Star Trek: First Contact (Newly Expanded Edition)

Star Trek: First Contact (Newly Expanded Edition)Though it really shouldn’t have been surprising after the recent glut of remastered soundtracks from the Kirk-era Star Trek movie franchise, the sudden announcement of a complete and remastered Star Trek: First Contact soundtrack took many by surprise. It came from a label that had been dormant for years – GNP Crescendo had a seemingly absolute lock on all Star Trek soundtrack releases throughout the 1990s – and it was the first remastered soundtrack from the shorter big-screen run of the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew.

Of course, First Contact was the first (and arguably only) undisputed success among the TNG-era films, and marked the return of Jerry Goldsmith to the Star Trek film franchise, so it’s an obvious starting point for the TNG movie soundtrack remasters. (Three TNG-era movies’ soundtracks remain to be remastered and expanded, and two of them – Generations and Insurrection – were previously released by Crescendo, making it almost certain that Crescendo will be releasing the expanded editions.)

The original 1996 soundtrack release of First Contact was hampered by two factors: the punishing cost of licensing more than 40 minutes of music recorded by a union orchestra for a soundtrack release, and a somewhat arbitrary decision to slant the original soundtrack heavily in favor of music by Jerry Goldsmith. Almost a quarter of the movie was actually scored by Joel Goldsmith, who would later make his mark on the genre by scoring the vast majority of the Stargate TV franchise, due to Jerry Goldsmith’s busy schedule. The liner notes even point out that executive producer Rick Berman and director/co-star Jonathan “Riker” Frakes greeted this development by pointing out that they’d paid for Jerry Goldsmith to score their movie. As it so happens, the elder Goldsmith played a thundering action cue that impressed everyone in the room – and then revealed that his son had written it. But that didn’t mean that Joel’s music would find its way onto the original soundtrack release: the same silly argument cropped up. The CD cover said “music by Jerry Goldsmith,” and album producer Neil Norman was determined to deliver on that. The payoff there is that Joel Goldsmith was responsible for the music to the one scene in the movie that everyone bought a ticket to see, the first warp flight by Zefram Cochrane. That was, without a doubt, First Contact‘s money shot. I remember seeing the movie in the theater the first time with my friend Mark, who said “Holy shit!” out loud when the Phoenix deployed its warp engines from its Titan missile casing. It was built up as the movie’s “holy shit!” moment from the word go, and it got “holy shit!” music from the junior Goldsmith – which Crescendo then proceeded to omit from the album on the ground that the cue wasn’t composed by Jerry Goldsmith.

That cue, “Flight Of The Phoenix”, has been… obtainable, for the lack of a better way to put it, as part of a bootleg First Contact score that’s been circulating since the Napster days. However, this single-disc release has been remastered by the same team responsible for the previous Trek movie score remasters, and it’s never sounded this good. With all due respect to the now-departed “dean of movie music,” as Trek TV composer Dennis McCarthy once called him, “Flight Of The Phoenix” is the highlight of the restored full-length soundtrack, just as it was in the movie itself. It’s ironic that arguably the most iconic piece of music in a score attributed to Jerry Goldsmith was composed by his son. Stargate fans will also want to check out Joel’s cues here as a precursor to the up-and-coming composer’s body of work for that franchise (SG-1 was about a year away from premiering at the time of First Contact‘s release).

For those who, like the label circa 1996, are more interested in Goldsmith Sr.’s work, there are unreleased cues by him as well. One of the more intriguing ones is “Borg Montage”, a brief, menacing cue covering several shot Borg-related interludes aboard the Enterprise-E, culminating in a hapless security team wandering into a dimly-lit space which is then illuminated by the laser sights of several approaching Borg. There are two versions of this cue – one used in the movie, and a significantly different one with a more martial approach – and both are vintage Goldsmith with a big brassy flourish at the end.

If you want Steppenwolf or Roy Orbison this time around, there are other sources for those tracks, and in the intervening years they’ve almost certainly been remastered too.

