Doctor Who: The Rapture – music by Jim Mortimore

Doctor Who: The RaptureIn 2002, Big Finish Productions released The Rapture, a Doctor Who audio play which had the distinction of being the first professionally-published work by one Joe Lidster (who went on to do more for Big Finish before being snatched up by the BBC itself), and of being one of the most controversial things the company had produced up to that point. Plucking the seventh Doctor and Ace out of tea time TV and dropping them into a storyline at an all-week rave complete with sex and drugs was too much for some fans’ tender sensibilities. And The Rapture had some awesome music – real club music, not some soundtrack-composer-for-hire’s second-hand impression of real EDM. Composer Jim Mortimore, in addition to having written Doctor Who novels and audio stories in the past, had also enjoyed a second career, playing live music at raves through much of the 1990s. To say that The Rapture‘s music is merely authentic is probably underselling it. It’s the real deal.

In 2012, via Bandcamp, Mortimore released three CDs’ worth of music from an audio story (whose narrative running time was only enough to take up two CDs). Drawing from his ’90s recordings as well as concocting an entire CD worth of new music, and bringing collaborators Jane Elphinstone and Simon Robinson on board, Mortimore presented Big Finish with a series of pieces that would be excerpted as needed for The Rapture, with some music heard only briefly in the background mix at the story’s titular nightclub and with other pieces – the specially composed ones – more prominently placed in the foreground. A few Rapture tracks had previously been presented on a Big Finish soundtrack CD in the past, but were savagely edited down to two and three minute running lengths: most of the tracks in their original form run close to eight minutes long, and are better for it, with the melodies developing a bit more naturally. Tracks such as “Over Me” show much deeper layers and arrangements than the edited-down versions hinted at.

The “A Side” covers all of the music composed expressly for The Rapture, while the “B Side” tracks are the full-length tracks Mortimore presented from his ’90s work for inclusion in the background of several scenes. (Again, the average length is about eight minutes; most of the excerpts of these pieces in the finished audio play could be measured in seconds or maybe as many as a couple of minutes.) The “E Side” consists of downtempo tracks, one of them quite lengthy; whether the “E” is for “epic”, “ecstasy”, or “etheral” is up for you to decide.

4 out of 4Many times over the years I’ve dragged out that Big Finish soundtrack and its woefully truncated soundtrack for The Rapture because it’s ridiculously good music by which to write. Color me “E” for “elated” that the full tracks – and more of them – are now available. And gloriously, “Doctored Who” gives us the full-length rave remix of Delia Derbyshire’s Doctor Who theme. Whether or not the story of The Rapture is worth the listening time is something that’s still hotly debated in Doctor Who fan circles, but its soundtrack is undoubtedly worth the listening time for audiences far beyond Doctor Who fandom.

Order

    “Side A”

  1. Over Me (7:02)
  2. On The Beach (6:01)
  3. Rebirth (7:46)
  4. Brook Of Eden (8:07)
  5. Freestyle (6:34)
  6. Sorted (6:31)
  7. Jude’s Law (9:09)
  8. Pink Pulloff (4:52)
  9. Music Of The Spheres (6:10)
  10. Gloves Off (3:40)
  11. Doctored Who (2:10)
  12. “Side B”

  13. Kanhra (8:18)
  14. Udu (8:08)
  15. Uracas (8:16)
  16. Xanthulu (7:17)
  17. Mahser Dagi (8:07)
  18. “Side E”

  19. Sven’s Wrath (3:39)
  20. Radio Beach (5:32)
  21. Ice Floes At Twilight (35:20)
  22. Phases Of The Moon (3:58)

Released by: Jim Mortimore via BandCamp
Release date: October 28, 2012
Total running time: 2:36:37

Doctor Who: Music From The Excelis Audio Adventures

Music From The Excelis Audio AdventuresOnce upon a time, as hard as it is to imagine from the vantage point of 2011, Doctor Who wasn’t on TV, existing only as a steadily growing series of audio plays, a steadily waning range of original novels, and a steady stream of merchandise related to a TV show that wasn’t there anymore. In 2002, to offset the fact that the regular monthly audio stories would follow the eighth Doctor for half of that year, Big Finish released a quartet of additional stories, chronicling previous Doctors’ sequential encounters with an immortal being named Grayvorn. This kept fans of the earlier Doctors happy, and was an interesting early experiment in story arc plotting for Big Finish.

