X-Men Origins: Wolverine – music by Harry Gregson-Williams

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - music by Harry Gregson-WilliamsWhile this fourth installment of the comic-inspired film franchise finally gives in to an unabashed celebration of the character (and, let’s face it, the actor who plays him) who has intrigued both long-time X-Men fans and uninitiated viewers for ten years, it’s an understatement to say that there’s been a little less cohesion behind the scenes. Each of the X-Men films has been handled by a different composer, with no one under any apparent obligation to build upon the themes established by his predecessors. The X-Men films have been scored by some top-flight talent as well, from John Ottman (Superman Returns) to no less than the late Michael Kamen.

It’s into that august company that rising star Harry Gregson-Williams (The Chronicles Of Narnia) steps with his score for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. His two scores for the Narnia movies thus far are worth mentioning, because the Wolverine score very strongly resembles those: many passages of Wolverine can be described, in a nutshell, as “Narnia, but darker.” Wolverine delves more into screeching string crescendos, electric guitar textures, and dark, pulsating electronics.

One of the strengths of Wolverine – the movie – is its obvious focus on one character. The score follows suit, but that turns out to be a musical weakness; much of the score CD has the same “feel” to it, with few major variations in the music to break the tension. Kayla gets a theme that strikes me as very Narnia, while an interesting motif creeps into the “Adamantium” cue (the scene in which we see the horrifying process Logan undergoes to become invincible), but then vanishes for the rest of the soundtrack. Would it really have killed anyone to, for example, roll out just a little hint of zydeco for Gambit’s scenes? That may sound silly, but we’re not talking about taking it to a ridiculous self-parodying degree that would take the viewer right out of the movie, but just enough of a flavoring to signify the character’s 3 out of 4presence. Instead, most of the scenes that don’t involve balls-to-the-wall, bold-and-brassy action music are kept to a menacing restrained thunder with few, if any, concessions to anything overtly thematic.

It’s an enjoyable enough listen, and a fine specimen of modern orchestral-with-a-smattering-of-electronic movie music that serves its visual accompaniment well, but Wolverine won’t be replacing Harry Gregson-Williams’ Narnia work as the composer’s definitive calling card anytime soon.

Order this CD

  1. Logan Through Time (4:16)
  2. Special Privileges (1:58)
  3. Lagos, Nigeria (5:10)
  4. Wade Goes to Work (1:29)
  5. Kayla (2:50)
  6. Victor Visits (2:05)
  7. Adamantium (4:17)
  8. Agent Zero Comes for Logan (3:06)
  9. To The Island (3:43)
  10. Deadpool (4:09)
  11. The Towers Collapse (3:23)
  12. Memories Lost (2:57)
  13. “I’ll Find My Own Way” (1:24)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 45:23

Xanadu On Broadway (Original Cast Recording)

Xanadu On BroadwayI promised myself – and you – that I’d try not to have too much of a stick up my ass when it came to reviewing this CD, which includes the musical highlights and key dialogue moments of the Broadway musical revival of 1980’s Olivia Newton-John vehicle Xanadu, which is perhaps best remembered for its own soundtrack than anything it accomplished on the big screen. So up front, let me acknowledge that listening to the cast recording album of a stage musical is perhaps not the best way to gauge the entire production in terms of narrative or artistic value. But even bearing that in mind, and admittedly biased by my affection for at least the musical part of the source material, the cast CD for Xanadu On Broadway gives me a view of the show as a mean-spirited train wreck.

And there’s really no need for it to be. There are some renditions of the songs from the movie here that are quite surprisingly good, from a musical standpoint. The actress/vocalist who’s stepping into Olivia Newton-John’s shoes for this production has the pipes to carry it off (which is actually quite a compliment – if you weren’t around in the late 1970s and early ’80s, I’m not sure you can appreciate how omnipresent Olivia Newton-John was in pop culture, with a string of hits and, of course, Grease to her name. And she could (and can still) sing. Anyone stepping into a role originated by that lady had better be able to bring something to the table in terms of singing. This production’s actress does an admirable job…at least where the singing’s concerned.

Where I start to get seriously disgruntled with Xanadu On Broadway is with the dialogue that points toward the show being not even remotely fond of its source material, but still trying to make a buck off of it. I understood, going in, that this was a satirical take on Xanadu the movie. Where I was taken aback was with the album’s dialogue scenes making it very clear that it isn’t a well-observed, fond-but-funny satire. Whoever wrote the script to this thing seems to be making not-at-all-kind sport of the source material. It’s almost as if the writer felt that the original movie had caused intense pain, and they now wanted to repay it with interest. Jabs are made at everything from ’80s fashion to the addition of an Australian actress in an otherwise American cast (the actress stepping into the character of Kira proclaims “And I’ll sport an Australian accent!” in a stereotypical mock-Aussie accent of her own). Someone had an axe – likely an entire arsenal of axes – to grind with Xanadu, and this seems to be the payback. It reminded me of some of the low points of post-Joel-Hodgson MST3K, when the show’s satirical sense of humor seemed prone to going much darker than what I’d grown accustomed to.