The return of Crescendo Records to the soundtrack arena, especially with the full release of First Contact in hand, is a welcome one, especially when some of the soundtrack specialty labels are calling it a day in the current economy (Film Score Monthly) or beginning to split their release schedules between classic remasters and brand new releases (Intrada). The liner notes booklet – both the printed one with the disc and the downloadable PDF “booklet” (more like one giant, unending vertical strip, possibly representing the first-ever soundtrack liner notes wall 4 out of 4scroll) – looks like it just woke up from ’96, however. The cover layout also shows no attempt to mesh with the general cover design that’s been established for the other Star Trek movie score remasters to date, so maybe a visual rethink might be in order before Crescendo turns out another remastered Trek soundtrack. In the end, though, it’s the music that matters, and this release delivers an increase in both sound quality and quantity. Hopefully it delivers enough sales to Crescendo’s doorstep to merit upgraded releases of Generations and Insurrection.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title / Locutus (4:18)
  2. How Many Ships (0:31)
  3. Battle Watch (1:13)
  4. Red Alert (2:16)
  5. Temporal Wake (2:11)
  6. Shields Down (1:48)
  7. The Phoenix (1:04)
  8. They’re Here (0:28)
  9. 39.1 Degrees Celsius (4:48)
  10. Search For The Borg (1:53)
  11. Retreat (4:01)
  12. No Success (1:33)
  13. Borg Montage (1:03)
  14. Welcome Aboard (2:43)
  15. Stimulation (1:08)
  16. Smorgasborg (1:30)
  17. Getting Ready (1:36)
  18. Fully Functional (3:22)
  19. The Dish (7:09)
  20. Objection Noted (1:57)
  21. Not Again (2:44)
  22. Evacuate (2:24)
  23. New Orders / All The Time (3:52)
  24. Flight Of The Phoenix (6:23)
  25. First Contact (6:03)
  26. End Credits (5:32)
  27. The Phoenix [alternate] (1:10)
  28. Borg Montage [alternate] (1:20)
  29. Main Title [alternate] (2:54)

Released by: GNP Crescendo Records
Release date: 2012
Total running time: 78:54

Independence Day: The Complete Score

Independence Day: The Complete ScoreThe soundtrack from Independence Day – or at least some of it – has already seen the light of day in a soundtrack release concurrent with the movie’s 1996 release, but by overwhelming demand, La-La Land Records has revisited this blockbuster’s music, with every note of the final score spread across two discs and the obligatory copious liner notes. The original big-screen version of Stargate may have given Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin and frequent musical collaborator David Arnold their first taste of the big time, but ID4 all but made them household names. Arnold has gone on to find success and steady work, most recently in the James Bond films (where he’s proven to be one of the few major behind-the-scenes figures to survive the transition from the Pierce Brosnan era to the Daniel Craig era), so there’s gotta be something to all the hype.

If ID4 was the audition for a stellar career, Arnold passed with flying colors. The music from ID4 is epic, with a capital EPIC: nothing is downplayed, and to be honest, very little is played with subtlety. But even the interviews with the filmmakers in the booklet confirm what I’ve always felt about ID4: it’s a big and largely un-intellectual popcorn movie which delights in blowing stuff up real big and dishing out crowd-pleasing one-liners, both visual and verbal. (C’mon, there is something humorously satisfying about Will Smith beating the crap out of a crashed alien pilot in hand-to-tentacle combat.) ID4 isn’t a movie that demanded subtlety from its musical score. Arnold knew exactly what kind of movie he was working on, and delivered music worthy of a blockbuster, loaded down with instantly identifiable leitmotives and themes.

