Tim Finn – The View Is Worth The Climb

The View Is Worth The ClimbA new solo album that put the lie to Split Enz co-founder Tim Finn’s claims that he was done with his solo career, The View Is Worth The Climb is a welcome, if slightly subdued, new chapter of that career.

A little over ten years ago, Tim Finn was railing against turning 50 by turning out throat-thrashing, experimental albums that dipped their toes into electronica and yet were still a great listen. Now staring down the barrel of 60, he’s mining his material from the almost-normal home life that eluded him for so long, and it’s translating into pleasant listening that’s solidly in middle-of-the-road rock territory rather than actively looking for barriers to break down; it’s no accident that the album’s first track is “The Everyday.”

The lead single “Going Going Gone” is an apt opening act for The View Is Worth The Climb, demonstrating the album’s acoustic-leaning sound and hopeful lyrics. The only tracks that even threaten to break the album’s mid-tempo groove are “Wild Sweet Children” and “Can’t Be Found”, and those are really only a faster flavor of mid-tempo. My two favorite tracks, “Certain Way” and “Keep Talking”, dispense a bit with the carefree tone of the rest of the album, and the latter of the two almost has a ’70s AM radio groove going on.

3 out of 4Overall, The View Is Worth The Climb is a very pleasant listen, if not necessarily one that’ll get everyone out of their seats to dance. Laid-back and relaxing, it’s a nice bonus round of new music from someone who – as of his career-spanning retrospective just a couple of years ago – said he was ducking out of the studio for a while.

Order this CD

  1. The Everyday (3:13)
  2. The View Is Worth The Climb (3:57)
  3. Going Going Gone (3:49)
  4. All This And More (3:59)
  5. Wild Sweet Children (4:13)
  6. Everybody’s Wrong (3:16)
  7. Can’t Be Found (3:40)
  8. Opposite Sign (4:07)
  9. People Like Us (4:06)
  10. Certain Way (3:39)
  11. Keep Talking (3:49)

Released by: ABC Music
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 41:38

Continue reading

Peter Gabriel – New Blood

Peter Gabriel - New BloodPicking up conceptually where the too-tame orchrstral cover album Scratch My Back left off, Peter Gabriel’s follow-up is another orchestral cover album, this time drawing from Gabriel’s own back catalog. I was so unimpressed with Scratch My Back that I elected not to review it here (in a nutshell: Gabriel’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Boy In Then Bubble” was the only track I bother to revisit since the first listen), so the thought of Gabriel giving his own material the same treatment didn’t excite me: would he pick the right songs? Would he saddle them with uninspired, Scratch My Back-style arrangements?

And yet some of Gabriel’s music just oozes widescreen majesty. Surely translation into a symphonic idiom could only expand on that… right?

Well… yes and no. Gabriel is working with the same arranger with whom he collaborated on Scratch My Back here, so it’s hit or miss. “Rhythm Of The Heat” is pretty typical of the album as a whole”: for the most part it’s a competent enough translation of the original version of the song, but adds nothing new except a swap-out of rock instruments for orchestral instruments. It’s unadventurous. That description applies to many of the album’s covers. Very few songs break the mold and make me go “wow” – “Intruder” is a good example of this, taking the (already disturbing) original song and reshaping it into an unnerving piece of horror movie music – but most fall into the spineless category. Worse yet, Gabriel’s voice isn’t capable of the acrobatics he could pull off in his younger years, stripping even more of the “oomph” from the songs as he tones the vocals down along with the instruments.

If you’re detecting a recurring theme here, aside from “this could have been so much better,” you’re not imagining things. Peter Gabriel is a maker of mind-expanding, widescreen music. It’s not for nothing that he’s scored movies before (Birdy, The Last Temptation Of Christ), and it’s not for nothing that he was selected to assemble the world-music-rock-opera for London’s Millennium Dome (OVO). And yet New Blood seems to sap the blood from the same songs that made me a Peter Gabriel fan in the first place.

Maybe what this album needed was some TLC from someone who actually does soundtracks, rather than the same numbingly dull approach as Scratch My Back. Bear McCreary of Battlestar Galactica soundtrack fame, who is credited by a lot of that show’s fans for exposing them to new and different styles of music, would have knocked this out of the park and (excuse the pun) straight into orbit, fusing orchestral and ethnic music with ease.

