Moon 44 – music by Joel Goldsmith

Moon 44Moon 44, a late ’80s movie starring Michael Pare and Malcolm McDowell (among others), flew under many science fiction fans’ radar (I have to be honest, I only remember it in terms of some “coming attractions” preview articles in Starlog Magazine), and quickly became one of those movies that people had only ever seen on videotape. The soundtrack was released in 1990 alongside the movie by Silva Screen Records, and after years out of print has recently been re-released by Buysoundtrax (BSX) Records.

Moon 44 was not the first movie scored by rising music star Joel Goldsmith (that was the execrable 1977 B-movie – and MST3K fodder – Laserblast), but it was the first time he got to entrust his compositions to a full orchestra rather than leaning on synthesizers. In essence, this was the first time that the junior Goldsmith presented us with the sound that his fans would come to know and love in such future projects as Star Trek: First Contact, Stargate SG-1, Witchblade, Stargate Atlantis, and so on.

And it does sound oddly familiar – in a few places, the soundtrack from Moon 44 resembles Jerry Goldsmith’s music from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. You can hear the style and even a few melodic licks that Joel Goldsmith would lean on frequently for his work in the Stargate TV franchise in abundance here. It’s all played proficiently by the Graunke Symphony Orchestra, with Christopher Stone conducting (Stone composed the score for nearly every Phantasm sequel, as well as, more obscurely, early laserdisc arcade games such as Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace). If there’s a weak track, it’s the source cue “Shut Out” – a vocal track that sounds a bit more 1985 than 1990.

Ironically, though Goldsmith didn’t wind up working for Moon 44 director Roland Emmerich again, both moved on to bigger and better things: Emmerich and Dean Devlin (who had a small part as an actor in Moon 44) went on to co-write Independence Day and Stargate, among others; Goldsmith scored most of the television spinoff universe spawned by Stargate.

It seems a little unlikely that we’ll be hearing more music from the Stargate universe – Joel Goldsmith’s untimely death in May 2012 cut short many long-touted projects, including a possible release of his music from Stargate Universe – but in lieu of those much-talked about collections which have now entered the realm of vaporware, 4 out of 4Moon 44 is comfortingly familiar. (Goldsmith signed off on this soundtrack’s re-release before his death, and the already-announced release date had the misfortune to follow closely on the heels of his passing.)

As a sampler of the style he would employ in many future projects, Moon 44 is a fitting memorial for Joel Goldsmith – and, on its own, it’s a good listen, too.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title / Felix The Cop (3:04)
  2. First Training Flight (5:14)
  3. So Long Felix (4:06)
  4. Navigator’s Hang Up (1:25)
  5. Armed And Dangerous No. 1 (3:29)
  6. Drones, Drones, Drones (But Not A Drop To Drink)
  7. (2:52)

  8. Sykes Gets Caught (2:10)
  9. Armed And Dangerous No. 2 (4:27)
  10. So You Like It Fast (Hard And Rough)
  11. (1:47)

  12. Jake To The Rescue / Joel’s Outlandish Adventure (2:24)
  13. Lee Bombs Out (3:00)
  14. Welcome To Moon 44 (0:49)
  15. Taxi Driver (“You Talkin’ To Me?”) (2:49)
  16. The Cookie Crumbles / Bumpy Taxi Ride / The End Of Moon 44 (6:04)
  17. Aftermath (1:13)
  18. Heading For Earth (0:59)
  19. Terry On The Moon / Finale (1:12)
  20. Shut Out (vocals: Heather Forsyth) (1:33)

Released by: Silva Screen (original edition) / BSX Records (2012 reissue)
Release date: 1990 (original Silva Screen edition) / 2012 (BSX Records)
Total running time: 49:21

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

FAB featuring MC Number 6 – The Prisoner

FAB featuring MC Number 6 - The PrisonerProduced with the blessing of Patrick McGoohan himself, this CD single is a lively remix/remake of Ron Grainer’s immortal theme from The Prisoner. Sound clips from the original series are sprinkled liberally throughout the song and become an integral part of its rhythm.