The new album spreads the complete original score, note for note as heard in the movie, across the first CD and about a quarter of the second CD. The rest of the second CD includes unused alternate versions of many scenes, as well as stripped-down versions of cues that originally featured choir. These tracks are fully orchestral, but let you focus only on what the orchestra’s doing. It’s a neat trick, and an economical one since musicians’ union rules charge even more for a recording featuring a choir than an orchestral recording alone can charge. The original single-CD release from 1996 was no slouch and featured a generous amount of music from major scenes, at a time when many soundtrack CDs were starting to clock in at about 40-45 minutes due to the costs of paying every orchestral musician and every singer for every minute of their music being published. La-La Land took a real risk on reissuing the complete soundtrack: it was a far more expensive proposition (for the label), and it’s not exactly a new movie. (It’s not an obscure movie either, though, which is probably the saving grace of the new ID4 soundtrack.)

It almost goes without saying that the highlights on either disc are the major action setpieces. Few of the quieter moments are nearly as memorable: in going back to listen to “The President’s Speech”, the music wasn’t quite as inspirational as I seemed to remember. The alternate takes are interesting stuff, though: if you own the DVD of ID4, you know that a very different ending was originally planned before the producers decided to go for a more credibility-stretching (but, again, crowd-pleasing) conclusion, and the music for that rejected sequence can be found here. The other alternate takes range from minor differences in musical emphasis 4 out of 4and arrangement, to more major changes that are likely the symptoms of constant changes to the movie in the editing room.

It’s good foreground listening material, and well worth the purchase price. ID4‘s soundtrack isn’t subtle, but neither was the movie. Sometimes you just need good accompaniment for big explosions. That would be this soundtrack.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. 1969: We Came In Peace (2:01)
  2. S.E.T.I. – Radio Signal (1:53)
  3. Mysto Bridge /Satellite Collision / Destroyers Disengage / Russell Casse, Pilot (2:17)
  4. First Sighting /AWAC Attack (2:18)
  5. The Darkest Day (4:14)
  6. Moving Day / Countdown (2:12)
  7. Cancelled Leave (1:46)
  8. Commence Lift-off / Parabolic Indenwhat? (1:17)
  9. Evacuation (5:48)
  10. Firestorm (1:24)
  11. Aftermath (3:36)
  12. Base Attack (6:11)
  13. Marilyn Found (1:29)
  14. Area 51 / The Big Tamale / Formaldehyde Freak Show (4:12)
  15. El Toro Destroyed (1:31)
  16. Slimey Wakes Up (5:24)
  17. Target Remains / Rescue (5:56)
  18. The Death of Marilyn / Dad’s A Genius (3:34)
  19. Alien Ship Powers Up (1:46)
  20. International Code (1:32)
  21. Wedding (1:50)
  22. The President’s Speech (3:11)
    Disc Two

  1. Just In Case /Attacker Fires Up (3:10)
  2. The Launch Tunnel /Mutha Ship / Virus Uploaded (8:27)
  3. Hide! / Russell’s Packin’ (The Day We Fight Back) (4:44)
  4. He Did It (1:33)
  5. Jolly Roger (3:17)
  6. Victory (3:40)
  7. End Credits (9:07)
  8. 1969: We Came In Peace (Alternate Take) (2:11)
  9. Destroyers Disengage (No Choir) (0:34)
  10. Cancelled Leave (Alternate Take) (1:43)
  11. Commence Lift-off (Alternate Take) (0:55)
  12. Base Attack (Segment – Film Version) (2:27)
  13. Marilyn Found (No Choir) (1:28)
  14. Target Remains/Rescue (Alternate Take) (2:40)
  15. Dad’s A Genius (Alternate Take) (0:45)
  16. Attacker Fires Up (Original Version – No Choir) (2:01)
  17. Virus Uploaded (Alternate Take) (2:35)
  18. The Day We Fight Back (Original Version) (5:48)
  19. Jolly Roger (Alternate Take) (3:22)
  20. End Credits (Segment, No Choir) (2:47)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2010
Disc one total running time: 65:31
Disc two total running time: 63:34