But…I’ll admit that I’m judging a whole production from a few select slices of recorded dialogue that are only on the album to give context to certain songs, and Xanadu On Broadway seems to be a bona fide hit on stage, so maybe I should stick to discussing the merits of the music itself. “All Over The World” and “Magic” are competent enough live renditions, though in the latter the lead actress is trying to push the Aussie accent schtick a bit too much; that’s the only thing preventing “Magic” from being the best song on here, because other than the exaggerated accent gag, it’s almost a dead ringer for the original.

“Evil Woman” not only never had anything to do with Xanadu, but it’s done in an extremely silly style, though it can be rather entertaining if you’re in the right mood. The duet “Suddenly”, originally sung by Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard, is another runner-up for best performance on the album, except that the Aussie gag again rears its head both here and in another duet, “Whenever You’re Away From Me”. I realize that I’m really criticizing a requirement of the script – the actress is just doing what the script says – but it has a ripple effect on the musical performances themselves, so it’s a bit difficult for me to just let it go.

The strangest number on the original movie soundtrack, “Dancin'”, was a jarring but entertaining collision between a ’40s Andrews Sisters-style song and modern rock (provided by the Tubes in the original recording); it’s my runaway favorite from Xanadu On Broadway by miles. It had to be a difficult enough song to record with its wildly divergent styles, and if they do it this well on stage, it’s easily the highlight of the show.

Another unrelated-to-Xanadu ELO chestnut is up next, “Strange Magic”, given the same silly reading (primarily by the same two characters – two sister muses of Kira’s, invented for the play, who scheme against her – who sing “Evil Woman”). “All Over The World” follows this, and it’s one of the better performances on the disc, even if some of the ’80s studio effects from the original ELO song are exaggerated for amusing effect. I was equally amused to hear the lyrics’ reference to Shard End – the Birmingham neighborhood where Jeff Lynne grew up – remained intact. It was already a musical non-sequitur, and now it’s preserved on stage night after night. “Don’t Walk Away” is quite different from the original, but so help me, I actually like the adaptation and the performance – it’s done so well that it’s the kind of thing that almost makes me want to see the show.

“Fool”, a song featured in the original movie but not its soundtrack, falls victim to the Aussie treatment again – a pity because the rest of it is almost spot-on. “The Fall”, which in its original incarnation is one of ELO’s most criminally underrated songs, is actually a nice adaptation and well performed. “Suspended In Time” wind up being the Newton-John song least affected by the accent gag, and it’s easily the best solo piece on this album. That’s chased down by what may be the strangest song on the whole disc, the Olivia Newton-John chestnut “Have You Never Been Mellow?”, which – like “Evil Woman” and “Strange Magic” – had nothing to do with Xanadu originally. Wrapping things up is an instrumentally listenable version of “Xanadu” itself, but again, the stereotypical Aussie accent just blows it for me. Seriously, did anyone even listen to the original songs here?

In the end, I’m giving Xanadu On Broadway a very charitable 2 out of 4 stars. If I had a little graphical button ready for 1 1/2 stars out of 4, I’d give it that instead. The thing is, there are a few performances in here that do, in fact, sound like a good way to take the original songs – whether those were done by ELO or ONJ – to the stage. There are others that I’d describe as train wrecks if I was feeling particularly kind. But by all means, take this review with a grain of salt – the music may all play out spectacularly against the set and costumes and choreography (I mean, who can resist roller disco?) But purely as a listening experience – and given the snippets of plot imparted by the included dialogue – I came away from listening to Xanadu On Broadway on CD feeling like it’s a lamentable misstep – lamentable because one plot point (the Australian accent gag) derailed some otherwise damned fine performances.

2 out of 4I’ve admitted that I’m no great fan of musicals, and perhaps too close to the source material, but then again, I loved most of Lynne Me Your Ears, an ELO/Jeff Lynne tribute which put some of Lynne’s music through some startling transformations. But those reinterpretations were done in a spirit of genuine admiration, not a snarlingly sarcastic parody. And that, perhaps more than any silly voice you’ll here hear, is what mars Xanadu On Broadway the most.