The best of the three tracks is the first, clocking in at about three and a half minutes; all three tracks incorporate the same ideas, but the second and third tracks are twice as long… and neither uses the extra time to expand on the musical or thematic ideas significantly. The succinctness of the original mix is, frankly, the best thing about it. The original elements of the music itself are very much a product of the times: think of the theme song from Cops, and you’ll have a good idea of the reggae-styled rap that kicks in about halfway through the song.

The best part of this remix is that someone really “got” the material. The clips are chosen well, and even the rap bit in the middle of the song dovetails thematically with The Prisoner’s over-arching themes of 3 out of 4freedom, entrapment and rebellion. This is a cut above a lot of TV theme remixes where random clips are shoveled in on top of a 140bpm reworking of the original music – this takes the ideas behind the original material and runs with them – successfully, in my opinion.

Order this CD

  1. The Prisoner (Free Man Mix) (3:20)
  2. The Prisoner (Confidential Mix) (6:09)
  3. The Escape (Solitary Club Mix) (6:10)

Released by: Telstar Records
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 15:39

This Is Namco!

This Is Namco!Celebrating the close of its most prolific decade in the video game business, and the company’s own 35th anniversary, Namco turned an ensemble of musicians loose on musical themes from the company’s legendary lineup of arcade games. Whether or not every resulting reinterpretation of those themes is successful is really in the ear of the beholder, but at the very least they’re all interesting new takes on the simplest of old favorites.

That simplicity is really the fascinating wild card of the This Is Namco! album. Some of these tunes hail from such an early period of video game sound that they barely even qualify as polyphonic. In some cases, with just one line of melody and perhaps one line of counterpoint to work from, the artists were free to layer their own improvisations onto the music freely, from rhythm to harmony. “Pac-Man A Go-Go” takes the simple intermission music from that game and turns it into a bouncy, brassy horn-and-sax jam. “One O’Clock Galaga ’88“, on the other hand, takes thematic material from that game and reinterprets it in a Benny Goodman-inspired style.

The boldest experiment on This Is Namco! is “Solo Suite Xevious No. 1″, which rearranges music from that seminal game into a piece for solo violin. Considering that the original music consists of intricate, fast-moving, almost hypnotic passages, that it actually works is almost surprising. The other pieces on the album, all arranged by Kenichiro Isoda and Kenichi Mitsuda, vary in how much they lean rating: 3 out of 4on the original game music. “One O’ Clock Galaga ’88” is actually a good example of not relying on the original music very heavily at all, merely using it as a springboard.

This Is Namco! is a nice exercise in using the most basic of material for inspiration and coming up with something that, while the resemblance is still there, is on a whole different level.

Order this CD

  1. Pac-Man A Go-Go (5:07)
  2. One O’Clock Galaga ’88 (3:36)
  3. Mappy’s Lullaby (3:53)
  4. Dragon Spirit (6:28)
  5. Solo Suite Xevious – No. 1 (2:41)
  6. Tarosuke In Beijing Hotel (6:30)
  7. Main Theme From Rolling Thunder (7:29)
  8. Thunder Ceptor (4:23)
  9. The Return Of Ishtar (3:24)
  10. Ending Theme From Assault (5:22)

Released by: Apollon / Compusic
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 48:53

Fleetwood Mac – Behind The Mask

Fleetwood Mac - Behind The MaskIt’s official – there’s something Bill Clinton did that I may not be able to forgive him for. He brought Fleetwood Mac back together.

As I write this, I’m way, way behind on writing music reviews. Fleetwood Mac’s Behind The Mask is an album I bought when it first came out, and it’s taken me this long to get around to weighing in on it, even though at the time I liked it quite a bit – always have. What’s bad about that lag, though, is that Fleetwood Mac has since morphed back into something resembling the lineup from its 70s/80s heyday…and yet something less than it once was. And I’m having to fight down the urge to talk about that and bring that comparison up.