The Idle Race – Back To The Story

The Idle Race - Back To The StoryIn the post-Sgt. Pepper 1960s, many an up-and-coming British band longed to be the next Beatles, and with record labels hitching their wagons to the musical “British invasion” of America, there was certainly no shortage of success stories. Some bands, however, by choice or by fate, remained strictly local concerns – and such was the case with the Idle Race, a Birmingham group that rose from the ashes of a previous local band, Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders, after Sheridan left the band and a young guitarist named Jeff Lynne joined up. Even while the band was still actively recording and playing live, Idle Race won critical acclaim (including from the Beatles themselves, who invited the band to sit in on some sessions for the White Album)…and sold so few records that the band might’ve vanished into local history but for one of its members’ later success. Back To The Story is a 2-CD set that collects all three of the albums recorded by the Idle Race – two with Lynne in the driver’s seat (including his first credit as producer), and one recorded after his departure.

An utterly charming little slice of obscure ’60s psychedelia, The Birthday Party is the Idle Race’s debut effort, boasting intricate arrangements, some teriffic vocal harmonies, and even a studio string section, quite an unusual luxury for such a young group. The harmonies and the sense of whimsy running through both music and lyrics are clear evidence of a Beatles influence, though there are also touches that might remind keen-eared listeners of the Byrds here and there.

The Idle Race - The Birthday PartyBy modern standards, The Birthday Party is barely an EP, not even weighing in at half an hour, but the songs are layered enough to merit repeat listening. Where there’s lyrical whimsy, it’s almost too much at times, with “I Like My Toys” and “Sitting In My Tree” sticking out in that regard; depending on your mood, it’ll either be a little too saccharine, or endearingly childlike. It’s in numbers like “Follow Me Follow” and especially “The Lady Who Said She Could Fly” that the real potential of the group is exposed, and they’re a revelation – decent rock numbers with a nice string arrangement woven into and around the Idle Race’s basic rhythm section. The songs leave a huge impression – honestly, why they haven’t been covered is a total mystery to me – and they show that the group’s young lead vocalist (and self-appointed rookie producer) Jeff Lynne had some very clear ideas about what he’d do with a studio and a band at his disposal. Despite overtures (ha!) from his friend Roy Wood to join The Move, Lynne stubbornly stuck it out with the Idle Race for another album.

The Idle RaceThat album was the self-titled The Idle Race, and while Lynne’s songwriting and production are still front and center, somehow the second album doesn’t just reach out and grab me the same way that The Birthday Party does. In a few places, Lynne is reaching too far for the kind of Beatlesque affectations that many critics accuse him of being about for his whole career. If you thought Lynne was trying too hard to set up shop on the Fab Four’s turf during his ELO career, stay right away from The Idle Race here. There is one bona fide gorgeous Lynne classic on here in the form of “Follow Me Follow”, which just about makes the whole album worthwhile. “Come With Me”, “Sea Of Dreams” and “Going Home” are a nice triple-act right at the beginning of the album…but all this means is that The Idle Race has an extremely soft center. The second CD kicks off with a selection of non-album singles and B-sides, which are also a mixed bag; I thought I’d get a big kick out of hearing Lynne cover his buddy Roy Wood’s “(Here We Go ‘Round) The Lemon Tree”, originally performed by the Move (and with Roy Wood sitting in on this cover version), but while it’s a faithful enough rendition musically, the production touches are a bit much – this is Lynne at an age where he was getting a big charge out of being The Producer, and he was throwing everything plus the kitchen sink at the job, whether the song called for it or not. There’s a really good cover of “In The Summertime”, dating from the band’s brief post-Lynne era, but it differentiates itself so very little from the original that you might as well stick to Mungo Jerry.

The Idle Race - Time Is...In any case, Jeff Lynne did ultimately join the Move and, with Wood, later formed ELO; his Idle Race cohorts released a third album, Time Is…, which sounds absolutely nothing like Lynne-era Idle Race. Roger Spencer and the other members of the group steered things into a more mainstream psychedelic rock vein, and while there are some nice tunes to be found on the group’s swan song, you have to keep in mind that this is solid 1969/1970 material a year or two past its sell-by date. These songs slid right under the radar because music had moved on – Led Zeppelin was in full force, and even the Move was busting out mind-blowers like “Open Up Said The World At The Door”.

