond that our science is not equipped to explain. Arthur C. Clarke’s “third law” states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and that describes one aspect of the Monolith in 2001.  (The other two laws:  1. “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”  2. “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”)

scan_20161105-4After the chaos of “Requiem” and “Atmospheres”, Strauss’ “Blue Danube” offers a warm respite.  The brilliance of the “Blue Danube” in the film is how Kubrick managed to capture the dance-like coordinated movements of objects in space.  A shuttle docks with a spinning space station; spinning of course to create artificial gravity that humans need to survive long-term in space.  This complex docking maneuver requires no dialogue, just Strauss.  But space is a cold deadly place, hostile to almost all known life.  Ligeti returns, as he must, with “Lux Aeterna”.  This music was used to back Dr. Floyd’s trip across the lunar surface to meet the Monolith.  It is mildly disconcerting, as is what Floyd’s team finds.

Khachaturian’s “Gayane Ballet Suite” is a somber piece, depicting the boredom and routine of interplanetary space flight.  Astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole seem disconnected from their humanity; the music has more feelings than they do.  The coldness of space is easy to feel from inside their stark white starship, and Khachaturian painting the tone.

Mankind meets its future on “Jupiter and Beyond”, a combination of three Ligeti pieces.  Once again, we must face the Monolith and what it means.  Dr. David Bowman experienced great terror as he plunged inside it, and this is the music that accompanied his long trip into the beyond.  The film at this point became its most experimental: impressionist images and obscure dissonant music put many viewers off balance as they struggled to comprehend just what the hell was going on.  It is over only when Zarathustra speaks again, and humanity has taken its next giant leap.

These are challenging pieces of music, but not difficult to enjoy.  They have all become intertwined with the film forever.  Even The Simpsons used “The Blue Danube” for a space docking scene (Homer and a potato chip) in an homage to 2001.  Whatever the original composers intentions were, in the 20th and 21st centuries, the pieces used in this movie are now associated with it forever.  You simply cannot hear these Ligeti pieces without seeing Bowman’s journey in your mind.  You cannot hear “Thus Spake Zarathustra” without feeling the awe of 2001‘s revelations.

The Rhino edition adds some bonus material.  Ligeti’s “Adventures” was altered for the film to add an impression of laughter.  Ligeti himself was not amused.  The original complete “Adventures” is on this CD.  From the archives is a different recording of “Thus Spake Zarathustra”.  The version used in the film and on the CD was conducted by Von Karajan, but the original LP had a version by Ernest Bour.  The latter version has been added to the Rhino CD release.  “Lux Aeterna” was longer on the original LP than the film, and the long version is also restored to CD.  Perhaps most valuable of all is a track of Douglas Rain’s dialogue as HAL 9000.

The excellent liner notes state that this CD release is the definitive one.  It contains all the music from the original soundtrack LP, and all the music from the film.  It’s a one-stop shop to get your musical mind blown.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Still Crazy – Soundtrack (1998)

Hosted by Vinyl Connection, it’s the inaugural…
LP stack white soundtracks – Version 2

November 1 – November 14

scan_20161024-4STILL CRAZY – Soundtrack (1998 Warner)

What a band Strange Fruit would be…if only they were real!

The film Still Crazy chronicled the tale of the fictional band, Strange Fruit.  The Fruit were led by brothers Brian and Keith Lovell (guitar and lead vocals respectively).  When Keith died, they carried on with new singer Ray Simms (Bill Nighy).  The inevitable internal tensions led to the band’s demise.  However in 1998 there was enough interest to get the band back together — minus Brian, who is assumed to have also died.  The surprisingly emotional film boasted fine performances from Nighy, Jimmy Nail, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall and more.  The key however to any movie about a fictional band is to come up with a soundtrack of original material that sounds like it could be classic.  Still Crazy accomplished this.  You wish for Strange Fruit to be a real band, so good are the songs.

The ballad “The Flame Still Burns”, which in the fictional movie was written by bassist Les Wickes for the fallen Keith, is sung by Jimmy Nail in real life.  (The song was written by the team of Mick Jones, Marti Frederikson, and Chris Difford.)  This fine song is a perfect example of something that sounds like it must have charted somewhere many years ago.  In the film, this song is the cause of much tension between Les and Ray, who did not want other band members to sing lead vocals.  The beautiful thing about Still Crazy is that there is a tremendous amount of history to the band, most of which is not seen on screen, only felt through the actors portraying the memories.  Jimmy Nail sings another sorrowful ballad, “What Might Have Been”, and does a fine job of it.  It’s a lovely acoustic song with a little mandolin and another standout performance by Nail.  He gets a chance to sing an upbeat number with “Bird on a Wire” (not that “Bird on a Wire”).  This is a darn fine Wilburys-like rock tune.

