Captain Power And The Soldiers Of The Future

Captain Power And The Soldiers Of The FutureRemembered these days primarily as a controversy magnet representing an ugly peak in the debate over children’s TV and toy tie-ins, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was also an attempt on the part of its creators to craft a mature sci-fi saga for kids. Sadly, this goal was often elbowed out of the way by Mattel demanding lengthier sequences to trigger features of their quasi-interactive Captain Power toys, and despite actually achieving a lot of what they set out to do, the writers were justifiably disgruntled at the thought of serving two masters. (The story editor, J. Michael Straczynski, ditched Captain Power to take a similar position on the writing staff of an relaunch of the decidedly more adult Twilight Zone.). Captain Power’s meditations on duty, honor, freedom, rights, and war are seldom remembered as often as the series’ status as a half-hour toy commercial.

Also seldom remembered is that this show had a great soundtrack. Assembled by Gary Guttman from his master tapes, the Captain Power soundtrack CD is a testament to the series’ surprising grab for orchestral grandeur befitting its mature storytelling style. Once past the predictably bombastic series theme, the Captain Power soundtrack is ful of startlingly effective dramatic music, wearing its John Williams/Star Wars influence on its sleeve unashamedly. The contrast to the usual kids’ show fare is huge: some shows from this era seemed to repeat a small handful of synth-and-drum-machine loops and call it a day. That Guttman and the producers of Captain Power were willing to go further is impressive, and so is this soundtrack as a result.

The “Love Theme” is more sweeping and romantic than you’d expect from a half-hour live-action kids’ series about a dystopian, cyborg-ruled future, straddling the line between John Williams and James Horner at his best, while action pieces like “Big Battle”, “Soaron”, “Pursued” and “Air Battle”, while obviously performed by a smaller ensemble than the average Star Wars soundtrack, still pack a powerful punch thanks to skillful orchestration. Some of the quieter cues are the bigget revelations here (my personal favorite is the short, sweet, and mysterious “Eerie Mood 3”).

A great many of the album’s tracks are under a minute, which brings us to perhaps the most amazing thing about the Captain Power soundtrack: Guttman composed and recorded all of the music without any footage in hand, essentially creating a library of shorter cues that could be strung together by the series’ music editor as needed. The number of tracks exceeding two minutes in length can be counted on one hand. But it’s a testament to the composer’s work (and, admittedly, the music editor’s work) that the material was composed with the actual footage sight unseen, and yet seems to fit it perfectly.

3 out of 4And all this for an underbudgeted half-hour show about a war against cyborg oppression (and, yes, about a line of toys too). This soundtrack is an impeccable reminder of an era when orchestral scoring for TV, esven kids’ TV, wasn’t the rarity that it is now.

  1. Captain Power Opening (1:32)
  2. Get Ready (1:45)
  3. Love Theme (1:53)
  4. Order this CDBig Battle (2:12)
  5. Sad Heroic Vamp (0:32)
  6. Pursued (1:37)
  7. Jumpship 1 (0:19)
  8. Air Battle (1:41)
  9. Sad Heroic (1:45)
  10. Bursting Through (1:17)
  11. Abandoned Streets (1:14)
  12. Stinger (0:22)
  13. Quiet Buildup (2:25)
  14. Soaron (0:30)
  15. Pursued Vamp (0:41)
  16. Eerie Mood 2 (0:25)
  17. Action Filler 1 (0:14)
  18. Captain Power Beware (0:21)
  19. Land Battle (1:23)
  20. Volcania (0:17)
  21. Sneaking Around (1:24)
  22. Eden 2 (0:47)
  23. Captain Power Vamp (0:32)
  24. Beware Of Dread (0:23)
  25. Power On – Alternate (0:19)
  26. Light Moment (0:31)
  27. Eerie Mood 3 (0:26)
  28. Captain Power To The Rescue (0:53)
  29. Action Filler 2 (0:34)
  30. Quiet Buildup Alternate (0:35)
  31. Action Filler 3 (0:13)
  32. Triumphant Battle (2:02)
  33. End Of Act (0:16)
  34. Captain Power End Title (1:04)
  35. Castle Volcania 2 (0:44)
  36. Seconds Ticking (1:11)
  37. Serious – Somber (2:16)
  38. Flame Street (0:58)
  39. Dark Mist (1:53)
  40. Captain Power Opening: 2012 Version (1:26)