Thus ends the complete catalog of the Idle Race – enough to fill two CDs, with space left over for both sides of the final Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders single, and a few alternate versions. (Hey, albums were shorter back then.) The alternate takes of three songs – including the gorgeous “Follow Me Follow” – quickly reveal why the versions we’re used to are what made it onto the albums. “Follow” in particular is marred, in this recording, by a strange effect on the vocals during the chorus; at best, this bit of “producing” is just unbecoming considering the rest of the song’s beauty.

3 out of 4
A “complete recordings” box set is due later this year, rumored to span more than twice as many discs as this set, but between my own post-baby budget and my ambivalence about the material presented in this collection, I’m going to have to see some awfully good reviews and see some awfully tempting stuff on the tracklist before I blow my money on it. For most people, even diehard fans who “Follow Me Follow” Jeff Lynne wherever he goes, this complete presentation of the Idle Race’s commercially released material will do nicely.

Order this CD

    Disc one
    The Birthday Party

  1. The Skeleton and the Roundabout (2:21)
  2. Happy Birthday / The Birthday Party (3:23)
  3. I Like My Toys (2:10)
  4. The Morning Sunshine (1:46)
  5. Follow Me Follow (2:48)
  6. Sitting In My Tree (1:53)
  7. On With The Show (2:22)
  8. Lucky Man (2:37)
  9. (Don’t Put Your Boys In The Army) Mrs. Ward (2:13)
  10. Pie In The Sky (2:27)
  11. The Lady Who Said She Could Fly (2:19)
  12. End Of The Road (2:09)
  13. The Idle Race

  14. Come With Me (2:45)
  15. Sea Of Dreams (3:13)
  16. Going Home (3:44)
  17. Reminds Me Of You (2:54)
  18. Mr. Crow And Sir Norman (3:17)
  19. Please No More Sad Songs (3:21)
  20. Girl At The Window (3:44)
  21. Big Chief Woolly Bosher (5:15)
  22. Someone Knocking (2:56)
  23. A Better Life (The Weather Man Knows) (2:45)
  24. Hurry Up John (3:33)
  25. Bonus tracks

  26. Lucky Man (alternate take) (2:35)
  27. Follow Me Follow (alternate take) (1:56)
  28. Days Of Broken Arrows (alternate take) (3:39)
    Disc two
    Singles & B-sides

  1. (Here We Go ‘Round) The Lemon Tree (2:44)
  2. My Father’s Son (2:15)
  3. Impostors Of Life’s Magazine (2:21)
  4. Knocking Nails Into My House (2:27)
  5. Days Of The Broken Arrows (3:51)
  6. Worn Red Carpet (3:03)
  7. In The Summertime (2:58)
  8. Told You Twice (3:38)
  9. Neanderthal Man (3:56)
  10. Victim Of Circumstance (3:36)
  11. Time Is

  12. Dancing Flower (2:14)
  13. Sad O’ Sad (3:28)
  14. The Clock (3:23)
  15. I Will See You (3:11)
  16. By The Sun (6:42)
  17. Alcatraz (4:02)
  18. And The Rain (2:52)
  19. She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune (3:07)
  20. Bitter Green (3:45)
  21. We Want It All (4:13)
  22. Mike Sheridan & The Nightriders

  23. It’s Only the Dog (2:15)
  24. Your Friend (3:22)

Released by: EMI
Release date: 1996 (re-released in 2007 without Nightriders tracks)
Disc one total running time: 74:26
Disc two total running time: 73:23

Yum Yum Children – Used To Would’ve

Yum Yum Children - Used To Would've Usually when you think of the genres “psychedelic” and “Christian”, it’s not in the same sentence. However, that’s exactly what the band Yum Yum Children was trying to accomplish. Recorded in 1996, this album sounds like a slab of lost 70’s rock just recently getting unearthed for the first time.

