Mike Oldfield – The Songs Of Distant Earth

Mike Oldfield - The Songs Of Distant EarthAfter an extremely acrimonious split with Virgin Records in the early 1990s, multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield was already venturing out of Tubular Bells territory throughout the 1980s, dabbling in pop songs (a cover of one of his tunes, “Family Man”, became a hit for Hall & Oates) and mixing music of wildly differing styles and ethnic origins. Virgin mogul Richard Branson was reportedly demanding a Tubular Bells II from Oldfield, who refused to do any such thing, and then released precisely that after switching to Warner Bros. just to give Branson the finger, but a funny thing happened while Oldfield and Branson were battling it out. Other acts started to claim for themselves the instrumental ground which Oldfield had pioneered: Enigma, to name just one example, came to prominence in the early ’90s, and by the time Oldfield got around to releasing this album – which is indeed based on the novel of the same name by the late Arthur C. Clarke – he was having to push his way through a now-crowded musical field.

Inspired by Clarke’s mention of a musical celebration at the end of “The Songs Of Distant Earth”, Oldfield added “spacey” synths and production textures to his usual structure. Despite boasting a track list which divides things up into shorter, discrete tracks, The Songs Of Distant Earth is classic Oldfield, with lengthy development of a central theme introduced early on, and the introduction and development of secondary themes coming later in the album. It may not sound like Hergest Ridge or Ommadawn, but in fact, Songs shares a very similar structure. Like those albums/pieces (in Oldfield’s case, he composes long pieces with minimal breaks, so these terms are almost interchangeable), there’s almost no interruption from one portion of the music to the next, and Oldfield’s soaring guitar work is an obvious sonic trademark. Now, as someone who climbed onto the Oldfield train by way of his early ’70s work, I’m a little disappointed to hear that his guitar takes a back seat, at times, to synths, various kinds of percussion, ethnic vocals and so on, but one can’t stick to the same formula forever. By that same token, there are spoken word samples of everything from a man counting down, to chants, to the crew of Apollo 8 reading from the book of Genesis, woven into the music; interestingly, depending on what mood I’m in, I’ve found these soundbytes either interesting and relaxing or irritating.

3 out of 4Songs Of Distant Earth is an interesting experiment in linking music to literature, sort of a soundtrack that bypasses the hurdle of a movie deciding what everything should look/sound like, and it signals a major reinvention on Oldfield’s part. There’s a part of me that loves his older, guitar-heavy work, and finds Songs lacking, but to a more mainstream audience this isn’t a bad place to get your first Oldfield exposure.

Order this CD

  1. In The Beginning (1:24)
  2. Let There Be Light (4:57)
  3. Supernova (3:23)
  4. Magellan (4:40)
  5. First Landing (1:16)
  6. Oceania (3:19)
  7. Only Time Will Tell (4:26)
  8. Prayer For The Earth (2:09)
  9. Lament For Atlantis (2:43)
  10. The Chamber (1:48)
  11. Hibernaculum (3:32)
  12. Tubular World (3:22)
  13. The Shining Ones (2:59)
  14. Crystal Clear (5:42)
  15. The Sunken Forest (2:37)
  16. Ascension (5:49)
  17. A New Beginning (1:37)

Released by: Reprise
Release date: 1994
Total running time: 55:43

Cybertech – music by Adrian Pack & Michael Fillis

CybertechCybertech is the first compilation of Adrian Pack and Michael Fillis’ fan-made music inspired by Doctor Who, and I almost dubbed it “unofficial,” and yet it’s impressive enough that John Nathan-Turner chose a track from this CD (from its earlier release as a single) to open and close the oft-maligned charity reunion special Dimensions In Time in 1993, so it can’t be that unofficial.

Cybertech is an homage, more than anything else, to the sounds and music created for Doctor Who by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The feel of music-almost-becoming-atonal-sound-effects is perfectly captured, and while no specific compositions are imitated, Fillis and Pack manage to evoke the unmistakable mood of that era spectacularly. There are tracks on Cybertech that could be slotted between actual early/mid 1980s Doctor Who music indistinguishably.

Some of the later tracks on the CD almost seem to be reaching back further in time, paying tribute to the Radiophonic Workshop’s more abstract sounds in the 1960s. “Dead Planet?” and “We, The Machines” in particular would stand nicely alongside some of the more atmospheric tracks from BBC Radiophonic Music. Some later tracks are an homage to the Vangelis/Jarre-inspired “wall of sound” that drenched 4 out of 4early 80s episodes such as The Leisure Hive.

Cybertech was an interestingly experimental tip of the hat to the history of electronic music in Doctor Who, and it was successful enough to actually make it on the air via Dimensions In Time. Fillis and Pack would return for another round with a slightly different focus in Cybertech II.