2 out of 4I hope Peter Gabriel resumes his more traditional style of music for whatever he releases next. The songs selected for New Blood were enthralling in their original versions because they were so unconventional. New Blood squandered the opportunity to expand on those songs by make them not just convention, but watered-down shadows of their former selves.

Order this CD

    Disc One – Vocals

  1. The Rhythm Of The Heat (5:41)
  2. Downside Up (3:52)
  3. San Jacinto (6:58)
  4. Intruder (5:07)
  5. Wallflower (6:25)
  6. In Your Eyes (7:13)
  7. Mercy Street (5:59)
  8. Red Rain (5:15)
  9. Darkness (6:10)
  10. Don’t Give Up (6:40)
  11. Digging In The Dirt (4:57)
  12. The Nest That Sailed The Sky (3:54)
  13. A Quiet Moment (4:48)
  14. Solsbury Hill (4:35)
    Disc Two – Instrumentals

  1. The Rhythm Of The Heat (instrumental) (5:41)
  2. Downside Up (instrumental) (3:52)
  3. San Jacinto (instrumental) (7:12)
  4. Intruder (instrumental) (5:06)
  5. Wallflower (instrumental) (6:24)
  6. In Your Eyes (instrumental) (7:13)
  7. Mercy Street (instrumental) (6:00)
  8. Red Rain (instrumental) (5:15)
  9. Darkness (instrumental) (6:10)
  10. Don’t Give Up (instrumental) (6:40)
  11. Digging In The Dirt (instrumental) (4:58)
  12. The Nest That Sailed The Sky (instrumental) (3:54)
  13. The Blood Of Eden (instrumental) (6:05)

Released by: RealWorld
Release date: 2011
Disc one total running time: 77:34
Disc two total running time: 74:30

Die Hard (Limited Edition) – music by Michael Kamen

Die HardAction films rarely age like fine wine. Most are so rooted in the time period they were released, it’s hard to look past the menagerie of dated cinematic conventions and appreciate them for the fun fluff that they are designed to be. Personally, it’s hard to separate Dirty Harry’s vigilante ambitions from all the sideburns, deliberate camera zooms and funky background music that so characterized ’70s action flicks. Despite their greater leap toward modernization, ’80s films don’t fare much better in the rear-view. The desperate, tortured hero of the ’70s action film was replaced by larger-than-life supermen capable of escaping any trap they were up against. Explosions were bigger, special effects were grander, and if your first name was Arnold, Sylvester, or Harrison you were guaranteed a very secure future in Hollywood. It was a refreshing change from the dreary nihilism that characterized the ’70s, but by the end of the ’80s, the new action formula was itself beginning to grow tired and predictable and not even Steven Spielberg could enliven a genre of action films that he himself helped to inaugurate with Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Then came a little movie called Die Hard in 1988.

Okay, it wasn’t exactly a little movie. Bruce Willis was already an established star and the movie had some of the best production minds in Hollywood working on it. But nothing about the movie conformed to the established ’80s action-movie style. Deliberately stylized with a wry, tongue-in-check tone, Die Hard banished the superman lead in favor of an anti-hero – an everyday guy caught up in extraordinary circumstances who prevails against the villains – in this case, a group of German “terrorists”. It’s worth buying a special edition DVD just for director John McTiernan’s commentary, who talks at length about the initial resistance he faced for his unconventional, European style of directing and editing. Die Hard ultimately won over just about everyone, becoming a monstrous success and spinning off a new genre of action movies. It also further catapulted McTiernan and cinematographer Jan De Bont into stardom (De Bont would turn in equally impressive DP work on The Hunt For Red October and Basic Instinct before getting his first crack at directing with Speed in 1994).

Critical to Die Hard‘s success was its score by Michael Kamen. Embracing the movie’s dark sense of humor, Kamen loaded the score with sleigh bells and melodic nods to famous classical musical compositions and holiday tunes to give his driving, rhythmic assault a subversive sense of whimsy. As good as the score sounds when viewing the movie, it is even more astonishing in its intricacy and creativity when listening to it by itself. La-La Land’s newly remastered, two-CD set of the Die Hard score spoils you with nearly every note Kamen threw at this movie, and then some. With over 107 minutes of total music included, it’s easy to see just how musically dense Die Hard was. Today, Kamen’s Die Hard score remains a celebrated achievement in action movie scoring.