The album starts off with the light rocker “Leave It Alone”, which brings to mind the earlier bubblegum records of yore, albeit with more guitars and electric organs. From there, however, things get stranger. “End Of My Needs” lumbers along with a single guitar lead, a hi-hat, and lead singer R. Leon Goodenough’s vocals quietly hanging above the music. Halfway through, the song picks up, adding more guitars and percussion while changing the tempo, and then comes around full circle to start the second verse. “Refrigerator” is similar in execution, but resembles a slow jam. The amplifier buzz in the background again brings to mind a lo-fi 70’s vibe.

“Burnin’ Thing” starts out as a soft piano…err, organ ballad, but quickly turns into a mess of noise, complete with screeching guitars and vocals. But even so, the oddest track by far is the closing number “Life Without Jesus”, in which the female vocalist of the band, Jennifer Goodenough, recites a spoken word poem while guitars and a Farfisa organ swirl around. The band slowly picks up the tempo and the volume until it sounds like the band is ready to lose it while wordless vocalizing is heard in the background. The track ends with a bang, and the organs fade away.

4 out of 4It’s a shame that the Yum Yum Children were so mired in obscurity. This and their previous two albums (Dufisized and Tastythanks) were released with little or no fanfare from their record label, and they soon faded away afterwards. The good news is that if you happen to stumble upon this disc, it can usually be had for cheap. But for a group that was able to meld two different trains of thought to create something original (especially within the hard-nosed Christian community), they deserved much better.

Order this CD

  1. Leave It Alone (3:05)
  2. Irrigate (3:07)
  3. The Too Big Dying Part (3:11)
  4. End Of My Needs (5:12)
  5. Refrigerator (4:23)
  6. Naked (3:23)
  7. Kind And Loving Man (2:11)
  8. Daze Of Un-Understanding (3:22)
  9. Burnin’ Thing (3:09)
  10. Be Like You (2:05)
  11. Life Without Jesus (4:14)

Released by: Five Minute Walk
Release date: 1996
Total running time: 37:44

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

R.E.M. – New Adventures in Hi-Fi

New Adventures in Hi-FiIt was clear during the recording of New Adventures in Hi-Fi that an era of R.E.M. history was coming to a close. The band’s tenth studio album was their fifth and final record of their initial contract with Warner Bros.; their relationship with longtime manager Jefferson Holt was deteriorating; and perhaps most importantly (at the time), longtime collaborator Scott Litt had announced that this would be his last time in the producer’s chair. The biggest milestone, however, was only clear in retrospect. A year after the album’s release, drummer Bill Berry retired, making New Adventures the last album written and performed by the original lineup of Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe. Fortunately, they turned out one of their finest efforts, a stirring album that serves to highlight the band’s diversity.

While not exactly a “road record,” a sense of travel and searching does fill the album. Several of the songs were written and recorded during soundchecks and performances on the 1995 Monster tour and have its hard guitar/feedback-heavy sound. “Binky the Doormat,” “Departure,” “Undertow,” and “The Wake-Up Bomb” had in fact all worked their way into the setlist by the end of the tour, and the album versions do a good job of capturing the energy of the live performances. My favorite song, “Leave,” was recorded during a soundcheck in Atlanta. The seven-minute track opens with an acoustic guitar intro by Berry, then kicks into gear with a siren-like feedback trail produced by backup musician Scott McCaughey holding a single key on an old Arp Odyssey keyboard and moving the octave switch back and forth – a wrist-numbing effort that meant the band could only rehearse the song on alternating days. The effort certainly paid off – the keyboard wail pushes the song along without overwhelming the other keyboards and guitar work. There’s a sense of overwhelming pressure, and Stipe’s vocals play off the music to convey the desperate desire to escape that weight. (Stipe himself said he wasn’t pleased with his performance on this song, and later re-recorded it for a much shorter and far less intense version. So go figure.)