Behind The Mask was a transitional album into a new Fleetwood Mac era. Lindsey Buckingham, who had been the most demanding of the creative pistons firing in the Mac’s engine, had left the group behind after 1987’s Tango In The Night (and a guest stint on a new single for the 1988 Greatest Hits album), but this didn’t doom the group as much as I remember thinking it would. Say what you will about it taking two players to fill Buckingham’s shoes on stage and in the studio, the remaining members had already auditioned replacements for the all-important position of guitarist, and wound up with not one, but two, promising candidates: Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. Not only did both men have an excellent pedigree as steadily-employed, in-demand studio guitarists, they brought their own not-inconsiderable songwriting skills to the table.

And in an amusing demonstration of the question of band identity and how much of that identity lies with the guy in the mixing booth, producer Greg Landanyi made sure that this Fleetwood Mac didn’t sound drastically different from the last Fleetwood Mac that had walked into a recording studio. Buckingham even returned again to lay down acoustic guitar tracks on one song. (Another interesting guest musician credit I noticed on Behind The Mask is Steve Croes; credited here with Synclavier, Croes is a frequent collaborator and session player for Star Trek composer Jay Chattaway.) But in the end, the band’s sound hasn’t shifted a million miles away from where it was. For all of my thinking, in the aftermath of Tango, that Buckingham was going to take the sound with him, in retrospect Behind The Mask sounds more like Fleetwood Mac than, say, Out Of The Cradle does.

“Skies The Limit”, the well-chosen lead single “Save Me”, and the lovely duet ballad “Do You Know” demonstrate what Fleetwood Mac still had then that it doesn’t have now: Christine McVie. Her divine vocals, just-right keyboard and piano work and her songwriting…there was a time when I didn’t really rate her as a major factor in the band’s sound. I’ve since come to realize how badly I can misjudge things sometimes. Christine McVie keeps the ship afloat on this album. And “Do You Know” was a collaboration with Burnette, which shows that the new recruits more than earned their slots in the band. “Save Me” couldn’t have been better chosen as the first song to hit radio, as it has a vibe reminiscent of some of McVie’s best singles in the past; it’s a close conceptual cousin of Tango‘s “Isn’t It Midnight” and “Little Lies”.

I’m still not that partial to Stevie Nicks’ songs here. Considering how much I grew to like her input on Say You Will (and that’s a big turnaround for me), I went back to this album determined to listen with an open mind…somehow her songs just don’t do it for me here. “When The Sun Goes Down”, a Vito/Burnette collaboration, demonstrates why these guys got the job – they’ve got the bluesy-electric-rock thing down, and this song doesn’t sound too far off from some of Lindsey Buckingham’s early numbers soon after joining the band. This isn’t to say that Vito and Burnette appropriated their predecessor’s style, but that they’re steeped in the same background. The two together were a really were a canny choice to fill his shoes.

Overall, I find myself looking back on Behind The Mask with fondness. Okay, even some of Nicks’ stuff, I admit it – I just have to be in a rare Stevie Nicks mood for it to hit me right. This could have been – though I’ll leave it to you out there to decide for yourselves whether or not it should have been – the Fleetwood Mac that stayed together into the new millennium. Where the tortured-perfectionist-artist / ex-lover dynamic may have produced some dynamite songs at one time, and I’m not denying that it did (though I grimaced to watch them hash it out again and again in a recent special about the making of Say You 3 out of 4Will), I’m not sure bringing back the Buckingham/Nicks chemisty was right for the band. In time, this lineup could’ve been incredible. Behind The Mask shows that it was already very promising.

Thank you for once again reading my review of Say You Will.

Order this CD

  1. Skies The Limit (3:45)
  2. Love Is Dangerous (3:18)
  3. In The Back Of My Mind (7:03)
  4. Do You Know (4:19)
  5. Save Me (4:16)
  6. Affairs Of The Heart (4:22)
  7. When The Sun Goes Down (3:18)
  8. Behind The Mask (4:18)
  9. Stand On The Rock (4:00)
  10. Hard Feelings (4:54)
  11. Freedom (4:13)
  12. When It Comes To Love (4:09)
  13. The Second Time (2:31)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 54:26

Pseudo Echo – Long Plays ’83-’87

Pseudo Echo - Long Plays '83-'87Ah, the heady days of junior high. That’s when I first encountered Australian pop group Pseudo Echo, as they carved an unlikely swath through the U.S. charts with their Euro-synth-ified remake of Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown”. These days I file Pseudo Echo – and Love An Adventure, the album which spunoff the aforementioned single – under the heading of “guilty pleasures that, if I’m to be honest, I still like quite a lot.” And I do.