It would be easy to say the best tracks in the set are the ones where Kamen truly cuts loose, and “Assault on the Tower” is unquestionably his most thrilling composition. The music is both playful and relentless as it unscores the SWAT team’s ill-fated attack on the terrorists in the Nakatomi building. But Kamen’s real genius is how he perverts the innocent spirit of songs such as “Ode To Joy” by Beethoven and “Winter Wonderland” and “Singing In The Rain” by using them as motifs for the German terrorists (Listen: “Terrorist Entrance”). Elsewhere, there’s certainly enough pounding hyperbole to justify the more bombastic action sequences in the movie, but its Kamen’s subtlety and ability to validate some deliberately cartoonish arrangements that make the score so shockingly good. One of McClane’s early motifs is a corny steel guitar arrangement that is nonetheless highly effective in identifying him as the “cowboy” Hans sees him as (“John’s Escape/You Want Money”). Later, Kamen crafts a more fatalistic four-note motif that grounds the character more and suggests his survival is much more tenuous then we at first believed (“And If He Alters It”). In the overall, however, Kamen stays loyal to the movie’s playful spirit, using tip-toeing pizzicato and other strange electronic effects to highlight the fun cat-and-mouse movie moments.

Film score critic Jeff Bond provides an exhaustive, yet illuminating, track-by-track analysis of the score in the CD set’s liner notes. The set naturally includes tracks that weren’t included in the movie or were heavily piped down in the final mix. An example of an omission that actually benefitted the movie was an arrangement Kamen crafted for the exploding office chair McClane’s throws down the elevator shaft to thwart the terrorists. Stopping the music just as the chair begins its descent, as it does in the movie, heightens the feeling of anticipation; this effect would have been lost had the producers decided to score this section (“Assault On The Tower”).

4 out of 4As a longtime fan of the movie, I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about Die Hard. Eric Lichenfeld, in his liner notes, proved me wrong. For example, I did know Alan Rickman was attached to a quick-release harness and released to capture his shocked expression when he plummets from the tower at movie’s end, but I didn’t know the producers tricked Rickman as to when he’d fall in the 3-2-1 countdown (he was dropped on 1, rather than the expected zero!). La-La Land Records sold out their entire supply of the CD set within 72 hours of release – no doubt a testament to the enduring popularity of this groundbreaking score.

Out Of Print

    Disc One

  1. Main Title (0:38)
  2. Terrorist Entrance (4:05)
  3. The Phone Goes Dead / Party Crashers (1:51)
  4. John’s Escape / You Want Money? (6:00)
  5. Wiring the Roof (1:51)
  6. Fire Alarm (2:04)
  7. Tony Approaches (1:41)
  8. Tony and John Fight (1:11)
  9. Santa (0:56)
  10. He Won’t Be Joining Us (3:01)
  11. And If He Alters It (2:39)
  12. Going After John (4:29)
  13. Have a Few Laughs / Al Powell Approaches (3:31)
  14. Under the Table (1:55)
  15. Welcome to the Party (1:09)
  16. TV Station (2:47)
  17. Holly Meets Hans (1:19)
  18. Assault on the Tower (8:35)
    Disc Two

  1. John is Found Out (5:03)
  2. Attention Police (3:54)
  3. Bill Clay (4:09)
  4. Shooting the Glass (1:07)
  5. I Had an Accident (2:37)
  6. The Vault (3:07)
  7. Message for Holly (1:07)
  8. The Battle / Freeing the Hostages (6:53)
  9. Helicopter Explosion and Showdown (4:00)
  10. Happy Trails (1:12)
  11. We’ve Got Each Other (1:57)
  12. Let it Snow (1:43)
  13. Beethoven’s 9th (End Credits Excerpt) (4:00)
  14. The Nakatomi Plaza (1:47)
  15. Message for Holly (Film Version) (2:46)
  16. Gun in Cheek (1:03)
  17. Fire Hose (1:00)
  18. Ode to Joy (Alternate) (2:11)
  19. Let it Snow (Source) (1:58)
  20. Winter Wonderland (Source) (1:26)
  21. Christmas in Hollis performed by Run-DMC (3:00)
  22. Roy Rogers Meets Beethoven’s 9th (Muzak) (1:36)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2011
Disc one total running time: 49:42
Disc two total running time: 57:36