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Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Newly Expanded Edition)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered CountryThe only big-screen classic Star Trek sequel still waiting for its soundtrack to be remastered has finally gotten the deluxe treatment from Intrada. The release was inadvertently revealed by composer Cliff Eidelman early in 2012, a practice that the soundtrack boutique labels tend to avoid simply because they barely have enough time in the day to do what they do, let alone answer endless questions about upcoming releases and whether or not they can be pre-ordered. But that would seem to reveal a certain degree of pride on Eidelman’s part for his first major film scoring assignment – and listening to this expanded release, which finally puts every note of the movie’s music in fans’ hands, it must be said that any such pride is certainly justified.

Star Trek VI was a movie that almost didn’t happen. The William Shatner-directed Trek V bombed at the box office once word got out about its utterly goofy treatment of philosophical subject matter that had big implications, and it proved to be Shatner’s only directorial turn in the franchise, and the last stop for producer Harve Bennett, who, had turned the Trek films into a Big Deal with Star Trek II. But 1991 was the 25th anniversary of the premiere of the original Star Trek, and Paramount wanted to make a Big Deal out of that too, and so it took stock of the other driving creative forces behind Trek II and Trek IV, the series’ most successful films. A sixth movie would happen after all, shepherded to the screen by director Nicholas Meyer and Leonard Nimoy, surrending his director’s seat to produce the final film to feature the full original cast.

Meyer’s original musical idea was to adapt either Holst’s The Planets or Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite – basically pulling a Kubrick and scoring the movie with existing classical music. Composer Cliff Eidelman, chosen for his strong classical background, got a break when Holst’s estate refused to allow The Planets to be licensed or altered without a gigantic price tag: he would get to compose an original score with hints of both Stravinsky and Holst’s stylistic trappings. The result was something far darker than anything the Star Trek films had been graced with before, including the first use of choir in the Trek movies. Only fleeting references to prior scores in the film series would be made; Trek VI happened further in the future than any of the previous films and would have a stand-alone sound. A scary and glorious stand-alone sound, too, with Eidelman not holding back on playing up the implications of impending war between the Federation and its enemies, and the willingness of almost all parties to sacrifice Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy as pawns in the rapidly escalating hostilities.

The second disc of this two-disc set features a remastered edition of the original 1991 soundtrack album, which we covered back when The Undiscovered Country was a relatively recent arrival in theaters. The first disc presents the music as heard in the film itself, which sometimes means entire pieces of music that haven’t been heard before, and sometimes means subtly different versions of the pieces you’re already familiar with. It may not hurt to listen to this version first, so it’s easier to spot the missing material added to the complete score on disc one. Some of the missing material flies past pretty quickly, but as always, it encompasses key moments that weren’t incorporated into the original soundtrack release. Scenes that were on the original soundtrack but weren’t heard in full include the Excelsior crew receiving a message about a Chernobyl-like “incident” at a Klingon power plant, Kirk receiving his orders to attempt peace with the Klingons, and Kirk’s trial on a brutal Klingon prison planet after he’s accused of assassinating the Klingons’ leader at that peace summit.

Fans of the original soundtrack and the movie know by now that the original CD’s “Battle For Peace” track – an eight-minute orchestral assault – left some stuff out, including, ironically, silence. The expanded version of this lengthy battle scene is now complete, including those conveniently-timed pauses for Kirk and Sulu to issue their respective orders to destroy the pesky Klingon Bird of Prey whose commander is fighting to keep both worlds at war.

The most interesting and showy material among the previously unissued tracks center around the Enterprise crew’s search for evidence to lead them to the real assassins. In the movie, this search took the form of several vignettes as planted evidence was repeatedly found, leading to the wrong suspects, but it’s surprisingly good music that shows no ambitions toward low-key subtlety. The other new and interesting material is music that isn’t from the movie at all. Star Trek VI was the first and only Star Trek film to this day to have custom-scored trailers. Earlier films tended to rely on mashups of music from earlier Star Trek movies for their trailers, and even the very first Trek movie had trailers choppily scored with pieces of Jerry Goldsmith’s immortal music, often clumsily hacked to pieces in the editing room. For Trek VI, Cliff Eidelman scored his own trailers, offering the audience a preview of the music as well as the movie. Not edited together from the score, the trailers are custom-made creations that use the same themes in a kind of rapid-fire greatest-hits style. This is the first time that music has been released, and it’s pretty neat to hear.

Star Trek music expert Jeff Bond, who still needs to update his excellent 1999 book “The Music Of Star Trek: Profiles In Style”, and Film Score Monthly Trek music savior Lukas Kendall provide some of the best liner notes in the business, detailing the creation of both the movie and its music, rounding out the package. As with its Star Trek IV soundtrack, Intrada has wisely forgone its usual route of limiting this soundtrack to an arbitrary print run of 3,000 copies – there are enough copies for everyone who wants one.