Which brings us to this album of remixes. The late 80s were a haven for extended mixes, some of them beautiful examples of the art of editing, others more like the result of sticking fifteen chimpanzees in a room with two tape decks and a big friendly pause button. One of my favorite such mixes, however, was the extended version of “Funkytown”, with its phasing drum solos and a kind of logical pacing that didn’t completely destroy the progression of the song. I had the 12″ inch single of that mix, back when buying vinyl was still an option in most cases, but wound up giving it away to someone later, so it’s good to have it back.

The real prize for me here, however, is the extended remix of “Destination Unknown”, another tune from Love An Adventure, that just about blew my mind. The original had such a cool backing track that I’d always wished I could hear it without vocals – I thought it’d make someone, somewhere, a dandy TV theme song. That teenage wish has finally been fulfilled by a mix that runs through one full verse and one full chorus with no vocals at all, and so help me, it’s still a cool song.

3 out of 4The rest of the tracks here – reworking tracks from both Love An Adventure and its follow-up Race – run the gamut from unremarkable dance floor fodder to remixes which actually reveal some depth to the original songs, which I’ve always felt was the best thing a remix can really hope to do. As few and far between as Pseudo Echo fans may be outside of Australia, I can at least recommend this to them. It’s a decent new take on some old favorites.

Order this CD

  1. Listening (5:35)
  2. A Beat For You (7:26)
  3. Stranger In Me (6:04)
  4. Don’t Go (6:40)
  5. Love An Adventure (6:21)
  6. Living In A Dream (5:39)
  7. Destination Unknown (5:48)
  8. Funky Town (6:35)

Released by: EMI Australia
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 49:54

Natural History: The Very Best Of Talk Talk

Talk Talk - Natural History: The Very Best Of Talk TalkSometimes I like picking up a one-hit wonder’s “best-of” CD just to see what else they did, especially if I liked the one single of theirs that got anywhere. While Natural History shows that not every Talk Talk song was worthy of heavy rotation in the airplay, it does show that the band’s one-hit wonder status is probably undeserved.

I try never to let music videos cloud my judgement of whether or not the song is good, but I must admit that least part of my fond memories of the band’s biggest single, “It’s My Life”, include the extremely cool nature-film video with its flock of ink-blot birds throughout the entire song. It ran so far against the grain of what music videos were at the time that I considered it excessively cool (and I know I’m not the only one, either). “It’s My Life” itself is an interesting song the likes of which I haven’t heard since – heavy on synths, but also heavy enough on musicianship and great vocals that it still sounds like an organic whole, not a machine-assembled song.

Other standouts include “Such A Shame”, which has a style similar to “It’s My Life” (or perhaps that should be the other way around, since “Shame” predates it by a year or two), and one of my personal favorites, Life’s What You Make It. Though from the same album as “It’s My Life”, “Life’s What You Make It” has a soulful sound the straddles the styles of Talk Talk and Squeeze, with some excellent Hammond organ work and some great lyrics to go with it.

4 out of 4There are a couple of live tracks, nice ones to be sure, but Talk Talk was at the height of its powers in the studio, not on stage, and butting live cuts up against studio tracks only heightens that contrast.

If Natural History tells us anything, it is that we may have underestimated Talk Talk when the radio industry in general seemed to shrug them off as one-hit wonders.

Order this CD

  1. Today (3:30)
  2. Talk Talk (3:15)
  3. My Foolish Friend (3:18)
  4. Such A Shame (5:22)
  5. Dum Dum Girl (4:02)
  6. It’s My Life (3:51)
  7. Give It Up (5:19)
  8. Living In Another World (7:00)
  9. Life’s What You Make It (4:25)
  10. Happiness Is Easy (6:29)
  11. I Believe In You (5:55)
  12. Desire (6:56)
  13. Life’s What You Make It – live (4:40)
  14. Tomorrow’s Started – live (7:45)

Released by: Capitol
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 71:47