The fourth season of Battlestar Galactica is likely to be debated among fans for many years. It starts out with the unenviable task of reintroducing a character that the audience was led to believe was dead, barrels toward a mid-season climax that descends into dismal depths of despair, and then rockets down the homestretch toward the show’s still hotly-debated three-hour finale. It didn’t help that the season ended up taking the better part of a year to resolve the mid-season cliffhanger (thanks to the 2008 Writers’ Guild strike which shut down production for nearly every scripted series in North America for months); the season felt disjointed, and its (literally) darkest hours were hard to swallow.
The music, on the other hand, was never better. Having spent the show’s early years studiously avoiding the orchestral and synthetic cliches of most filmed science fiction, composer Bear McCreary had won over both the audience and his bosses, and was free to experiment, mix and match sonic elements, and do his part to create the show’s universe. McCreary shows every sign of being a major future composer – film music fans have spent so much of the past 35 years heaping praise on John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith as if they were the only composers working in Hollywood during that time, but I strongly feel that Bear McCreary’s name will be mentioned in the same reverent tones one or two decades from now. His music on Galactica remains one of the show’s most remembered and praised elements – even to the point of being parodied in an episode of South Park (to McCreary’s delight).
This time around, we’re treated to two CDs of music to show us why he’s earned that praise. The first CD covers the fourth season’s musical highlights, omitting the three-hour series finale. Key scenes and themes, and slightly less obvious (but very interesting) pieces, are arranged almost chronologically. The album kicks off with “Gaeta’s Lament”, which certainly didn’t happen early in the season, but it’s a great showcase of how much the music of Battlestar Galactica had evolved over the years. It features a great vocal performance from regular cast member Alessandro Juliani (who had, handily enough, studied opera in college), heard in a series of scenes leading up to the amputation of one of his critically-injured character’s legs. Starting out a cappella, the song gradually gains a backing ensemble of both orchestral and ethnic instruments, filling out nicely as the vocal grows more anguished. (The theme reappears in a different, completely instrumental form later, which helps one to appreciate just how serpentine the melody line is – if this makes any sense, I gained much appreciation of the vocal performance from listening to the instrumental.)
Tracks like “The Signal”, “Blood On The Scales” and “Boomer Takes Hera” get back to Battlestar business with the show’s signature wall of percussion, but even here the show’s musical palette expands, taking on choral elements and other unexpected surprises. Familiar character themes get a few new twists in tracks such as “Roslin And Adama Reunited”, “Grand Old Lady” and “Farewell Apollo”. Running throughout many of the first disc’s tracks, however, is a theme only introduced at the end of season three, the extended, Indian-flavored instrumental intro that led into that season’s surprising rendition of “All Along The Watchtower”. As that music was previously heard by several characters who were suddenly revealed to be “sleeper” Cylons, it recurs as a theme for the “final five”.
The biggest shock to the system of longtime Galactica soundtrack fans may be the pieces for solo piano heard on the first disc; “Elegy” and “Dreilide Thrace Sonata No. 1” are strictly piano. “Kara Remembers” starts out this way as well, though it eventually morphs into the full-blooded “final five” theme (revealed in the show’s mythology to be a piece of music composed by Starbuck’s father) complete with percussion and exotic instrumentation, stopping just short of leading into “Watchtower” as it did at the end of season three. Rounding off the first disc is “Diaspora Oratorio”, the jubilant choral piece that lulled everyone into a false sense of security for the aforementioned mid-season cliffhanger; while not chronologically sequenced, it’s a great finale and a good stopping point before the second CD.
The second disc may well be the crowning glory of the entire Battlestar music collection, containing the complete score for the three-hour finale Daybreak. From the unusual, off-format opening montage onward, there’s a wistful longing to the music. The very beginning of the first cue, “Caprica, Before The Fall”, offers one of the very few new themes introduced for Daybreak, a beautiful theme for humanity’s homeworld which recurs in the second half of both the story and the score as the fleet finds its way to a new home. Initially played with exotic ethnic instruments, as per Galactica house style, this theme becomes even more lovely and haunting when it’s echoed by a full orchestra, a nice little sonic hint of the civilization that will result from these events. As the story’s conclusion unfolds in an atypically relaxed pace and characters exit the main story, their themes reappear, often in new forms or grander interpretations than we’ve heard before. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching of these pieces is the track “So Much Life”, with “Starbuck Disappears” running a close second. Ironically, the Daybreak score has a slightly anticlimactic ending, simply because Bear McCreary’s music didn’t close out the series; to achieve the full effect, you’ll have to provide your own copy of Hendrix’s version of “All Along The Watchtower”. For action music from Daybreak, I’ll just point out a little track titled “Assault On The Colony” which lasts a solid 15 minutes. Now, not every second of it is wall-to-wall action music, but the hefty chunks of it that meet that description do not disappoint at all.
With the Caprica pilot soundtrack already released, the only Battlestar music left on the docket is a CD with the highlights of music from the two TV movies, Razori and The Plan, and while that’s something to look forward to, it’s hard to argue that the emotional arc of the music of Battlestar Galactica really comes to an end here – curiously enough, with wonderfully expansive orchestral music of the kind that had been eschewed early in the series’ run. Thanks to Bear McCreary’s unerring instincts in scoring for both traditional and unconventional instruments, the end result is a surprisingly diverse musical palette that refuses to be stuff into the background, relishes in its recognizable recurring themes and their instant associations with the story and its characters, and is incredibly satisfying listening material even away from the images that inspired it. In a field crowded with exceptionally good soundtrack entries this year, Battlestar Galactica Season 4 may well be the best new film or TV music that’s going to hit anyone’s ears this year.
- Gaeta’s Lament (4:48)
- The Signal (5:08)
- Resurrection Hub (3:40)
- The Cult Of Baltar (5:41)
- Farewell Apollo (2:55)
- Roslin Escapes (2:55)
- Among The Ruins (7:44)
- Laura Runs (2:21)
- Cally Descends (3:08)
- Funeral Pyre (3:57)
- Roslin And Adama Reunited (1:59)
- Gaeta’s Lament (Instrumental) (4:50)
- Elegy (2:54)
- The Alliance (2:30)
- Blood On The Scales (5:20)
- Grand Old Lady (0:52)
- Kara Remembers (3:27)
- Boomer Takes Hera (2:40)
- Dreilide Thrace Sonata No. 1 (5:34)
- Diaspora Oratorio (4:51)
Disc two (Daybreak):
- Caprica City, Before The Fall (4:33)
- Laura’s Baptism (2:40)
- Adama In The Memorial Hallway (2:11)
- The Line (3:56)
- Assault On The Colony (15:07)
- Baltar’s Sermon (4:24)
- Kara’s Coordinates (4:21)
- Earth (3:07)
- Goodbye Sam (2:10)
- The Heart Of The Sun (3:20)
- Starbuck Disappears (2:08)
- So Much Life (5:00)
- An Easterly View (4:52)
- The Passage Of Time (1:15)
Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2009
Disc one total running time: 77:14
Disc two total running time: 59:04