It also gave resident composer David Darlington a shot at creating a quartet of thematically linked music scores to go with the quartet of linked stories. Each story has overlapping musical ideas, as well as a unique tone suiting the ever-evolving setting of the planet Artaris, from its zombie-infested bronze age, to a Renaissance-like era, to a dystopian dictatorship. A fourth story, featuring not the Doctor but the reckless Time Lady Iris Wildthyme (a character introduced in the BBC’s line of novels), went even further back in time. The material common to all of the scores is a mesmerizing, repeating guitar riff which – uncommonly for synth-dominated early Big Finish – actually sounds like it was played on a guitar. If you can recall the hypnotic quality of the Alan Parsons Project instrumental “Sirius”, it’s sort of like that.

Strangely, a maddening series of equally repetitive drum loops represents the middle ages for the music from Excelis Dawns. This is the least enjoyable element of this series of soundtracks. I’m not completely opposed to the apparent anachronism, but the repetition is maddening – one particular drum loop spans two tracks and just doesn’t let up. By the time the Excelis Dawns music gets interesting, it’s like the drum loop has delivered a dose of a potent mental anesthetic – my ears were desensitized to the more interesting elements.

Excelis Rising continues the guitar riff and adds echoing church bells befitting the story’s reason-vs.-superstition storyline. This story’s soundtrack also includes some attempts to emulate the small acoustic ensemble sound of the Dudley Simpson era of Doctor Who music; it doesn’t quite hit the mark, but the contrast against the other scores on this CD is welcome.

Excelis Decays opens up with a musical suite featuring dialogue from the story in question. I’m not a big fan of that practice, but here it has two interesting twists: Excelis Decays was savagely edited down at the last minute to get it to fit on the single CD that Big Finish had scheduled for it, and the track in question (“There’s More To This Than You Know”) consists largely of dialogue that was edited out of the episode. Slightly less welcome is that the dialogue has been processed to include a layer of dialogue which is slightly auto-tuned to match up with the background music. It’s mixed down behind the spoken version of that dialogue, but it’s a curious – and ultimately distracting – stylistic choice.

The rest of Excelis Decays is much more interesting listening, twisting the church bells of Excelis Rising into dissonant industrial percussion. The composer’s liner notes mention a fixation on Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, and that influence is very evident. The last score, to the Doctor-less Plague Herds Of Excelis, combines elements of all of the previous approaches, with that hypnotic guitar riff still prominent.

3 out of 4Excelis seemed like a bold experiment back in the heady early days of Big Finish-produced Doctor Who (these days, every Doctor gets a thematically-linked three-story “season” every year), and the music helped to cement the connections between the four chapters of this mini-epic in style. I might’ve gone lighter on the drum loops if it was up to me, but overall it’s one of the more cohesive Big Finish music soundtracks.

Order this CD

    Excelis Dawns

  1. Excelis (1:39)
  2. The Mountain of Adventure (6:26)
  3. Dawn of the Dead… (2:36)
  4. …But The Hills Are Alive (1:20)
  5. Welcome To The Jungle (2:02)
  6. A Handbag (1:34)
  7. Vanishing Point (1:46)

    Excelis Rising

  8. The Sacred Art Of Stealing (2:22)
  9. Live Forever (1:42)
  10. Ouija Board, Ouija Board (2:54)
  11. Burn Off Into The Distance (4:40)
  12. Hosanna In Excelis Deo (1:51)
  13. Made of Stone (2:49)

    Excelis Decays

  14. There’s More To This Than You Know (3:28)
  15. Oppression (1:54)
  16. Electric Urban Youth (3:10)
  17. Lake Of Fire (3:20)
  18. Propoganda (2:30)
  19. Time to Die (2:12)
  20. Two Hearts Under the Skyscrapers (3:35)
  21. Let the Nuclear Wind Blow Away Our Sins (0:58)

    Bernice Summerfield And the Plague Herds Of Excelis

  22. Panic On The Streets (2:54)
  23. I’m Under A Cow (1:21)
  24. Two Tortured Souls (3:19)
  25. When the Screams Subside (3:43)
  26. Something Savage and Pure (1:05)
  27. But Now the Weakness Comes (2:19)
  28. The Secret (2:03)
  29. Slight Return (1:19)

Released by: Big Finish Productions
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 72:51

Jellyfish – Fan Club

Jellyfish is a star that burned brightly but too briefly in the power pop firmament, blasting itself to bits in a kind of dull supernova of creative differences after only two albums. To say that those two albums have attracted a following would be something of a massive understatement: there’s actually a tribute album out, and even brief association with Jellyfish has made cult rock heroes out of musicians like Jason Falkner, Roger Manning and Tim Smith. For music fans who missed the pop revolution of the 1970s, Jellyfish rolled almost all of that experience into those two albums, spruced up for the early ’90s. For a band with a legacy of two albums and a handful of B-sides, Jellyfish is cited as a seminal influence by an alarming number of artists these days.