After the tour, the band reworked some of the live tracks in the studio, bringing some of the complexity and production techniques that marked the band’s two biggest albums to the more energetic rock songs. Bittersweet Me, for example, benefits from additional keyboards from Mills supporting some fine Buck guitar work. The song mines some of the same thematic territory as “Leave” – I can feel the longing in the bridge thanks to Stipe and Mills’ vocals – but the brisker tempo also cuts the edge a little bit and makes the song almost wistful. “Be Mine,” an almost-but-not-quite power ballad, was originally demoed on a tour bus but was re-recorded in the studio, keeping only a bit of driver chatter as an intro. The almost-but-not-quite was a deliberate choice by the band, and I think it works well. At first listen, it sounds like a surprisingly sweet love song from Stipe – but as he’s pointed out in interviews, the lyrics are totally centered on the narrator’s desires, bringing an undercurrent of selfishness to the mix.

Several new songs were also added during the studio process. One of them, “E-Bow the Letter,” features guest vocals by Patti Smith, a shared musical idol of Buck and Stipe. The band insisted on making this “folk rock dirge” the album’s lead single – which was such a disastrous choice that the band started leaving such decisions up to the record label. It’s far from my favorite song on the album, and even in the grunge/alternative days of 1996, it wasn’t hugely radio-friendly. In the context of the album, though, it works. More successful is “New Test Leper,” one of a handful of songs that hearken to the more acoustic sound of Out of Time and Automatic for the People. The combination of Mills on organ and Buck on acoustic guitar makes the song almost float as Stipe plays the part of a tabloid talk show guest irked at audience, host, and fellow guests alike.

rating: 4 out of 4 A brief instrumental, “Zither,” was recorded in the bathroom of the arena in Philadelphia, whose acoustics the band found particularly attractive. Berry stepped out from behind the drums on this one as well, playing bass. It makes for a nice interlude between “Binky” and “So Fast, So Numb,” a similarly energetic electric-guitar track. The album’s final song, “Electrolite,” brings in violin and banjo with Mills’ piano to create a fairly cheerful end to things, as Stipe sings, “I’m not scared, I’m outta here.”

Fitting words, indeed.

Order this CD

  1. How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us (4:31)
  2. The Wake-Up Bomb (5:08)
  3. New Test Leper (5:26)
  4. Undertow (5:09)
  5. E-Bow the Letter (5:24)
  6. Leave (7:17)
  7. Departure (3:29)
  8. Bittersweet Me (4:05)
  9. Be Mine (5:33)
  10. Binky the Doormat (5:01)
  11. Zither (2:34)
  12. So Fast, So Numb (4:12)
  13. Low Desert (3:31)
  14. Electrolite (4:05)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1996
Total running time: 65:31

Command & Conquer: Red Alert

Command & Conquer: Red Alert Another blast of raw energy from the other C&C music factory, Frank Klepacki’s music from the immensely popular Red Alert PC strategy game brings into sharp focus the elements that made his music from Command & Conquer such a compelling listen even away from the computer. Gone are most of the soundbytes within the music (the chilling refrain of film-footage “sieg heil” samples in “Hell March” being an exception), Klepacki brings in da funk in full force. “Mud” is perhaps the best example of what he achieves with the music from this game: funky, atmospheric, moody, and rhythmic, without relying on a hit-you-over-the-head-with-it, four-beats-to-the-measure techno beat at all times. 4 out of 4Though further games (and soundtracks) in the Command & Conquer series were released, their music seldom got better than this.

Though it was offered on Westwood Studios’ site for a long time, The Music Of Command & Conquer: Red Alert is now out of print.

Order this CD

  1. Hell March (6:24)
  2. Radio (4:05)
  3. Crush (3:49)
  4. Roll Out (3:54)
  5. Mud (4:48)
  6. Twin Cannon (3:55)
  7. Face The Enemy (5:36)
  8. Run (5:13)
  9. Terminate (5:20)
  10. Big Foot (5:15)
  11. Workmen (4:44)
  12. Militant Force (1:50)
  13. Dense (5:02)
  14. Vector (4:18)
  15. Smash (8:07)

Released by: Westwood Studios / Electronic Arts
Release date: 1996
Total running time: 72:20