To be clear, Strange Fruit are not a ballad band even though “The Flame Still Burns” is clearly that.  Strange Fruit are a rock band, and “All Over the World” is a prototypical set opener.  Bill Nighy would make a damn fine rock frontman, if he wasn’t too busy being a fine film actor.  It’s not about the notes he sings but the style in which is he sings them.  Nighy sounds like a veteran rock singer (and in the film, you believe it 100%).  The track “Dirty Town” has a nifty little riff reminiscent of “Layla”, but this track sounds more like 80’s Deep Purple, right down to a blazing guitar solo.   “Black Moon” verges on heavy metal.  If you’re wondering why it rocks so hard, it probably because of Michael Lee on drums.  It’s Purple, Sabbath and Cream all in one.  Nighy gets to be a heavy metal demigod on “Scream Freedom”, which was one of the funnier scenes in the movie.  The best Fruit tune might be “Dangerous Things” which plays in the movie like it’s one of their biggest hits.  This too has Michael Lee on drums, along with bassist Guy Pratt.  That’s some heavyweight talent, folks.

A movie with Billy Connolly in it is twice as good as a movie without (studies have shown).  A movie with Connolly singing in it is four times as good.  The traditional “Stealin'” is a fine fit for the Big Yin and his banjo.  There is even a great vintage-sounding rock track by Bernie Marsden (ex-Whitesnake) that is plenty of fun (“A Woman Like That”).   This is incidental to the main feature, which is the host of Strange Fruit tracks, but a nice inclusion.  Unfortunately the techno track “Ibiza Theme” doesn’t fit the disc at all and can be safely skipped by most listeners.

Admittedly, the Still Crazy soundtrack is more enjoyable if you have seen the film.  When I hear “Dangerous Things” I picture things that Nighy as Ray does on stage.  “The Flame Still Burns” is more powerful when you remember the friction it caused because of petty jealousies.   Regardless, these songs were all written and performed by professional musicians, and they do stand up as individual tunes.  Memorably so.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Team America: World Police soundtrack (2004)

Hosted by Vinyl Connection, it’s the inaugural…
LP stack white soundtracks – Version 2

November 1 – November 14

scan_20161013TEAM AMERICA:  WORLD POLICE – Music from the Motion Picture (2004 Atlantic)

It’s incredible to think that the world is even more screwed up today than it was in 2004.  Matt Stone and Trey Parker are talented at both satire and musicals, not to mention the most vulgar of humour.  Their movie Team America: World Police combined the satire and vulgarity with music, and the kind of vintage puppetry that made Thunderbirds so memorable.  The sets are intricately detailed miniatures.  Look at the cobblestones in Paris — they are shaped like little croissants!   It’s a triumph, which is all the more amazing considering that there is a scene of puppets shitting on each other.

The soundtrack had to be equally amazing.  How else could Parker and Stone top the hit song “Now You’re A Man” from the Orgazmo soundtrack?

The answer is simple:  With a “Fuck Yeah”!

One warning though.  This soundtrack will make little sense to you unless you’ve at least seen the movie.  So see the movie – it’s unforgettable, at the very least.

From the fictional musical Lease (a parody of Rent) comes “Everyone Has AIDS”, an uppity singalong number that proves nothing is sacred to Stone and Parker.  “Everyone has AIDS!” they sing with glee!  “The Pope has got it, and so do you!”  The easily offended have already gotten off the bus, but the song isn’t saying anything more than AIDS doesn’t discriminate.  It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight or otherwise.  Stone and Parker are known for burying messages such as this in their juvenile jokes.

“Freedom Isn’t Free” is the best patriotic country anthem you’ll ever hear.  “Freedom isn’t free!  No there’s a hefty fuckin’ fee!”  The music is a completely serious country ballad, which could have been a Tim McGraw hit.  The contrast is delightful.  But that’s just a build up to the main event:  “America, Fuck Yeah”, the movie’s theme song.

America!
Fuck yeah!
Comin’ again to save the motherfuckin’ day, yeah!
America!
Fuck yeah!
Freedom is the only way, yeah!
Terrorists, your game is through,
‘Cause you now you have to answer to…
America!
Fuck yeah!

You get the idea.

It’s actually a brilliantly cheesy rock theme song, something along the lines of “Dare” by Stan Bush, from the 1986 Transformers movie soundtrack.  The only real difference is the use of F-bombs instead of inspirational uplifting cliches.

The terrorist theme music called “Derka Derka” is an interesting accomplishment since it is written to replicate the Star Wars “Cantina Theme”, but fitting a Middle Eastern style.  It’s unmistakable, and really helped make the scene in the movie.  The next artist to be lampooned is Aerosmith; rather latter-day BalladSmith.  “Only A Woman” is clearly intended to be the “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” for this album.  If anything the song highlights how paint-by-numbers those Aerosmith ballads are.  Granted, Diane Warren wrote “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, but all those Aeroballads are interchangeable.

scan_20161013-3Fans of the movie know that the greatest character was Kim Jong Il.  “I’m So Ronery” reveals the true reasons behind Kim’s evil deeds, provoking the world to the edge of war.  He’s just lonely.  “When I change the world maybe they’ll notice me?  Until then, I’ll just be ronery…”  (But is this really Kim’s soul motivation?  See the movie to find out the true answer….)