Order this CD

  1. Cybertech (Voc Mix) (4:37)
  2. Pull To Open (0:49)
  3. Doctor Who Theme (2:13)
  4. Technopolis (5:44)
  5. Eocene Park (4:11)
  6. Dreamsnake (6:41)
  7. These E Devils… (4:24)
  8. Dead Planet? (6:08)
  9. We, The Machines (4:36)
    A Dark Infinity suite
  10. I. The Doppler Experiment (4:37)
  11. II. Time Travel (5:10)
  12. III. Regeneration (4:48)
  13. Cybertech (Dum Mix) (6:34)
  14. Time Loop (10:18)

Released by: Jump Cut Records
Release date: 1994
Total running time: 70:50

The Worlds Of Doctor Who

World of Doctor WhoThe last hurrah for Silva Screen’s license to release Doctor Who music on CD in the 1990s, Worlds Of Doctor Who largely consists of music you’ve heard before if you’ve heard the same label’s other Doctor Who output, give or take a surprise or two.

The album opens and closes with two new versions of the famous theme music, the “Lightning Version” at the beginning and the lively “Spoons Version” at the end. As you might’ve guessed, the latter rendition of the theme is practically built around a guest performance on the spoons by Sylvester McCoy himself; it’s an interesting novelty, right up there with Jon Pertwee’s “I Am The Doctor”, but not much more than that. Both of these new arrangements wouldn’t have been out of place on the Variations On A Theme EP.

After the “Lightning Version”, things proceed very much along the lines of Silva’s original Earthshock compilation CD, providing classic clips arranged more or less chronologically, starting with the original BBC 45 version of the 1960s theme tune and then going straight into the Dudley Simpson single “The World Of Doctor Who” (built around music from the 1971 Pertwee adventure The Mind Of Evil). Selections from The Sea Devils and several Tom Baker adventures follow, the latter material coming from Heathcliff Blair’s Pyramids Of Mars re-recordings of classic Simpson scores from that era. At least some canny choices were made here to present the most listenable and accessible material.

After the 1980 Doctor Who theme arranged by Peter Howell, we segue into the more modern, synth-heavy sound of the Davison era; again, the material heard here has been heard before (not just on previous Silva Doctor Who soundtrack compilations, but on the 1980s BBC LP releases that those compilations drew from). To vary things up a bit, material that isn’t necessarily strictly from Doctor Who begins sneaking into the playlist during the 80s section, including Mark Ayres’ theme for the Myth Makers interview videos. This material, too, has been presented before by Silva, on Ayres’ Myths And Other Legends solo release.

Things get a bit more interesting with the suites of Ayres’ music from the last two seasons of the original series. The material has been heard before, but here it’s edited into three eight-minute-or-longer suites (one each for The Greatest Show In The Galaxy, Ghost Light and The Curse Of Fenric) where, again, the best material is brought to the fore. Those three episode scores have also been released in their entirety by Silva, but Ayres picked out his own best material (and it has to be said that I agree with him just about 100% on the selections he made for the suites) and put it all into a single track per episode. No new interstitial material tries to introduce cohesion to the suites; there are stops, starts and pauses between individual cues, but nothing too jarring.

Things are capped off with the first CD release of Ayres’ “Return To Devils’ End” suite, composed for a documentary video of the same name which reunited the cast and crew of the Pertwee-era classic story The Daemons at the original shooting locations. A true Dudley Simpson afficionado, Ayres creates an even better homage to “the Simpson sound” here than Heathcliff Blair managed with the original Simpson sheet music. The “Spoons Version” of the theme music wraps things up.

3 out of 4If you’re wondering about the music from Shakedown: Return Of The Sontarans and Downtime, two of the better fan-produced video drama spinoffs of the 90s, both of those projects’ scores were released in their entirety on Silva CDs as well, but not until after this CD’s release.

It’s a nice sampler CD of Doctor Who soundtrack cues, with a smidgeon of new (but hardly canonical) material, so there are worse ways for Silva Screen to have closed out their Who catalog.

Order this CD

  1. Doctor Who (Lightning Version) (5:17)
  2. TARDIS – Doctor Who (2:37)
  3. The World Of Doctor Who (2:39)
  4. The Sea Devils (3:19)
  5. The Ark In Space (0:50)
  6. Pyramids Of Mars (3:59)
  7. The Brain Of Morbius (3:11)
  8. Doctor Who Theme: 1980-85 (2:37)
  9. Meglos (1:32)
  10. The Five Doctors (5:24)
  11. The Caves Of Androzani (6:07)
  12. Myth Makers Theme (2:11)
  13. Doctor Who (Terror Version) (4:16)
  14. Terror In Totters Lane (1:55)
  15. The Greatest Show In The Galaxy (8:31)
  16. Ghost Light (8:05)
  17. The Curse Of Fenric (8:57)
  18. Return To Devils’ End (2:51)
  19. Doctor Who (Spoon Version) (4:27)

Released by: Silva Screen
Release date: 1994
Total running time: 78:45

The Best Of Spandau Ballet

The Best Of Spandau BalletI’m a sucker for just about anything 80s, so when I happened upon The Best Of Spandau Ballet, I was intrigued – like most casual listeners, I could really only think of “True” and, at a stretch, “Gold” as being recognizable songs for this group. I liked their sound (though, truthfully, True was overplayed to death in its day), but it’s rather like the Romantics’ best of album – aside from one of two songs that everyone knows, what else would be on here?