Released by: Goddard Film Group
Release date: September 25, 2012
Total running time: 40:52

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Ron Jones Project

Due to the much-longer-than-usual nature of this in-depth review, and in an attempt to save everyone’s sanity who isn’t interested, you’ll have to click on “more” below to read the full text.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Ron Jones ProjectIn the summer and fall of 1990, fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation were in frothing-from-the-mouth overdrive: they were busily speculating about the conclusion of the best cliffhanger that TNG would ever produce, and obsessing over their freshly-recorded VHS tapes (remember those?) of the season finale. Repeated viewing of The Best Of Both Worlds Part I yielded numerous insights, namely that the show really had gotten that good, and that this Ron Jones guy who did the music for the episode was on fire. A year later – an agonizing lag compared to how quickly TV music seems to be released these days – GNP Crescendo gave the world the soundtrack to both parts of Best Of Both Worlds, landing themselves a legion of grateful fans and an award for the best indie label soundtrack release of the year.

Some of us, however, had been paying attention to the music credits for a long time, and Ron Jones had been on the radar of musically-aware fans since season one. The cruel irony, of course, is that 1991 also marked the end of Jones’ involvement with the Star Trek series, and the rest of the TNG music released by Crescendo was from composers Dennis McCarthy and Jones’ replacement, Jay Chattaway, both of whom remained with the franchise until Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air in 2005. Barring a short two-part suite of music from the season one Klingon episode Heart Of Glory on 1996’s Best Of Star Trek CD, and despite the fact that Jones had gone through his archives and presented Crescendo with enough material for Klingon and Romulan themed TNG soundtrack collections, nothing else was forthcoming from TNG’s musical golden boy.

He still had fans, though, including yours truly, and including Film Score Monthly founder Lukas Kendall. As Film Score Monthly spawned a label and ultimately ceased to be a paper magazine, the idea of a Ron Jones TNG collection never went away. While even the most expectant fans might have bet on a CD here and there, nobody could’ve envisioned what Kendall had in mind: a 14 CD box set consisting of nearly every note Ron Jones composed and recorded for Star Trek: The Next Generation – in short, the full soundtrack for every episode Jones scored, not just the ones that everyone remembered well. With the possible exception of the (ultimately truncated) series of Babylon 5 episode scores on CD, nothing like this had been attempted for TV music. Read More

InnerSpace – music by Jerry Goldsmith

Not exactly a major box office hit, 1987’s Innerspace was an odd mix of science fiction action and romantic comedy whose two halves never quite made for one satisfying whole. The ingredients all seemed to be there, including Joe Dante behind the camera, impressive FX work, and an all-star 1980s cast including Dennis Quaid, Martin Short and Meg Ryan, but somehow Innerspace didn’t catch on. It also featured a score by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith, which may well be the one thing about the movie that does have staying power. La-La Land Records issued a nicely remastered edition on CD at the end of 2009, along with their usual generous helping of detailed liner notes that proclaim the musical score (but not the movie) of Innerspace to be a virtual sequel to Goldsmith’s music from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Is this true? Well, yes and no. Goldsmith does an admirable job of conjuring up that same sense of wonder that he employed in Trek, though of course the arrangement is different, and the one thing that would’ve made a strong connection between the two films’ music – the blaster beam instrument – is a no-show for Innerspace. But seeing that Goldsmith was writing and arranging music for Innerspace and not another Star Trek flick, that’s completely understandable: the literature trying to convince us that Trek fans will eat this up is, perhaps, overstating the case.

