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Xena: Warrior Princess – The Bitter Suite

Xena: Warrior Princess - The Bitter SuiteEveryone seems to have done a musical now, but Xena’s Bitter Suite was one of the first and, in terms of both story and music, still possibly the best. Joseph LoDuca’s music caters less to the series’ usual musical sensibilities, shifting instead into lavish big-screen-musical territory. There’s something almost Disney-esque about The Bitter Suite, but we’re talking old-school Disney – Pete’s Dragon and Bedknobs And Broomsticks Disney musical style, not this newfangled Every Male Lead Suddenly Sings Elton John Songs In Peabo Bryson’s Voice business that seems to pervade the lion’s share – pun pitifully intended – of Disney’s modern output.

Even more gloriously, it’s refreshing to see that three of the story’s key players do their own singing. Renee O’Connor was dubbed by Susan Wood for her musical scenes, and Hudson Leick (Callisto) got to lip-synch to Michelle NiCastro’s vocals for her character. (NiCastro, incidentally, is a veteran of some of those newfangled Disney musicals. Small world, eh?) But Lucy Lawless, Ted “Joxer” Raimi and the late, great Kevin “Ares” Smith sang for themselves, thank you very much, and between my constant admiration for his performance as the god of war and the fact that he may be the best vocalist of the bunch, I’ve got to hand Kevin Smith some mad props here. From the slinky, seductive tones of “Melt Into Me” to his snide remark “ding dong, the bitch is dead!”, Smith comes out very much the unheralded star of this show. On TV, he also looked most at ease in this episode. Kevin, we lost you far, far too soon.

The CD as a whole is a collection of the musical numbers and highlights from the score (including the wildly percussive cues for the brutal opening sequences), with just enough dialogue to preserve something of the flow of the story. If there’s a single low point, it’s the slightly overwrought “Hearts Are Hurting”, a song divided into two parts during which Xena and Gabrielle work out a major conflict that had built up between the two characters since the beginning of the third season (of which the less said, the better, frankly). The vocals from both Susan Wood and Lucy Lawless are a bit strained, and the music stops just short of being risible – it’s actually the show’s theme song, slowed down a lot and with lyrics. Really the low point of both the CD and the 4 out of 4episode – and it should’ve been, could’ve been the high point.

That aside, The Bitter Suite is outstanding, and the CD tells the story nicely – since it’s a musical, it’s almost the episode in audio form, and not much is left out except for some non-musical dialogue (the CD has roughly the same running time as the episode, in fact). Good stuff.

Order this CD

  1. The Sweat Hut / Slapped Out Of It / Xena’s In Town (4:42)
  2. Horrible Drag / On The Edge / Song Of The Fool (5:09)
  3. What’s Still Unwritten… (Song Of Illusia) / Little Ditties / Into The Chandra / Joxer The Mighty / Prepping Gabby (5:17)
  4. War And Peace / Gab Is Stabbed (5:52)
  5. Melt Into Me / Let Go (2:28)
  6. Dead? / Hearts Are Hurting (Part 1) (2:35)
  7. The Deliverer (4:07)
  8. Hate Is The Star (Song Of The Torment) / Hearts Are Hurting (Part 2) (5:42)
  9. The Way Out / The Love Of Your Love / Passing Through (7:10)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 42:55

Xena: Warrior Princess Volume 2

Xena: Warrior Princess Volume 2A few tracks into the second CD of music from Xena: Warrior Princess, one gets a general feeling of “westernization” on this album. No, not meaning that suddenly everything’s gotten to be like a guitar-twanging score from a Fellini western, but that the Mediterranean elements that so characterized the early scores are starting to be phased out in favor of a more traditional western/orchestral tone.

With the second season’s exploration of slightly less serious, campier territory than the first, little musical numbers began to creep in as well, though I’m happy to hear the “Joxer The Mighty” song here – Joxer remains my favorite character in the Herc/Xenaverse, and for God’s sake, someone build some surreal sitcom around Ted Raimi in a starring role now, it’ll be gold. But I digress. There are also grander vocal outings as well, with the operatic “Xena Kicks Bacchae Butt” and more understated “At Mother’s Tomb”. Suffice to say, season two’s overall tone is accurately reflected in this collection of music from that year.

With tracks 9 and 10, I find myself thinking primarily one thought: “Wow, Joe LoDuca listened to Peter Gabriel’s Passion somewhere between the first two seasons, didn’t he?” LoDuca (well, I think it’s LoDuca – see related notes in our recent review of the first volume of Xena music) throws in some modernization on the percussive end of things, reminding me of nothing so much as some of the more interesting (if anachronistic) tracks from the aforementioned album which gathered Gabriel’s soundtrack cues for The Last Temptation Of Christ. Not that this is altogether a bad thing, mind you.

3 out of 4There’s also some seasonal fun with a healthy helping of music from A Solstice Carol, a Christmas-themed episode which made for some loving musical tips of the yuletide hat.

Overall, an interesting CD whose music is indicative of an overall shift in the “feel” of the series.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (1:22)
  2. At Mother’s Tomb (3:00)
  3. Xena Kicks Bacchae Butt (2:03)
  4. Pop Goes Xena (1:11)
  5. Quicksand (1:25)
  6. Squeal (2:01)
  7. Sword Play (1:27)
  8. Homeland (3:29)
  9. Capoiera Fight (1:23)
  10. Many Winters Ago (2:17)
  11. Stowaway (1:53)
  12. You Really Believe That (1:05)
  13. Rrarr! (3:48)
  14. Friend (1:37)
  15. Crucifixion Of Xena / Up The Mountain (2:28)
  16. To The Rescue (1:42)
  17. Fighting Destiny (2:08)
  18. Talk With Solan (1:12)
  19. The Ballad of Joxer the Mighty (1:12)
  20. Solstice Night (2:13)
  21. The First Fate / Suspended Gabby (3:22)
  22. Where As Me / Gabby & Toys (2:20)
  23. More Fun And Games / Feather Fight (3:12)
  24. Hard Core Fishing (1:23)
  25. River Wild (1:37)
  26. Xena Is Bitten (1:33)
  27. Restoration (2:11)
  28. Caught In The Current (3:48)
  29. Callisto Becomes A God (2:04)
  30. Swamp Creatures / Imposter (2:40)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 1997
Total running time: 67:03

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