Slipstream – music by Elmer Bernstein

SlipstreamLong coveted by soundtrack collectors, Elmer Bernstein’s Slipstream accompanies a movie that flew under nearly everyone’s radar in 1989. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine that a movie starring Mark Hamiill and Bill Paxton, and directed by Steven “creator of Tron” Lisberger, could’ve escaped the collective geek consciousness, especially when it’s a post-apocalyptic sci-fi western (more Mad Max than Firefly), but admit it: you don’t remember hearing about this movie either, much less seeing it.

Obviously, however, someone recalls hearing it: the Slipstream soundtrack has been one of the most-requested (and therefore, perversely, elusive) Elmer Bernstein scores from the late composer’s catalog. Bernstein himself had even gone through the trouble of selecting and sequencing tracks for a soundtrack album, but the movie’s failure to fly at the box office nixed those plans. After the composer’s death in 2004, the Slipstream master tapes, like the rest of his work, became part of a collection donated to the University of Southern California. When Perseverance Records set out to meet the demand for a Slipstream CD, they discovered that Bernstein had done much of the work for them.

Musically, Slipstream sounds like a spiritual cousin to Bernstein’s music from Ghostbusters. Both movies’ scores lean heavily on the theremin-like sound of the Ondes Martenot, an instrument whose unusual sound Bernstein championed as something of a personal crusade. Two of the best tracks highlighting this unique sound are “Dreams” and “Lost Android”. The movie’s 3 out of 4
post-apocalyptic world shows humans rediscovering flight, and these scenes get big, soaring musical accompaniment.

I’d heard enough rave reviews of this music over the years that picking it up without having seen the movie itself was a no-brainer; fans of Bernstein’s contributions to Ghostbusters and Heavy Metal will like this one.

  1. Prologue and Pursuit (3:13)
  2. Escape (3:01)
  3. Dreams (4:07)
  4. Lost Android (3:02)
  5. Slipstream People (2:49)
  6. Avatar (4:53)
  7. Travel To Dance (5:56)
  8. Sacrifice (3:11)
  9. Museum Society (3:54)
  10. Android Love (2:54)
  11. Revenge and Resolution (12:21)

Released by: Perseverance Records
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 49:20

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

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (Newly Expanded Edition)

Star Trek V: The Final FrontierReleased with little advance warning or fanfare at the end of 2010, Jerry Goldsmith‘s soundtrack from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the archetypal “soundtrack that’s ripe for an expanded re-release” – it’s better music than its parent movie deserved, only a certain amount of the music has been available before (namely, a 45-minute soundtrack album that dates back to the twilight of the vinyl LP), and it pleases followers of both the Star Trek franchise and the late, great composer himself. Seriously, what’s not to love about this release?

The previously unreleased slices of Goldsmith’s soundtrack are, partly because of obscurity and partly because of quality, much more interesting than the stuff we have heard before. What we’ve been missing out on for over 20 years is material that clarifies the development of many of the movie’s musical themes: the unstable-but-noble Sybok theme, material both uncertain and religious/epic for his quest to find God, and lots of interesting new uses of Goldsmith’s by-now well-worn Star Trek: The Motion Picture Enterprise and Klingon themes (remember that, when this movie was released, that material had also been quoted and/or rearranged extensively for two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation). That Goldsmith reclaims his material and puts a fresh spin on it is impressive.