From there we go to the “Bummer Remix” of “America, Fuck Yeah”.  It is a somber retelling of the song, indicating that we at at the lowest point in the story.  The “all hope is gone” moment.  Can our puppet heroes survive?  (See the movie!)  The somber music continues with the ballad “The End of an Act”, which does nothing but trash Michael Bay.  It is his style of film, after all, that Team America is a parody of.  “All I’m trying to say is Pearl Harbor sucked…and I miss you.”  Parker and Stone go as far as to question why Bay is allowed to keep making movies.  (The answer, guys, is that his movies make a butt load of money.  Why they make this kind of cash is because “BOOM”, “FOOSH”, “EXPLODE”!)

Any good action movie needs a montage!  That’s what the song “Montage” is all about!  Trey Parker sings, “Every shot shows a little improvement; to show it all would take too long!”  And now you know what a montage is.  “Even Rocky had a montage!” continues the song, assuring us of the artistic validity of the technique.  The montage leads us to “North Korean Melody”, a silly nonsense song that pokes fun at certain cliches about Korean accents.

The CD has two distinct sections:  songs, and the score.  The songs are all relatively brief and comedic, while the score is a full-fledged action movie soundtrack with full orchestra.  Whether it be chases, romance or villainy, there is a taste of each in the score.  The final track “Mount, Rush, More” is a great example of tension-filled soundtrack excellence.  Chances are that 90% of buyers picked up the CD for the songs, not the score.  The songs themselves are just shy of 19 minutes of music.  The score is over 28.  It is perhaps a little devious that this is not indicated on the back (not even track lengths).  Music fans of broad tastes won’t mind, but they are probably in a small minority.  The score will especially be of interest to fans of composer Harry Gregson-Williams, who has done the soundtracks to award winning films such as The Martian and all the Shrek movies.  They will be pleased to know that Gregson-Williams wrote some excellent material for Team America.

As a listening experience, you may as well consider this like listening to two albums.  Or perhaps an EP and an album.  One minute you’re pissing your pants at “Montage”, the next you’re knee-deep in a serious action movie score.  It’s a little uneven, so perhaps you’d enjoy it better if you put the tracks in a different order, with the score interspersed.  Give it a try!

3.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Swingers – Music from the Miramax Motion Picture (1996)

movie-soundtrack-week


Scan_20160714SWINGERS – Music from the Miramax Motion Picture (1996 A&M)

Now here…now here is a soundtrack!  Every track is a keeper.  With a mixture of oldies and newer songs, Swingers had a peerless balance.   If you’re down to swing, dance, or just get dirty, this soundtrack has what you need.  Bonus points for the uber-thin and young Vince Vaughn on the front cover too. Jon Favreau executive produced the soundtrack, and it’s clear the guy has good taste in music.

I love it when a soundtrack puts scenes from a movie right in your head.  Dean Martin’s “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You” kicks off both the CD and the movie, and all I can think is “Vegas baby, Vegas.”  That slow jazz just sets the mood for the adventures ahead.  The horns pop!  It’s money, baby.  Talk about setting the bar high for an opening track; thankfully there’s lots more to come.

“Paid for Loving” by Love Jones brings me right into the film’s setting again, but it’s Tony Bennett’s “With Plenty of Money and You” that has me seeing the bright lights of Vegas before me.  Remember Mikey and T rolling up in their suits?  You’d feel like a high roller too, with a song like this playing.  Tony is followed by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (who appeared in the film).  Now, I do kinda wish it was the live version of “You & Me & the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight (Baby)”.  In the film, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy play it live, but this is a studio version.  I think including the live version would have been an extra treat for fans, but I’m not complaining.  If you don’t find yourself tapping your toes to it, call the coroner, because you may be dead.

Mixing new and old, Scotty and the guys from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are chased by Louis Jordan, from way way back in 1941.  If you love muted trumpet solos, then dig right in.  A song you should recognise is the oft-played “Groove Me” by King Floyd (1970).  It’s a soul classic that found itself used on TV ads over the years.   More jazz (a couple cool instrumentals), and more Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are to be found as the CD progresses.  Daddy have three tracks on the CD, all of which were in the movie.  “Go Daddy-O” has to be a favourite for sure, but “I Wan’na Be Like You” has a tropical salsa beat.

Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” isn’t jazz and doesn’t swing, but it has the same golden oldie feel.  It’s not the only country song:  George Jones himself honours the CD with his presence.  The melancholy ballad “She Thinks I Still Care” is one of the…saddest, I guess…lyrics I’ve ever heard.  It’s a great song from a great scene in the film.

“Pick up the Pieces” by the Average White Band is the kind of song everybody needs.  “Need” isn’t too strong a word either.  You know the song, you love the song.  You have to.  It’s required.  Finally, “I’m Beginning to See the Light” by Bobby Darin completes the journey, and it’s back to the same kind of sound that Dean Martin started the album with.  And what a journey it is!  You just…feel BETTER after listening.  When I bought this CD, I felt like this line of dialogue directly applied to me:

“You’re a big winner.  I’m gonna ask you a simple question and I want you to listen to me: who’s the big winner here tonight at the casino? Huh?  Mikey!  That’s who!  Mikey’s the big winner.  Mikey wins.”

5/5 stars