Mythodea: Music For The NASA Mission 2001 Mars Odyssey

Mythodea: Music For The NASA Mission 2001 Mars OdysseyThe first-ever true orchestral work by legendary electronic musician Vangelis, Mythodea is a commissioned work celebrating NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey probe. There are quite a few reports that the epic-length Mythodea, here divided up into ten movements and an overture, were actually something Vangelis created before NASA launched 2001 Mars Odyssey. Fortunately, unlike the British Beagle 2 Mars probe, which carried a ringtone-like call sign commissioned from the band Blur, 2001 Mars Odyssey didn’t vanish off the scopes – in fact, it continues to serve as a vital link in the communications chain allowing the Spirit and Opportunity rovers to receive instructions from Earth and report their findings and well-being back to mission control. (Sincere apologies to JPL and the 2001 Mars Odyssey ground crew for a prior version of this review which asserted that it was a failed mission.)

Adapted from an existing composition or not, Vangelis’ Mythodea is an epic, operatic fusion of real live orchestra and choir. Vangelis had previously made a career out of synthesizing these sounds and doing a respectable job of it, so Mythodea is a real departure – for the most part, he is composer and arranger here, but only in a few places does he perform. And yet there are stretches where it’s recognizably his style. Whether or not he should have made this leap a long time ago is a debate I’ll leave to the diehard fans, but Mythodea is an interesting change of pace when compared to Vangelis’ other works. Now…those who don’t have a working knowledge of Vangelis to which to compare Mythodea may find it a bit challenging and, in a few places, I’ll admit they may find it bland. This isn’t a movie soundtrack, and only in a few places can you really get a taste of the “narrative” such as it is just by listening (but I’ll bet the probe was supposed to arrive close to the climactic end of the fifth movement). Those looking for something as obviously programmatic as Scheherezade or Star 3 out of 4Wars will have to dig deeper for the meaning of the music here. It’s big and bombastic in many places – if you dug the soundtrack music from Xena, you’ll probably like this.

Really interesting stuff, in places relaxing, and in places unnerving, Mythodea is worth a listen, though perhaps you should already be inclined to the classical genre if listening to it cold.

Order this CD

  1. Overture (2:43)
  2. Movement I (5:41)
  3. Movement II (5:40)
  4. Movement III (5:51)
  5. Movement IV (13:42)
  6. Movement V (6:35)
  7. Movement VI (6:26)
  8. Movement VII (4:57)
  9. Movement VIII (4:57)
  10. Movement IX (5:00)
  11. Movement X (3:02)

Released by: Sony Music
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 64:34

Listen To What The Man Said

Listen To What The Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute To The Music Of Paul McCartney“What’s this?” I asked. “A Paul McCartney tribute album benefitting cancer charities and featuring the Finn Brothers? Sign me up!”

Actually, this nice little selection, proceeds from which go toward the fight against breast cancer, has many good covers of Macca’s post-Beatles best. Owsley kicks things off with a picture-perfect reading of “Band On The Run” which doesn’t stray very far from the original Wings recording. SR-71 turns “My Brave Face” – one of my favorite latter-day McCartney solo tunes simply by virtue of the fact that it isn’t “Hope & Deliverance” – into a gleeful hard-rock thrash. Semisonic also faithfully replicates “Jet”, rocking it out a bit but not so much that it’s unrecognizable. The Virgos give a similar treatment to “Maybe I’m Amazed”, while the Merrymakers punch up “No More Lonely Nights” (another personal favorite) a bit. Some of the other renditions fly under the radar a bit – Matthew Sweet’s “Every Night” for one.

And as for Tim and Neil Finn? It pains me to say it, but their cover of “Too Many People” is a mess – it sounds like an unrehearsed one-take-and-that’s-it wonder, without much effort. The arrangement isn’t organized, the sound quality isn’t even up to the standards of the brothers’ admittedly (and intentionally) lo-fi Finn album, and the vocals just smack of a cover band that’s been asked to play something they’d mostly forgotten. Sad to say, the Finn Brothers, who drew my attention to this collection, turned out to be its biggest disappointment. I was stunned. I was also looking forward to the They 3 out of 4Might Be Giants cover of “Ram On”, but it wasn’t so much disappointing as just inscrutably cryptic in its new arrangement.

Overall, a nice set – and one that truly turned my expectations on ear by introducing me to some excellent new artists while the known quantities gave me a wee bit of a let-down.

Order this CD

  1. Band On The Run – Owsley (5:14)
  2. My Brave Face – SR-71 (3:00)
  3. Junk – Kevin Hearn, Steven Page and Stephen Duffy (2:56)
  4. Jet – Semisonic (4:15)
  5. No More Lonely Nights – The Merrymakers (4:11)
  6. Let Me Roll It – Robyn Hitchcock (4:21)
  7. Too Many People – Finn Brothers (3:43)
  8. Dear Friend – The Minus 5 (4:45)
  9. Every Night – Matthew Sweet (2:56)
  10. Waterfalls – Sloan (4:21)
  11. Man We Was Lonely – World Party (2:59)
  12. Coming Up – John Faye Power Trip (3:43)
  13. Maybe I’m Amazed – Virgos (4:14)
  14. Love In Song – The Judybats (4:04)
  15. Warm And Beautiful – Linus of Hollywood (3:08)
  16. Ram On – They Might Be Giants (2:40)

Released by: Oglio
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 60:30

Lynne Me Your Ears: Tribute To The Music Of Jeff Lynne

Lynne Me Your EarsThe premise of this double-disc compilation is simple: various modern pop artists, most of them enjoying cult indie label status (and a few of them refugees from major labels too), revisit the songs of one of their musical heroes, ELO’s Jeff Lynne. Colorado’s own Not Lame Records has been teasing the heck out of this release for months, only to watch it be bogged down by politics (the father/son duo of Randy and Tal Bachman, each of whom were originally slated to contribute a song, pulled out) and delays (a printing error in the first run of liner notes booklets which caused the collection to slip well past its original pre-Christmas 2001 release date). And now that it’s here, was it worth the lengthy wait?