There’s also much more of an adventurous, emotional feel to those themes this time around, rather than the somewhat unemotional treatment of the same material in his score for the first Star Trek movie (though that movie’s colder, more intellectual nature demanded the musical treatment that it received). If there’s one area where the music from Star Trek V falters even slightly, it’s some of the electronic instrumentation, especially a recurring, off-kilter motif for Sybok and his movement. Goldsmith is often hailed for his innovative use of electronics and his ability to make them part of the orchestra rather than making them sound like an oddball overdub, but by this point synths and electronic keyboards were off-the-shelf instruments with a somewhat limited palette of preset sounds. There’s an interesting synthesized “drone” for Sybok’s repeated demonstration of an ability to probe other characters’ pain, but other than that, nothing stands out like, say, Goldsmith’s use of analog synths in Logan’s Run or the unearthly Blaster Beam sound of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Unlike every other ’80s Star Trek soundtrack released in the past couple of years, Star Trek V was released by La-La Land Records, but in a collaboration of soundtrack boutique label all-stars, still sports an incredibly informative booklet by Film Score Monthly’s Lukas Kendall and Jeff Bond (the latter of whom wrote an entire chapter on the Trek V soundtrack in his book “The Music Of Star Trek“), so it’s still very consistent with the packaging and presentation of FSM’s other Trek music releases from 2010. And as with Film Score Monthly’s previous reissues of music from Star Trek II and Star Trek III, the second disc of this soundtrack replicates the original 1989 soundtrack album (and there are actually some differences between the album versions and film versions of some pieces), and uses the remaining run time of the second disc for alternates, early takes and a track of electronic “experiments.”

Hearing the music afresh raised my opinion of the soundtrack from Star Trek V considerably, and I almost 4 out of 4found myself wondering if perhaps the movie itself hasn’t gotten a bit of a bum rap, what with its plotline about a madman in a desert trying to manipulate a more powerful body (the Federation, by way of the Enterprise) in his quest to appease his god. With music like this, it’s almost enough to make one consider a rematch with the movie itself.

Order this CD

    Disc 1 – The Complete Film Score

  1. Nimbus III (2:01)
  2. The Mind-Meld (2:43)
  3. The Mountain [Main Title] (4:53)
  4. The Big Drop (0:26)
  5. Raid on Paradise (2:43)
  6. Not Alone (1:11)
  7. Target Practice (1:52)
  8. A Tall Ship (1:43)
  9. Plot Course (1:46)
  10. No Harm (2:13)
  11. Approaching Nimbus III (2:59)
  12. Open the Gates (3:01)
  13. Well Done (1:16)
  14. Without Help (4:55)
  15. Pick It Up (2:31)
  16. No Authority (0:30)
  17. It Exists (1:47)
  18. Free Minds (3:18)
  19. The Birth (3:53)
  20. The Barrier (2:52)
  21. A Busy Man (4:41)
  22. An Angry God (6:57)
  23. Let’s Get Out of Here [part 1] (3:42)
  24. Let’s Get Out of Here [part 2] (3:07)
  25. Cosmic Thoughts (1:16)
  26. Life Is a Dream [End Credits] (3:57)
    Disc 2 – The 1989 Soundtrack Album

  1. The Mountain (3:50)
  2. The Barrier (2:51)
  3. Without Help (4:18)
  4. A Busy Man (4:40)
  5. Open the Gates (3:00)
  6. An Angry God (6:55)
  7. Let’s Get Out of Here (5:13)
  8. Free Minds (3:17)
  9. Life Is a Dream (3:57)
  10. The Moon’s a Window to Heaven – performed by Hiroshima (4:00)

    Additional Music

  11. The Mountain (alternate) (4:45)
  12. A Busy Man (alternate) (4:42)
  13. Paradise Saloon (source) (2:42)
  14. The Moon’s a Window to Heaven (film version) (1:10)
  15. Vulcan Song / Row, Row, Row Your Boat (instrumental source) (1:33)
  16. Synclavier Effects (1:54)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2010
Disc one total running time: 73:07
Disc two total running time: 59:28

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade – music by John Williams

Indiana Jones And The Last CrusadeIn Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, John Williams composes the music for the last film in this famous series (or at least, we thought back then). In my review of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, I said that the album had an overall majestic feel. In this album, Williams decides to go for a more orchestral feel, with heavy usage of stringed instruments. It almost feels ambient in certain places, with very quiet sustained notes and light dynamics in the piece, like in “The Penitent Man Will Pass”.

The album starts with “Indy’s Very First Adventure”, a calm track that soon breaks into strings and flutes and then later on picks up in excitement and dynamics. “X Marks The Spot” builds up the usage of horns, but soon falls into the aforementioned ambience.

In “Scherzo For Motorcycle And Orchestra”, John Williams shows off his classical chops. “Scherzo” is an Italian word for “joke”, and usually used as a term for a single movement in a larger symphony. Williams lives up to the title by giving the song a playful feel, with a return of the Indiana Jones theme throughout the song. Unfortunately, there seems to be no motorcycle included in the piece.