As it turned out, I recognized one of the band’s earliest songs, though I couldn’t tell you where I’d heard it before. The early sound of Spandau Ballet is quite a revelation – a little more soulful than Level 42 and a lot more soulful than Depeche Mode, the group’s original sound was very much in the new romantic mold – very different, and quite a bit funkier, than you’d imagine from only having heard “True”. There’s also a disco influence evident on their early tracks, and some of them don’t quite stand the test of time – “Musclebound”, for example, I actually found a bit trite.

“True” and “Gold” are pretty much as I remember them, though listening to the album in one concentrated sitting, it’s interesting to hear tracks from late in the band’s career where it seems obvious that they were trying to recapture the vibe of “True” – similarities in song structure, vocal style and reliance on the group’s relatively unique in-house sax player abound. After a while, the last vestiges of Spandau Ballet’s original new wave leanings are no longer evident. A bit sad, really – after listening to this album’s represenative cross-section of the group’s career, I found myself more intrigued with their earlier tracks than their attempts to reinvent themselves as smooth, soulful crooners.

3 out of 4Still, let’s give credit where it’s due – obviously, at some point, a hell of a lot of people did listen to Spandau Ballet, even if only for just one of two songs. A lot of the credit really goes to Tony Hadley’s deep baritone voice. The voice, and the then-uncommon sax, were really the group’s trademark, and having heard Hadley on a latter-day Alan Parsons song, just the voice alone is enough to summon forth memories of Spandau Ballet. I recommend giving this one a listen just to see what the guys did other than “True”. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Order this CD

  1. To Cut A Long Story Short (3:23)
  2. The Freeze (3:33)
  3. Musclebound (3:56)
  4. Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On) (4:06)
  5. Paint Me Down (3:14)
  6. Instinction (3:35)
  7. Lifeline (3:21)
  8. Communication (3:27)
  9. True (5:34)
  10. Gold (3:53)
  11. Only When You Leave (4:49)
  12. I’ll Fly For You (5:12)
  13. Highly Strung (4:12)
  14. Round And Round (4:34)
  15. Fight For Ourselves (4:24)
  16. Through The Barricades (2:29)
  17. How Many Lies (4:36)
  18. Be Free With Your Love (3:28)

Released by: Chrysalis
Release date: 1994
Total running time: 71:52

Stargate – music by David Arnold

Stargate soundtrackAs a part of the movie, I’m very happy with David Arnold’s score for Stargate. It reflects the film’s blend of historical epic, contemporary military action, and futuristic SF adventure. It’s appropriately rousing during the battle scenes and it sets the mood for quieter moments. There is a fanfare here or a moment there that makes me think of John Williams, but that say more about how much I’ve internalized that work than anything else. The main themes are certainly distinct and memorable enough to stand the test of time, as their continued use in Stargate SG-1 would indicate.

As an album in its own right, however, I’m not sure how well the soundtrack works. This isn’t a reorganized concert suite, but a collection of 30 music cues from throughout the movie. Many of them are very short, about a minute or so in length. They just don’t have the chance to build up much momentum of their own or stand out as distinct pieces, especially since Arnold continually goes back to variations of the main themes. The longer pieces that do exist, like “The Stargate Opens”, are rather good at telling the story musically; I rating: 3 out of 4particularly like the loud build-up to the actual opening and then the quiet choral voices that reflect the shimmering open gate. The longest cue, “Battle At The Pyramid”, also flows very well and suggests the urgency and chaos of combat. But for the most part, this album tends to fade into background music for me, albeit very good background music.