Order this CD

  1. I’m Alive (4:03)
  2. Magic (3:03)
  3. Evil Woman (2:41)
  4. Suddenly (3:38)
  5. Whenever You’re Away From Me (4:00)
  6. Dancin’ (2:28)
  7. Strange Magic (2:01)
  8. All Over The World (3:17)
  9. Don’t Walk Away (3:38)
  10. Fool (1:27)
  11. The Fall (2:02)
  12. Suspended In Time (2:56)
  13. Have You Never Been Mellow? (3:24)
  14. Xanadu (4:23)

Released by: P.S. Classics
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 43:01

Super Xevious – video game remixes by Haruomi Hosono

Super XeviousVideo game music legend Haruomi Hosono turns his remixing talents to some of Namco’s classics with this EP-length CD single. Curiously tagged Super Xevious, this remix CD essentially revolves around the music that game shared with its predecessor, Xevious. Hosono stretches the game’s few signature tunes out to a whopping eight minute remix; as you might expect, there’s quite a bit of musical repetition, but the music evolves by the layers of rhythm and other elements Hosono piles on top. A somewhat shorter remix of Hosono’s remix is included as the last track.

The track of music from Gaplus is essentially a layered reworking of the third-level music from that game; nothing is really changed from the original game music, but again, elements are added over the top 3 out of 4of it. A very brief track of music from Tower Of Druaga is also included, though even at its short length, this track doesn’t exactly invite repeat listening.

Perhaps a bit pricey for its meager running time, Super Xevious does include some interesting remix material that is, for the most part, a fun listen for fans of the 80s arcade classics.

Order this CD

  1. Super Xevious (8:51)
  2. Gaplus (5:20)
  3. The Tower of Druaga (1:47)
  4. Super Xevious – Gust Notch Mix (3:46)

Released by: Scitron Digital
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 19:47

Xena: Warrior Princess – The Bitter Suite

Xena: Warrior Princess - The Bitter SuiteEveryone seems to have done a musical now, but Xena’s Bitter Suite was one of the first and, in terms of both story and music, still possibly the best. Joseph LoDuca’s music caters less to the series’ usual musical sensibilities, shifting instead into lavish big-screen-musical territory. There’s something almost Disney-esque about The Bitter Suite, but we’re talking old-school Disney – Pete’s Dragon and Bedknobs And Broomsticks Disney musical style, not this newfangled Every Male Lead Suddenly Sings Elton John Songs In Peabo Bryson’s Voice business that seems to pervade the lion’s share – pun pitifully intended – of Disney’s modern output.

Even more gloriously, it’s refreshing to see that three of the story’s key players do their own singing. Renee O’Connor was dubbed by Susan Wood for her musical scenes, and Hudson Leick (Callisto) got to lip-synch to Michelle NiCastro’s vocals for her character. (NiCastro, incidentally, is a veteran of some of those newfangled Disney musicals. Small world, eh?) But Lucy Lawless, Ted “Joxer” Raimi and the late, great Kevin “Ares” Smith sang for themselves, thank you very much, and between my constant admiration for his performance as the god of war and the fact that he may be the best vocalist of the bunch, I’ve got to hand Kevin Smith some mad props here. From the slinky, seductive tones of “Melt Into Me” to his snide remark “ding dong, the bitch is dead!”, Smith comes out very much the unheralded star of this show. On TV, he also looked most at ease in this episode. Kevin, we lost you far, far too soon.

The CD as a whole is a collection of the musical numbers and highlights from the score (including the wildly percussive cues for the brutal opening sequences), with just enough dialogue to preserve something of the flow of the story. If there’s a single low point, it’s the slightly overwrought “Hearts Are Hurting”, a song divided into two parts during which Xena and Gabrielle work out a major conflict that had built up between the two characters since the beginning of the third season (of which the less said, the better, frankly). The vocals from both Susan Wood and Lucy Lawless are a bit strained, and the music stops just short of being risible – it’s actually the show’s theme song, slowed down a lot and with lyrics. Really the low point of both the CD and the 4 out of 4episode – and it should’ve been, could’ve been the high point.

That aside, The Bitter Suite is outstanding, and the CD tells the story nicely – since it’s a musical, it’s almost the episode in audio form, and not much is left out except for some non-musical dialogue (the CD has roughly the same running time as the episode, in fact). Good stuff.