“Ah, Rats!!!” returns to Williams’ use of dissonance, using it to punctuate deep dark tones and create a sense of anxiety (most likely to Indiana Jones’ loathing of the aforementioned rodents). “The Keeper Of The Grail” starts with sustained notes and again, a sense of ambience, but soon breaks into a slow emotional piece. On the other hand, “Keeping Up With The Joneses” is an up-tempo track, brassy and dramatic.

3 out of 4Williams again upholds a fine standard for film music, and give The Last Crusade a worthy send-off. It will be interesting to hear what he has up his sleeve for Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, but one can almost be assured that it will fall neatly with the rest of the music from this series.

Order this CD

  1. Indy’s Very First Adventure (8:13)
  2. X Marks The Spot (3:11)
  3. Scherzo For Motorcycle And Orchestra (3:52)
  4. Ah, Rats!!! (3:40)
  5. Escape From Venice (4:23)
  6. No Ticket (2:44)
  7. The Keeper Of The Grail (3:23)
  8. Keeping Up With The Joneses (3:36)
  9. Brother Of The Cruciform Sword (1:55)
  10. Belly Of The Steel Beast (5:28)
  11. The Canyon Of The Crescent Moon (4:16)
  12. The Penitent Man Will Pass (3:22)
  13. End Credits (Raiders March) (10:37)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1989
Total running time: 58:40

Chicago – Greatest Hits, 1982-1989

Chicago - Greatest Hits, 1982-1989I’ve always been a casual fan of Chicago. When you’re growing up and both your mom and your older brother are taking turns cranking up the original Chicago Transit Authority double LP at every opportunity, you learn to like it, or you go nuts.

Okay, maybe I should ditch that intro before the inevitable smart-arse comments come rolling in. In any case, I’ve always been a fan of Chicago, but a fan of old Chicago – before Chicago suffered the same fate as Genesis in the 1980s, that of becoming not much more than a mere backing band for a lead vocalist more concerned with his solo career. The only 80s Chicago I ever owned was a cassette copy of Chicago 16, and that was just because I liked “Niagara Falls”. I felt like a lot of the stuff Chicago was turning out in the early to mid 80s was limp compared to their glorious past.

Then I got this CD dirt cheap, and was reminded – upon hearing “Look Away” – that sometimes I can be a bit harshly judgemental. The truth is, I didn’t know when I was well off with “Hard To Say I’m Sorry / Get Away” and the other early 80s stuff before Chicago suffered yet another paradigm shift into “power ballad” territory.

There are a couple of gems on this Greatest Hits disc spanning Chicago’s dismal chain of radio-friendly hits of the 80s, and sadly “Niagara Falls” isn’t among them. If the strains of “Hard Habit To Break”, “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” and the post-Peter Cetera “What Kind Of Man Would I Be?” sound vaguely similar, it’s no coincidence: by that time in Chicago’s career, a sameness had set in where songwriting, performance and production were concerned. Gone were any traces of what Chicago once was.

Rating: 2 out of 4At least in punchier, well-arranged numbers like “Love Me Tomorrow”, “Stay The Night”, and “If She Would Have Been Faithful…”, as sappy and sugary as they may be, there’s at least some vestige of real Chicago in there. Bits of this collection are okay as stand-alone songs, but don’t listen to it right after the pre-80s Chicago hits compilations – the contrast will drive you nuts.

Order this CD in the Store

  1. Hard To Say I’m Sorry / Get Away (5:08)
  2. Look Away (4:03)
  3. Stay The Night (3:49)
  4. Will You Still Love Me? (5:43)
  5. Love Me Tomorrow (5:01)
  6. What Kind Of Man Would I Be (4:14)
  7. You’re The Inspiration (3:50)
  8. I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love (3:53)
  9. Hard Habit To Break (4:44)
  10. Along Comes A Woman (4:16)
  11. If She Would Have Been Faithful… (3:53)
  12. We Can Last Forever (3:44)

Released by: Reprise
Release date: 1989
Total running time: 52:18

Duran Duran – Decade

Duran Duran - DecadeWith a little bit of trepidation, I popped the retrospective collection of Duran Duran’s first ten years of hits into the CD player one night, only to come away from it with a reminder of how much I liked Duran Duran’s early stuff.