The answer is, in most cases, absolutely. The covers (which don’t limit themselves to ELO material but also cover Lynne’s contributions to the Traveling Wilburys, a 1960s U.K. group known as the Idle Race, and his solitary solo album) vary wildly, ranging from faithful homages to reinterpretations in a completely new style.

Some of the better “near-beer” covers include former R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter’s collaboration with Bobby Sutliff on the first ELO single, “10538 Overture”; Michael Carpenter’s near-carbon-copy of Lynne’s solo single “Every Little Thing”; Jason Falkner’s raw cover of “Do Ya”, a stripped-down, Buddy Holly-ized cover of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King” by Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings, and an accurate-down-to-the-overmodulation-distortion copy of the Idle Race’s “Morning Sunshine” by Jeremy.

The real triumphs of Lynne Me Your Ears, however, are those artists who took extensive liberties and created something completely new – Ross Rice’s hip-hop-ified cover of “Evil Woman” is both funky and up-to-date, and Tony Visconti (former Move and Moody Blues producer) turns in a tasty new take on “Mr. Blue Sky”, starting out as a rap and then tumbling through every style in the book by the end of the song’s lengthy instrumental coda. Prairie Sons and Daughters transform the eloquence of “One Summer Dream” into a spiky, guitar-drenched masterpiece that also takes a detour into “In Old England Town” from ELO’s second album. That multiple-song-tributes-in-a-single-track trick is repeated masterfully by Rick Altizer, who leaps from the soulful opening guitar solo of “Laredo Tornado” into a thundering modernized version of “Boy Blue”. Former Move vocalist Carl Wayne, ironically, takes the stage-musical feel of “Steppin’ Out” to its logical, grandiose conclusion (it was Wayne who stepped out of the Move in 1970, a departure that made way for Jeff Lynne to join the group). The Shazam squeezes the synths out of “Twilight” and turns it into a wonderful wash of electric guitar work (but keeps the harmonies intact), and “Turn To Stone” gets a similar treatment from Roger Klug. Sparkle*Jets UK turn the dreamy “Above The Clouds” into a cheerful, rockin’ power pop number.

Perhaps the most shocking transformation bestowed upon any of the songs here is “On The Run”, a rapid-fire techno-before-there-was-techno tune from 1979’s Discovery which is rendered here by Sixpence None The Richer as a relaxing acoustic piece with a slow, majestic gait and Leigh Nash’s always pleasant voice. It has to be heard to be believed – this may be the best example on Lynne Me Your Ears of a band taking one of the old ELO chestnuts and making it their own.

There are a small number of misses for all of those hits, however; Peter Holsapple’s cover of the Move’s “No Time” has yet to click with me – the harmonies seem to be a misfire in some places. The Heavy Blinkers’ cover of “You Took My Breath Away”, itself a Roy Orbison tribute penned by Lynne for the second Traveling Wilburys album, lacks the melancholy of the original and comes out sounding a little too sunny. And the “Sweet Is The Night” cover heard here seems to have lost a lot of what made the original so appealing.

4 out of 4Overall, however, a nice treat for ELO/Lynne fans, and hey, your mileage may even vary on which songs worked and which ones didn’t. Highly recommended – and, in the face of Sony’s recent reticence to continue the promised remastering of the entire ELO catalogue, it may be the last ELO related treat we fans get for quite a while. Soak it up slowly and enjoy.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. 10538 Overture – Bobby Sutliff & Mitch Easter (4:35)
  2. Ma Ma Ma Belle – Earl Slick (4:05)
  3. Telephone Line – Jeffrey Foskett (4:49)
  4. Do Ya – Jason Falkner (3:58)
  5. Sweet Is The Night – Ben Lee (3:28)
  6. Rockaria! – Pat Buchanan (3:49)
  7. Every Little Thing – Michael Carpenter (3:52)
  8. No Time – Peter Holsapple (3:59)
  9. Showdown – Richard Barone (4:26)
  10. Handle With Care – Jamie Hoover (3:25)
  11. Strange Magic – Mark Helm (3:54)
  12. Evil Woman – Ross Rice (4:51)
  13. Steppin’ Out – Carl Wayne (4:27)
  14. Don’t Bring Me Down – SWAG (3:13)
  15. One Summer Dream – Prairie Sons & Daughters (7:16)
  16. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head – Doug Powell (4:57)
    Disc two

  1. Twilight – The Shazam (3:11)
  2. Mr. Blue Sky – Tony Visconti (5:02)
  3. You Took My Breath Away – The Heavy Blinkers (3:07)
  4. Message From The Country – The Balls of France (4:28)
  5. The Minister – Ferenzik (4:43)
  6. Xanadu – Neilson Hubbard and Venus Hum (3:31)
  7. When Time Stood Still – Bill Lloyd (3:27)
  8. Above The Clouds – Sparkle*Jets UK (4:00)
  9. Rock And Roll Is King – Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings (3:14)
  10. Morning Sunshine – Jeremy (2:19)
  11. Boy Blue – Rick Altizer (3:45)
  12. Livin’ Thing – Pray For Rain (3:57)
  13. On The Run – Sixpence None The Richer (2:37)
  14. Bluebird Is Dead – Todd Rundgren (5:06)
  15. Turn To Stone – Ruger Klug (5:11)
  16. Eldorado – Fleming and John (6:41)

Released by: Not Lame Records
Release date: 2002
Disc one total running time: 69:04
Disc two total running time: 64:19