In 2002, Not Lame Records assembled this box set – with label founder Bruce Brodeen putting his home on the line to pay for the licensing and duplication – featuring demos, rare tracks, and even live appearances. In the grand scheme of things, there’s precious little in the way of new music – in this context, meaning completely new songs – that fans haven’t heard before, but there’s still enough here to cover four discs.

The Bellybutton demos feature several songs that I hadn’t heard before, which simply didn’t make the cut for the band’s first album. While they’re not bad songs, they’re just not quite on the same level as “The King Is Half-Undressed” or “The Man I Used To Be”, including a very early version of “Bye Bye Bye” (which ended up on Spilt Milk) and a cover of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch”, among other things.

Jumping ahead to the disc of Spilt Milk demos and outtakes, and other songs from the same era, it’s easy to tell that even the demos were so intricate and polished that they would’ve done many an artist proud as final mixes. Not so for Jellyfish, though – and one wonders if that quest for perfection (and the inevitable headaches that result from that quest) isn’t what drowned Jellyfish once and for all. There are numerous new songs on this disc as well, including a cluster of demos recorded of songs that Manning and Andy Sturmer penned for potential inclusion on a Ringo Starr solo album. They’re all good stuff, very well pitched to Ringo’s strengths and the styles he and his listeners are accustomed to, but they wouldn’t have been bad Jellyfish songs in their own right either – that, perhaps, being the no-lose propostion in cooking up a bunch of Ringo-esque/borderline-Beatlesque songs: whatever Ringo didn’t want was probably a likely candidate for the third album that never happened. The only song that seems like the odd man out from the “Ringo demos” is “Watchin’ The Rain”, a song which just never quite seems like something that either Ringo or Jellyfish would’ve done – a kind of nondescript ’80s-style ballad. On the opposite end of that spectrum is the dead-center perfect tribute to the Beatles that is “I Don’t Believe You”. If you didn’t know it was Jellyfish, you’d probably swear that it was some previously undiscovered tune by the Fab Four themselves.

B-sides as well as one-off soundtrack and compilation singles that were released between Bellybutton and Spilt Milk land on this disc as well, including the infamous Super Mario Bros.-themed “Ignorance Is Bliss”, originally released on 1991’s all-star Nintendo White-Knuckle Scorin’! album, back from the days when Nintendo was nearly eclipsing just about everything else on the pop culture scene. Unlike most artists who contibuted a single to that compilation, Jellyfish actually did their homework and delivered a song that’s literally about Super Mario – from King Koopa’s perspective! It’s destined to go down as a disposable novelty single, but it’s worth at least a couple of listens for the sheer musicality of it. Disposable novelty song or not, the group poured a lot of effort into it.

The live discs are a revelation, showing the sheer determination of the group to replicate their complex sound on stage. That they actually pull it off, more often than not, without significantly dumbing down the arrangements of either their own densely-orchestrated pieces or any number of cheekily chosen covers, is just this side of a miracle, again a testament to the combined musical skill of Jellyfish. The Spilt Milk live disc really shines, including a couple of demonstrations of an addition that the group made to the set list just for concerts in Japan. (It’s probably no surprise that Andy Sturmer, post-Jellyfish, went on to produce Puffy Amiyumi, and most of the former Jellyfishers’ solo and side projects have far, far less difficulty finding a label home in Japan than they do anywhere in the English-speaking world. Obviously they made their impact in Japan.) The last track on the last CD is the Jellyfish cover of “Think About Your Troubles”, the group’s 1994 contribution to a posthumous Harry Nilsson tribute album, and the last thing they recorded.