A lot of the material on Decade had the privelege of radio running it so far into the ground that it pierced the crust, rammed through the mantle, and continued playing right into the core of the planet. But with the benefit of time, hindsight and giving it a shot at an unbiased listen, it’s easy to see why – Duran Duran’s early singles were catchy as hell, loaded with new wave vibes, funky basslines, hard-edged guitar licks, and some of the best vocal harmonies anyone was doing in the early 80s. Period.

Naturally, the singles from Rio dominate the first half of the CD, but it was with “Is There Something I Should Know?” and “Union Of The Snake” that I was reminded of just how good Duran Duran could be when firing on all cylinders. Those songs are catchy enough to be repeat-track material. I still think Le Bon and company reached their apex with the Bond movie theme song “A View To A Kill”, which out of necessity (and tradition) elevated the production style to a slightly more epic level. I’ll probably get lynched by some McCartney fans for saying this, but it’s as good a Bond movie tune as “Live And Let Die” (in fact, upon further reflection, I think I like “A View To A Kill” better).

Sadly, what happened after that didn’t quite hold my attention.

The later songs didn’t grab me as much as their earlier efforts, with attempts to branch out in new directions. “Notorious” lived up to its name by just not doing it for me – it went into Chic-style territory that INXS had already more than adequately revisited by that time. Likewise, I always found the faux-jazzy “Skin Trade” irritating. “I Don’t Want Your Love” was almost a return to form, but almost made them sound like a rating: 3 out of 4boy band. “All She Wants Is” gets things back on track, so naturally the album ends there.

For all their attempts to reform and hit it big again, perhaps Duran Duran would do well to take a quick refresher course in how they made it into the spotlight in the first place – they’ve never gotten back to sounding this good.

Order this CD

  1. Planet Earth (4:07)
  2. Girls On Film (3:30)
  3. Hungry Like The Wolf (3:25)
  4. Rio (5:38)
  5. Save A Prayer (5:33)
  6. Is There Something I Should Know? (4:05)
  7. Union Of The Snake (4:20)
  8. The Reflex (4:25)
  9. Wild Boys (4:16)
  10. A View To A Kill (3:33)
  11. Notorious (3:58)
  12. Skin Trade (4:25)
  13. I Don’t Want Your Love (3:47)
  14. All She Wants Is (4:36)

Released by: Capitol
Release date: 1989
Total running time: 59:38

Doctor Who: Variations On A Theme

Doctor Who: Variations On A ThemeOriginally issued at the time of the show’s anniversary as a legendary square CD (now highly prized and priced by collectors), Variations On A Theme is exactly what the title suggests: a collection of four different takes on the main title music from Doctor Who. The low-key, new-age-esque “Mood Version”, arranged by Mark Ayres (who, at the time, had only just begun scoring episodes of the show), kicks things off nicely, but the real gem is Dominic Glynn’s “Terror Version”, which lends an appropriately creepy atmoshphere to the proceedings – just as it should be. Keff McCulloch, who scored most of the episodes in the 24th and 25th seasons of the series, brings us the amusingly sunny “Latin Version”, which some fans will recognize as the version of the theme used to open the “Years” documentary videos. Ayres closes out the four-track disc with the “Panopticon Eight Regeneration Mix”, which strikes the balance between doom and gloom 4 out of 4and dance music nicely.

Is this disc worth the search? Absolutely, in my opinion. I’ve always enjoyed this collection, brief though it is, and a reissue is long overdue, perhaps with some other artists’ interpretations of the Doctor Who theme (Orbital and all-string ensemble Fourplay come to mind immediately) in tow.

Order this CD

  1. Doctor Who: Mood Version (3:12)
  2. Doctor Who: Terror Version (4:15)
  3. Doctor Who: Latin Version (6:38)
  4. Doctor Who: Panopticon 8 Regeneration Mix (5:37)

Released by: Silva Screen
Release date: 1989
Total running time: 19:42