Star Trek music fans have been graced with a wealth of re-releases and never-before-released material from both the movie and TV franchises in the past three years (like his movie or not, you can probably thank J.J. Abrams for raising Star Trek’s public profile enough to make that possible). Now, of course, everyone’s licking their lips and hoping for another re-release of Goldsmith’s music from the first film, hopefully this time in complete form. (I wouldn’t object if the next project was Dennis McCarthy’s criminally-underrated Star Trek: Generations score, 4 out of 4but I suspect I’m in the minority there; McCarthy has a small but loyal base of fans, of which I count myself one, while Goldsmith now has a cult of worshippers who’ll buy anything with the man’s name on it.) The ongoing expand-and-reissue project, however, has been nothing short of a delight for the ears, and Star Trek VI will keep me more than happy until the next re-release.

Order this CD

    Disc One: complete score

  1. Overture (3:02)
  2. The Incident (1:09)
  3. Spacedock / Clear All Moorings (1:59)
  4. Spock’s Wisdom (3:13)
  5. Guess Who’s Coming (0:49)
  6. Assassination (2:16)
  7. Surrender For Peace (2:48)
  8. The Death Of Gorkon (2:07)
  9. The Trial / Morally Unjust Evidence (1:13)
  10. Sentencing (1:02)
  11. Rura Penthe / First Sight Of Rura Penthe (4:09)
  12. Alien Fight (1:05)
  13. First Evidence / The Search (1:33)
  14. Escape From Rura Penthe (5:35)
  15. The Mirror (1:17)
  16. Revealed (2:48)
  17. Mind Meld (2:06)
  18. Dining On Ashes (1:01)
  19. The Battle For Peace / The Final Chance For Peace / The Final Count (8:15)
  20. The Undiscovered Country (1:07)
  21. Sign Off (3:16)
  22. Star Trek VI End Credits Suite (6:17)
  23. Trailer (take 10) (2:23)
  24. Guess Who’s Coming (alternate) (0:51)
  25. Sign Off (alternate) (3:31)
  26. Trailer (take 2) (2:20)
    Disc Two – original 1991 album

  1. Overture (2:57)
  2. An Incident (0:53)
  3. Clear All Moorings (1:39)
  4. Assassination (4:45)
  5. Surrender Dor Peace (2:46)
  6. Death Of Gorkon (1:10)
  7. Rura Penthe (4:22)
  8. Revealed (2:38)
  9. Escape From Rura Penthe (5:34)
  10. Dining On Ashes (1:00)
  11. The Battle For Peace (8:03)
  12. Sign Off (3:13)
  13. Star Trek VI Suite (6:18)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: 2012
Disc one total running time: 67:14
Disc two total running time: 45:!7

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. Continue reading

R.E.M. – Out of Time

Out of TimeI first heard “Losing My Religion” on a Top 40 radio station shortly after its release. I thought it was an OK song, but nothing special. I was clearly in the minority in that view, as the single and video became hugely popular. Eventually I borrowed a copy of Out of Time from a friend, and I’ve been an R.E.M. fan ever since. The album, the band’s best-selling in the United States, is full of beautiful songs that highlight R.E.M.’s eagerness to challenge conventions and shake up its own status quo.

After turning out pretty much an album a year throughout the 80s, Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe slowed down for the writing of Out of Time. They often switched instruments; Berry, for example, wrote most of the bass lines while Mills worked heavily with pianos and keyboards. They brought in unusual instrumentation, like the harpsichord on “Half a World Away,” and guest vocalists like the B-52s’ Kate Pearson (on “Shiny Happy People” and “Me In Honey”) and KRS-One (on “Radio Song”). Mike Mills sang lead vocals on not one but two songs, “Near Wild Heaven” and “Texarkana.” (I love Mills’ work, but I think he’s better suited for support and backup vocals. He does do a nice job on “Texarkana,” whose lyrics he wrote when Stipe found himself unable to come up with anything for the song.) Stipe decided to personalize his lyrics; he described Out of Time as an album full of love songs, after having heavily mined political territory on the band’s previous three albums. The ornate arrangements work very well; Buck described the band as “rock and roll band that plays sitting down” in this time period, and it’s a very apt description.

rating: 4 out of 4 While “Losing My Religion” has certainly grown on me over the years, it’s still not my favorite song on the album. I prefer “Radio Song,” “Me in Honey,” and “Half a World Away.” In none of those songs am I very confident about what Stipe is trying to say, although I think the emotion of his vocal performance more than makes up for the ambiguity of his lyrics. Musically, the first two are among the faster-paced, clearly-rock songs on the album, while the latter’s harpsichord makes it the most frequently cited example of the album’s “baroque” influence. Slower songs like “Low” and “Endgame” have to strike me in the right frame of mind; they have the potential to simply come off as depressing, but in the right context they’re both meditative and cathartic. The mournful “Country Feedback” has become quite popular amongst the band’s fan base; in fact, it was the most requested song of the band’s 2003 tour.

Order this CD

  1. Radio Song (4:12)
  2. Losing My Relgion (4:26)
  3. Low (4:55)
  4. Near Wild Heaven (3:17)
  5. Endgame (3:48)
  6. Shiny Happy People (3:44)
  7. Belong (4:03)
  8. Half a World Away (3:26)
  9. Texarkana (3:36)
  10. Country Feedback (4:07)
  11. Me In Honey (4:06)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1991
Total running time: 44:10