So what’s the sum total of these four discs of on-stage antics and in-studio rarities? If the two studio albums alone didn’t do it for you, Fan Club will finish the job of filling your ears with glee and filling your heart with melancholy that Jellyfish, as an entity whose whole was at least as great as the sum of its very 4 out of 4talented parts, didn’t continue. The demos and B-sides and other tracks, stuff that the band felt was not album material or single material, are – for the most part – better than a lot of stuff that other groups feel is album material or single material. Jellyfish wasn’t a band that could do no wrong, but in the space of two albums and at least any many years’ worth of touring, Jellyfish also hadn’t dropped anything lamentably bad in our ears. This was a group that burned bright and burned out fast, the only consolation being that its various members are still active turning out their own stellar pop music.

You Can't Order this CD

    Disc One: The Bellybutton Demos, 1988-89

  1. The Man I Used To Be (4:23)
  2. Bedspring Kiss (4:45)
  3. Deliver (3:07)
  4. Now She Knows She’s Wrong (2:15)
  5. Queen Of The USA (5:13)
  6. Always Be My Girl (3:36)
  7. I Wanna Stay Home (4:10)
  8. Let This Dream Never End (3:59)
  9. Season Of The Witch (4:22)
  10. That Girl’s A Man (3:42)
  11. Calling Sarah (4:48)
  12. All I Want Is Everything (3:12)
  13. Bye Bye Bye (3:48)
  14. She Still Loves Him (4:27)
  15. Baby’s Coming Back (2:53)
  16. The King Is Half-Undressed (3:40)
    Disc Two: The Bellybutton Tour, 1990-91

  1. MTV Top Of The Hour (0:20)
  2. Much Music, Canada (0:30)
  3. The King Is Half-Undressed (3:49)
  4. Sugar And Spice (2:14)
  5. 91X, San Diego (0:19)
  6. Two All-Beef Patties (0:15)
  7. Mr. Late (3:38)
  8. No Matter What (2:43)
  9. All I Want Is Everything (4:25)
  10. Much Music, Canada (1:07)
  11. Hold Your Head Up / Hello (5:24)
  12. Calling Sarah (4:06)
  13. She Still Loves Him (4:08)
  14. Will You Marry Me (6:41)
  15. Baby Come Back / Baby’s Coming Back (4:25)
  16. Now She Knows She’s Wrong (2:50)
  17. Let ‘Em In / That Is Why (5:12)
  18. Jet (3:18)
  19. Much Music, Canada (0:37)
  20. The King Is Half-Undressed (3:38)
  21. Baby’s Coming Back (2:57)
  22. I Wanna Stay Home (4:05)
  23. She Still Loves Him (3:51)
  24. All I Want Is Everything (4:24)
    Disc Three: The Spilt Milk Demos, 1991-92

  1. World Cafe (0:40)
  2. Spilt Milk Intro (0:44)
  3. Hush (1:18)
  4. Joining A Fan Club (3:45)
  5. Sabrina, Paste And Plato (2:11)
  6. New Mistake (4:05)
  7. Glutton Of Sympathy (4:02)
  8. The Ghost At Number One (3:25)
  9. All Is Forgiven (4:09)
  10. Russian Hill (4:43)
  11. He’s My Best Friend (3:42)
  12. Family Tree (4:00)
  13. Spilt Milk Outro (1:14)
  14. Ignorance Is Bliss (3:55)
  15. Worthless Heart (3:06)
  16. Watchin’ The Rain (4:11)
  17. I Need Love (3:09)
  18. I Don’t Believe You (3:21)
  19. Long Time Ago (3:47)
  20. Runnin’ For Our Lives (3:40)
  21. Fan Club message (6:02)
    Disc Four: The Spilt Milk Tour, 1993

  1. Glutton Of Sympathy (4:58)
  2. Baby’s Coming Back (3:01)
  3. That Is Why (3:30)
  4. The Ghost At Number One (3:29)
  5. Joining A Fan Club (2:51)
  6. World Cafe (1:09)
  7. I Can Hear The Grass Grow (3:26)
  8. New Mistake (4:03)
  9. Eleanor Rigby (1:35)
  10. S.O.S. (1:14)
  11. S.O.S. (2:08)
  12. All Is Forgiven (4:12)
  13. Sabrina, Paste And Plato (2:25)
  14. Joining A Fan Club (4:35)
  15. The Ghost At Number One (3:49)
  16. The Man I Used To Be (4:48)
  17. Glutton Of Sympathy (4:04)
  18. New Mistake (4:43)
  19. Think About Your Troubles / hidden track: The King Is Half-Undressed (11:00)

Released by: Not Lame Records
Release date: 2002
Disc one total running time: 62:20
Disc two total running time: 74:56
Disc three total running time: 69:09
Disc four total running time: 71:00