Taking up much more of the proceedings are a wistful Americana-flavored theme for Quaid’s washed-up (and washed-out) astronaut, and a comically threatening, twangy motif for the bizarre enemy agent played (complete with evil foreign accent) by Robert Picardo. Action cues begin commanding some of the action about 1/3 of the way though, and while they’re perfectly decent action music, they’re nothing groundbreaking by Goldsmith’s standards (but that still means it’s better than most movie action music).

3 out of 4Innerspace is a more than competent movie score – Jerry Goldsmith never quite seemed to reach the stage where he was phoning it in, which is why fans go nuts when a score like Innerspace is released. If there’s a disservice here, it may well be the marketing hoopla comparing it to some of the composer’s even better works.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (2:16)
  2. Take Him Home / Broken Toe (1:48)
  3. Tell Me About It (2:17)
  4. State of the Art / The Charge (6:55)
  5. Gas Attack (4:53)
  6. The Injection (2:12)
  7. The Hand / Fat Cells (1:01)
  8. Woman In Red (2:36)
  9. What Is It? (1:08)
  10. Optic Nerves (3:59)
  11. Take It Easy / It’s True (2:18)
  12. No Messenger (2:42)
  13. No Pain (1:57)
  14. User Friendly (1:39)
  15. A Close Look (1:34)
  16. The Cowboy (0:59)
  17. Hold It (3:41)
  18. For the Money / A New Man (3:40)
  19. How Do I Look? / Save It (1:45)
  20. Transformed (3:01)
  21. Retransformed (2:52)
  22. Where Am I? (2:12)
  23. The Womb (4:38)
  24. Fair Exchange (2:05)
  25. Stop The Car (5:59)
  26. Out Of The Pod (3:55)
  27. Disengage (3:00)
  28. No Red Lights (1:18)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 78:20

Alan Parsons Project – Gaudi (remastered)

Alan Parsons Project - Gaudi (remastered)The last Alan Parsons Project album to be released under that band name is also the last of the Alan Parsons Project remasters, and thus Gaudi ends two stories at the same time. I can’t really tell how much actual remastering was done here – Gaudi was originally recorded on fairly high-end digital equipment to begin with, and though that means digital-to-tape rather than a hard drive, it was always a very sharp recording. It’s probably best known for “Closer To Heaven” and “Money Talks”, both of which appeared on Miami Vice at the time of the original release, and “Paseo de Gracia”, which I remember being a staple of the Weather Channel forecast music at the time.

In remastered form, we get to hear the gestation of several of the songs, with early drafts of “Paseo de Gracia” and “La Sagrada Familia” on display, and an interesting look at the sonic components that made up “Money Talks”. The first draft of “Too Late” is heard here, with Eric Woolfson “la-la-ing” his way through the rhythm for the still-to-be-written vocals, though apparently it was already known that the song would be “Too Late” (however, even the placement and expression of that phrase within the embryonic lyrics is vastly different from what finally appeared). In this form, the song also has a wildly ’80s intro that vanished before the final recorded version.

I was never the biggest fan of Gaudi at the time of its release; it has, in “Standing On Higher Ground” and “Too Late”, two of the best straight-ahead, unaffected rock songs that the Project turned out in the 1980s, and in “Inside Looking Out”, one of Eric Woolfson’s best ballads. I seem to recall not being a huge fan of Stereotomy, Gaudi‘s immediate forerunner, too, though going back and listening to those albums with Woolfson’s post-Project musicals in mind, I can now appreciate Gaudi and Stereotomy for what they were: course corrections of varying degrees trying to keep the Project on a rock/prog rock/pop music path rather than giving in to Woolfson’s theatrical tendencies.