Order this CD

  1. The Sweat Hut / Slapped Out Of It / Xena’s In Town (4:42)
  2. Horrible Drag / On The Edge / Song Of The Fool (5:09)
  3. What’s Still Unwritten… (Song Of Illusia) / Little Ditties / Into The Chandra / Joxer The Mighty / Prepping Gabby (5:17)
  4. War And Peace / Gab Is Stabbed (5:52)
  5. Melt Into Me / Let Go (2:28)
  6. Dead? / Hearts Are Hurting (Part 1) (2:35)
  7. The Deliverer (4:07)
  8. Hate Is The Star (Song Of The Torment) / Hearts Are Hurting (Part 2) (5:42)
  9. The Way Out / The Love Of Your Love / Passing Through (7:10)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 42:55

Xena: Warrior Princess Volume 2

Xena: Warrior Princess Volume 2A few tracks into the second CD of music from Xena: Warrior Princess, one gets a general feeling of “westernization” on this album. No, not meaning that suddenly everything’s gotten to be like a guitar-twanging score from a Fellini western, but that the Mediterranean elements that so characterized the early scores are starting to be phased out in favor of a more traditional western/orchestral tone.

With the second season’s exploration of slightly less serious, campier territory than the first, little musical numbers began to creep in as well, though I’m happy to hear the “Joxer The Mighty” song here – Joxer remains my favorite character in the Herc/Xenaverse, and for God’s sake, someone build some surreal sitcom around Ted Raimi in a starring role now, it’ll be gold. But I digress. There are also grander vocal outings as well, with the operatic “Xena Kicks Bacchae Butt” and more understated “At Mother’s Tomb”. Suffice to say, season two’s overall tone is accurately reflected in this collection of music from that year.

With tracks 9 and 10, I find myself thinking primarily one thought: “Wow, Joe LoDuca listened to Peter Gabriel’s Passion somewhere between the first two seasons, didn’t he?” LoDuca (well, I think it’s LoDuca – see related notes in our recent review of the first volume of Xena music) throws in some modernization on the percussive end of things, reminding me of nothing so much as some of the more interesting (if anachronistic) tracks from the aforementioned album which gathered Gabriel’s soundtrack cues for The Last Temptation Of Christ. Not that this is altogether a bad thing, mind you.

3 out of 4There’s also some seasonal fun with a healthy helping of music from A Solstice Carol, a Christmas-themed episode which made for some loving musical tips of the yuletide hat.

Overall, an interesting CD whose music is indicative of an overall shift in the “feel” of the series.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (1:22)
  2. At Mother’s Tomb (3:00)
  3. Xena Kicks Bacchae Butt (2:03)
  4. Pop Goes Xena (1:11)
  5. Quicksand (1:25)
  6. Squeal (2:01)
  7. Sword Play (1:27)
  8. Homeland (3:29)
  9. Capoiera Fight (1:23)
  10. Many Winters Ago (2:17)
  11. Stowaway (1:53)
  12. You Really Believe That (1:05)
  13. Rrarr! (3:48)
  14. Friend (1:37)
  15. Crucifixion Of Xena / Up The Mountain (2:28)
  16. To The Rescue (1:42)
  17. Fighting Destiny (2:08)
  18. Talk With Solan (1:12)
  19. The Ballad of Joxer the Mighty (1:12)
  20. Solstice Night (2:13)
  21. The First Fate / Suspended Gabby (3:22)
  22. Where As Me / Gabby & Toys (2:20)
  23. More Fun And Games / Feather Fight (3:12)
  24. Hard Core Fishing (1:23)
  25. River Wild (1:37)
  26. Xena Is Bitten (1:33)
  27. Restoration (2:11)
  28. Caught In The Current (3:48)
  29. Callisto Becomes A God (2:04)
  30. Swamp Creatures / Imposter (2:40)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 1997
Total running time: 67:03

Xena: Warrior Princess – music by Joseph LoDuca

Xena: Warrior PrincessSpun off from the popular syndicated action series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess was – at least at first – an attempt to tell a somewhat more serious story in some of the same settings. Hercules and Xena might run into each other and share the odd adventure, but generally Xena would be up against not only mythical foes and malevolent gods, but her own dark side and just a little bit more angst per weekly episode than Hercules had to endure. Having already established a very Korngoldian style for Hercules, composer Joseph LoDuca (of whom more in a bit) decided to give Xena a somewhat different sound. The result is a very interesting soundtrack from the show’s first season.

Though the Xena scores still wax bombastic at times in a style somewhere between Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s brassy, heraldic style and the Korngold-going-on-Wagner musical palette of John Williams, LoDuca applies an altogether more Mediterranean feel to the proceedings, complete with anguished female vocals and exotic instruments. The effect when seen against film is dramatic: it heightens the earthiness of the show’s equally exotic locations, and somehow it’s just easier to take the whole thing that much more seriously as a result. Highlights of the CD include “Soulmates”, “Xena and the Big Bird” (the musical cue for her later epic battle with the Cookie Monster was omitted for time), and from the pivotal episode Callisto, the best action music in the show’s entire history, “Ladder Fight”.

It’s that last cue which perhaps strikes the best balance between western and middle- eastern musical influences, with some awe-inspiring raging percussion keeping your pulse pounding (well, okay, my pulse at any rate, your mileage may vary), stings of both Korngold-style horns and Mediterranean instrumentation and vocals, and even some very interesting use of the Xena theme as leitmotif. Every fight scene for the rest of the show’s time on the air could’ve been tracked with this – it’s one of those pieces of music that’s just that hard to top.

I also have to offer some praise for the theme music – it too strikes a good balance between what would seem to be conflicting musical styles and sensibilities. The extended version of the theme that closes the album adds a little something extra that I don’t even recall hearing from the end credits, but the original arrangement is already strong enough – there’s a reason that this theme music was used, without any kind of amendments, for six years.

One final note: I’m uneasy who to attribute this album to; the cover art, as with the show, of course, credits everything to Joe LoDuca, who’s been collaborating with the Raimis on everything since Evil Dead. But more recent events have called that solitary composing credit into question: Dan Kolton, credited in the fine print here with “additional programming,” successfully sued for half of LoDuca’s performance 4 out of 4royalties on all of the music from Hercules and Xena, claiming that he had ghostwritten roughly half of the material without receiving credit (and therefore royalties). It doesn’t affect how the music sounds to me at all, mind you, but it’s a question of attribution that seems like it should be cleared up for the record.

It’s still an excellent soundtrack, whoever is responsible for it.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (1:15)
  2. The Warrior Princess (2:09)
  3. Darius (2:06)
  4. Soulmates (2:24)
  5. Burial (1:50)
  6. Xena And The Big Bird (2:27)
  7. Gabby Dance (1:00)
  8. The Gauntlet (1:38)
  9. Barn Blazers (2:21)
  10. Fight On The Heads (2:54)
  11. Draco’s Men (2:16)
  12. Glede Ma Glede (0:43)
  13. Burying The Past (2:59)
  14. Xena’s Web (2:12)
  15. Goodbye (2:49)
  16. Giants (2:37)
  17. Funeral Dance (1:35)
  18. Challenging The Gods (3:10)
  19. Dreamscape (3:01)
  20. Quarterman’s Festival (2:27)
  21. Roll In The Leaves (0:47)
  22. Funeral Pyre (1:24)
  23. On The Balcony (2:08)
  24. The Oracle (3:15)
  25. Hail Xena (1:35)
  26. Going To Kill Me (0:45)
  27. The Wrath Of Callisto (2:36)
  28. Bloodlust (2:25)
  29. Ladder Fight (4:44)
  30. Main Title (Extended Version) (1:22)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 1996
Total running time: 65:54

Xevious 3D/G+

Xevious 3D/G+Not really a soundtrack in the strictest sense, this is – like Namco Classics Collection before it – a collection of remixes of background music as heard in Namco’s 3-D update of the classic Xevious arcade game. In many cases, you won’t hear any correlation whatsoever to the music that’s heard in the game – it’s been reworked that much.

Sometimes, as in the mesmerizing “Area 1: MLO Deep Pan Mix”, this is just fine. There are quite a few tracks on here which have an almost hypnotic effect – overall, pretty good standard-issue trance. But the lead 3 out of 4track, “Area 7: Happy-Go-Lucky Mix”, is worthy of skipping every time – it sounds like it’s trying to find a whimsical tone, and it winds up being more annoying than anything.

It may have precious little to do with Xevious, but it’s not a bad listen in and of itself.

Order this CD

  1. Area 7: Happy-Go Lucky Mix mixed by SPAG (6:04)
  2. Area 4: Liquid Groove Mix mixed by SPAG (6:15)
  3. Boss 4: NP Mix mixed by SPAG (4:35)
  4. Area 1: MLO Deep Pan Mix remixed by MLO (8:43)
  5. Boss 7: Berserker’s Fat Beat Mix remixed by Berserker (6:38)
  6. Ending Movie: The Wax Head Mix remixed by The Hypnotist (7:57)
  7. Opening Movie: Dub Struck remixed by The Hypnotist (8:37)
  8. Area 5: Overhead Noise Mix remixed by Overhead Noise (17:20)
  9. Untitled Hidden Track #1 (6:14)
  10. Untitled Hidden Track #2 (4:27)

Released by: Pony Canyon
Release date: 1999
Total running time: 76:52