Don’t get me wrong: the final Project album with Woolfson (the concept album for Freudiana, which was credited to Woolfson himself rather than the Project despite featuring Parsons and all of the usual studio suspects) is great stuff, but in many places it really ceases to be rock music. Gaudi was the last gasp of Woolfson even trying to make it look like he wanted to be doing rock music. Following Freudiana, Parsons and Woolfson went their separate ways with wildly divergent solo careers both heavily influenced by the Project. Parsons’ first post-Project album, 1993’s Try Anything Once, was almost indistinguishable from a Project album except for Woolfson’s absence; Woolfson would go on to create a string of musicals using new arrangements of classic Project tunes revamped for the theater stage.

3 starsGaudi still elicits the same sitting-on-the-fence response from me now that it did back then – some great songs, but also some material that I can live without. In retrospect, perhaps it was best for the Project to split at this point, as the different musical directions of the group’s two principals was on the verge of giving us a schizophrenic sound. With Woolfson continuing to fill theaters with his musicals, and Parsons venturing solidly into electronica, it’s hard to imagine two more divergent musical directions – whether it ended at Gaudi or Freudiana, the only thing that seems certain is that it would’ve ended sooner rather than later.

Order this CD

  1. La Sagrada Familia (8:47)
  2. Too Late (4:30)
  3. Closer To Heaven (5:53)
  4. Standing On Higher Ground (5:48)
  5. Money Talks (4:26)
  6. Inside Looking Out (6:26)
  7. Paseo de Gracia (3:47)
  8. Too Late (Eric Woolfson’s rough guide vocal) (4:13)
  9. Standing On Higher Ground / Losing Proposition (vocal experiments) (3:58)
  10. Money Talks (Chris Rainbow / percussion overdubs) (0:37)
  11. Money Talks (rough mix backing track) (4:28)
  12. Closer to Heaven (Chris Rainbow / sax overdub section) (0:50)
  13. Paseo de Gracia (rough mix) (3:46)
  14. La Sagrada Familia (rough mix) (7:25)

Released by: Sony / Arista
Release date: 1987 (remastered version released in 2008)
Total running time: 68:46

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Space Adventures: Music from Doctor Who, 1963-1971

Space Adventures: Music From Doctor Who, 1963-1971Compiled by Julian Knott, Space Adventures was a very limited-edition release (packaged first as a cassette and later, with bonus tracks, as a CD) compiling stock library music tracks from various sources that were used in the early years of Doctor Who. For a variety of reasons – budget being a frequent one – library music was often used in the show’s black & white days, simply because it was cheaper to pay for a needle drop on a stock music record than it was to have an original score composed. And while this may sound like a cheap way out today, several of these cues are now as indelibly associated with the Doctor’s journeys as any piece of specially composed incidental music that was ever created for the show.

Some time back, I reviewed a CD released to coincide with The Tenth Planet, containing several stock music cues that became a sonic signature for the sinister Cybermen. Space Adventures (which actually takes its title from the very same piece of music that accompanied the Cybermen’s early appearances) was the first public premiere of that work, and apparently it was no easy task. Music libraries, if they want to stay in business where paying clients are concerned, have to evolve with the times, creating newer, more modern pieces of music to offer and retiring older ones whose styles have fallen out of use. Such was the case with the various music libraries from which theese tracks were culled: with no demand for their more distinctly 60s-flavored tunes, the companies put the master tapes away in a vault with very little in the way of protection or preservation taking place. To make a long story short, it was up to an amateur soundtrack producer (with the benefit of expert advice) to restore the damaged tapes; if not for Knott, there would’ve been no Tenth Planet CD, because those library master tapes would have all but disintegrated.

The material archived here covers the first eight years of Doctor Who on TV, going all the way back to a piece of source music (that is, music that the characters in a scene can hear) used in part one of the first story, An Unearthly Child. The library tracks included feature both electronic and more traditional instrumentation, and while it’s nice stuff and lovingly restored, there’s a “diehards only” vibe about it all: it’s background music, with a capital “back” and capital “ground.” There are few real standout tracks, and it’s highly likely that a listener’s enjoyment of those tracks would be dependent on his familiarity with the episodes in which the music was used.

3 out of 4That aside, though, it’s a pity that the BBC has never relicensed this material, paid Knott for his hard work and re-released this collection as an official Doctor Who branded product, rather than as the fan-made CD that it is. The niche nature of the material does explain that a bit, but on a purely selfish level, copies of this CD are outrageously expensive on the collectors’ market, and listeners who don’t feel like having to choose between Space Adventures and paying their bills for a month would probably be forever grateful.

    Can't order this CD

  1. Three Guitars Mood 2 (2:04)
  2. Machine Room (3:01)
  3. Illustrations No. 4 – Little Prelude (1:28)
  4. Asyndeton (0:29)
  5. Illustrations No. 4 – Hunted Man (2:58)
  6. Palpitations (0:36)
  7. Telergic (0:45)
  8. Lunar People – Andromeda (2:42)
  9. Music For Technology Part One (1:36)
  10. Electronic Music: Bathysphere (3:01)
  11. Spine Chillers (1:25)
  12. Space Adventure (2:17)
  13. Power Drill (1:15)
  14. Universe Sidereal (2:28)
  15. Illustrations No. 4 – Frightened Man (4:44)
  16. Electronic Music: Meteoroids (1:26)
  17. Space Time Music Part One (1:25)
  18. Space Time Music Part Two (1:21)
  19. Musique Concrete II (2:22)
  20. Impending Danger (2:13)
  21. World Of Plants (2:32)
  22. Desert Storm (1:54)
  23. Musique Concrete (0:57)
  24. Blast Off! (2:24)
  25. Astronautics Suite (2:40)
  26. Youngbeat (2:54)
  27. Spotlight Sequins No. 1 (1:58)
  28. Mutations (0:44)

Released by: Julian Knott
Release date: 1998 (original version released on cassette in 1987)
Total running time: 55:39

Dave Edmunds – Riff Raff / I Hear You Rockin’

Dave Edmunds - Riff Raff / I Hear You Rockin'For the follow-up to 1983’s reasonably successful Information, rocker Dave Edmunds turned once again to Jeff Lynne not just for production help, but for the ELO frontman’s unique songwriting style. The result was Riff Raff, a 1984 album which further pushed Edmunds into a more modern style. Kicking off with a Lynne-produced cover of the Four Tops’ “Something About You”, Riff Raff is a bit of a mish-mash, veering back and forth between different songwriters (Edmunds himself only penned one song, while Lynne wrote and produced “Breaking Out”, “S.O.S.” and “Far Away”). Somewhat surprisingly, with Edmunds producing the tracks that Lynne didn’t produce, the “sound” is fairly consistent from song to song. Within that context, though, Lynne’s songs fare the best, again sounding very Secret Messages-era due in no small part to the presence of keyboardist Richard Tandy, with “S.O.S.” being the best of the three.

This budget-priced release also contains – thanks to the almost unthinkably short running times of some LPs in the heyday of records – the 1987 live album I Hear You Rockin’: The Hits – Live. All things considered, this live recording may be a better representation of Dave Edmunds’ sound as he rocks out chestnuts from his own catalog (from “I Hear You Knockin'” to “Slipping Away” for an appreciative crowd, with his band expertly reproducing the sound of the studio recordings. He also covers plenty of numbers from “Queen Of Hearts” to “The Wanderer”.

3 out of 4All in all, a nifty double-shot of vintage Edmunds; Riff Raff didn’t quite manage to be as acclaimed an album as Information did, despite the effort to revisit so much of what made Information a success, but the inclusion of the live album sweetens the pot enough to make this a solid three-star CD.

Order this CD

  1. Something About You (3:03)
  2. Breaking Out (3:26)
  3. Busted Loose (4:33)
  4. Far Away (4:11)
  5. Rules Of The Game (4:10)
  6. Steel Claw (4:18)
  7. S.O.S. (3:14)
  8. Hang On (3:24)
  9. How Could I Be So Wrong (3:20)
  10. Can’t Get Enough (3:08)
  11. Girls Talk (3:21)
  12. Here Comes The Weekend (2:10)
  13. Queen Of Hearts (3:04)
  14. Paralyzed (2:53)
  15. The Wanderer (3:01)
  16. Crawling From The Wreckage (3:11)
  17. Slipping Away (4:30)
  18. Information (3:59)
  19. I Hear You Knocking (2:38)
  20. I Knew The Bride (2:52)
  21. Ju Ju Man (3:20)

Released by: BGO Records
Release date: 2002 (compilation) / 1984 (Riff Raff) / 1987 (I Hear You Rockin’)
Total running time: 71:46

R.E.M. – Document

DocumentWhen Lifes Rich Pageant producer Don Gehman was unavailable to work with R.E.M. on a song they were contributing to a film soundtrack, he suggested they contact Scott Litt. Things went so well with that single that the band invited Litt to work with them on their fifth full studio album. The rest is, as they say, history, as Document marked R.E.M.’s first substantial entry into the mainstream.

The song that broke into the Top 40 was “The One I Love;” it is now a rite of passage for R.E.M. fans to closely consider the lyric “A simple prop to occupy my time” and exclaim “It’s not a love song!” (Bonus points for making this remark upon seeing couples acting romantically to each other while watching the song in concert.) Making less of an impact at the time was “Its the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine),” a song whose rapid-fire stream of pop culture and other random references still inspires me to yell “Leonard Bernstein!” at the appropriate moment and has itself become ingrained in popular consciousness. (The song title is also the point at which the band’s practice of eschewing apostrophes most grates on my grammar-snob nerves, but I’ve almost gotten over it.)

Document is a much deeper album than its two best-known tracks, however. Many of its songs, like “Exhuming McCarthy” and “Welcome to the Occupation,” reflect the social activism that began to come to the fore in Lifes Rich Pageant. The former may be my favorite track from the album; it opens with the sound of Michael Stipe’s manual typewriter and slides from a jaunty march-like cadence to a mellower tone for Mike Mills’ declaration that “It’s a sign of the times” and back again. Bill Berry’s drums and Peter Buck’s electric guitar are prominent throughout the album, not quite at the built-for-the-arenas level of Green, but definitely going for a stronger rock feel than a lot of the band’s previous work. A good example of that approach is in the band’s cover of the Wire song “Strange,” which blends into the rest of the album rather well.

rating: 3 out of 4 Document tends to get moodier as it progresses; the shift can felt in the transition from “End of the World” to “One I Love,” and progresses from there to the horn-heavy “Fireplace.” The drum riff behind the wordless “ohhhhhh” chorus of “Lightnin’ Hopkins” sounds like a somewhat ominous call to action. Things slow down for “King of Birds,” which is a bit too lively to really be called a dirge, but which has a similar air of melancholy hanging over it. I think that song would have been a more effective closer than “Oddfellows Local 151,” which I think tends to meander a little too long.

After R.E.M. achieved international success with Warner Bros., IRS Records re-released the band’s early catalogue overseas with additional tracks, mostly live performances and remixes along with the occasional b-side. These additional tracks remain unavailable on U.S. versions of the album.

Order this CD

  1. Finest Worksong (3:48)
  2. Welcome to the Occupation (2:48)
  3. Exhuming McCarthy (3:19)
  4. Disturbance at the Heron House (3:33)
  5. Strange (2:32)
  6. Its the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine) (4:07)
  7. The One I Love (3:17)
  8. Fireplace (3:24)
  9. Lightnin’ Hopkins (3:18)
  10. King of Birds (4:07)
  11. Oddfellows Local 151 (5:21)

(Track listing reflects original U.S. release; foreign re-releases contain additional tracks)

Released by: IRS Records/Capitol
Release date: 1987
Total running time: 39:49