Order this CD

  1. Stargate Overture (3:01)
  2. Giza, 1928 (2:10)
  3. Unstable (2:07)
  4. The Coverstones (0:58)
  5. Orion (1:29)
  6. The Stargate Opens (3:58)
  7. You’re on the Team (1:55)
  8. Entering the Stargate (2:57)
  9. The Other Side (1:44)
  10. Mastadge Drag (0:56)
  11. The Mining Pit (1:34)
  12. King of the Slaves (1:15)
  13. Caravan to Nagada (2:16)
  14. Daniel and Shauri (1:53)
  15. Symbol Discovery (1:15)
  16. Sarcophagus Opens (0:55)
  17. Daniel’s Mastadge (0:49)
  18. Leaving Nagada (4:09)
  19. Ra – The Sun God (3:22)
  20. The Destruction of Nagada (2:08)
  21. Myth, Faith, Belief (2:18)
  22. Procession (1:43)
  23. Slave Rebellion (1:00)
  24. The Seventh Symbol (0:57)
  25. Quartz Shipment (1:27)
  26. Battle at the Pyramid (5:02)
  27. We Don’t Want to Die (1:57)
  28. The Surrender (1:44)
  29. Kasuf Returns (3:06)
  30. Going Home (3:09)

Released by: Milan/BMG
Release date: 1994
Total running time: 64:46

R.E.M. – Monster

MonsterAfter the tremendous success of Out of Time and Automatic for the People, the members of R.E.M. were determined to, in the words of Peter Buck, put away the dulcimers and make a rock and roll record. The result was Monster, an album that fueled the band’s 1995 arena tour and a metamorphosis in their image but that doesn’t quite meet their high standards.

The opening track and first single, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?,” gets things off to a rather good start, with layers of harder, slightly distorted guitar setting the album’s tone while Michael Stipe sings about the inability to understand a younger generation and the foolishness of trying. (The song also marks the beginnings of the health problems that plagued this album and tour, as Mike Mills began to feel the symptoms of appendicitis toward the end of recording it and soon wound up in surgery.) While the sound isn’t quite like anything the band had done before, the underlying structure isn’t too far removed from previous up-tempo songs, and there’s enough of a melody to support the sonic touches.

The same can’t be said of every song on the album; the second track, “Crush with Eyeliner,” doesn’t seem to go anywhere and ultimately drowns under the feedback wail. The album’s closer, “You,” suffers the same malady. On the other hand, the most powerful song on the album is one of the slowest and least melodic; “Let Me In,” which Stipe wrote after learning of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, contrasts a quiet, mournful lyrical performance with a howling lead guitar played by Mills to very powerful effect. (The live performance of this song was a highlight of the tour as well.)

There are a couple of fast-moving, high-energy songs on the album as well, which are among my favorites. “Star 69” and “King of Comedy” are successful experiments that prove the band can indeed still rock out. “Strange Currencies” takes the basic melody from Automatic‘s “Everybody Hurts” and reworks it to fit the album’s style; like many of the songs on Monster, Stipe’s new lyrics suggest the darker, possessive aspect of relationships. That dark edge, and the more pronounced sexuality of songs like “Tongue” and “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream,” are Monster‘s primary themes.

rating: 2 out of 4 In the end, Monster isn’t the attempt to cash in on grunge’s popularity that some critics accused the band of making; it’s a not-always-successful experiment that epitomizes R.E.M.’s determination not to get stuck in a rut. Of course, even failed experiments can yield results, and I’d argue that’s the case with Monster, which helped set the stage for one of the group’s finest works.

Order this CD

  1. What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? (4:00)
  2. Crush with Eyeliner (4:38)
  3. King of Comedy (3:41)
  4. I Don’t Sleep, I Dream (3:28)
  5. Star 69 (3:08)
  6. Strange Currencies (3:53)
  7. Tongue (4:13)
  8. Bang and Blame (5:30)
  9. I Took Your Name (4:03)
  10. Let Me In (3:28)
  11. Circus Envy (4:15)
  12. You (4:54)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1994
Total running time: 49:16

Tempest 2000

Tempest 2000In 1994, programmer Jeff Minter had a bright idea: Atari, then still in business under its own steam, and still looking for hot games to thrust its troubled Jaguar video game console into the limelight, should revive one of its arcade classics, Tempest, with some modern game play elements and a new look. Minter handed Atari Tempest 2000 (later ported to the Playstation as Tempest X3), which is about as close to a “killer app” game as the Jaguar got. Among the many changes made to the original Tempest format was the addition of a thumping techno soundtrack (the original 1981 arcade game had no music at all). Before long, Atari had received enough praise for the music that an audio CD version of it was prepared as a premium item.

As with quite a bit of techno (and, for the zillionth time, I ask: why does it seem like 95% of all video games are set to techno music these days?), some of the tracks are so interchangeable that one can be forgiven for not realizing that one track’s ended and another has begun. That said, the Tempest 2000 soundtrack doesn’t continually lumber around the “thundering” end of the spectrum, giving us a few lighter, trance-like tracks in keeping with the game’s mind-blowingly colorful light show. There is actually some welcome contrast among the tracks.

3 out of 4Now out of print, Tempest 2000 (the soundtrack, not the game) is a bit of a collector’s item, but don’t hock the car to get it – in their attempt to try to generate crossover appeal to the music market (and admittedly, this was being done at a time when this genre of music wasn’t really mainstream yet), Atari pressed a lot of these suckers. It isn’t too hard to find one.

Order this CD

  1. Thermal Resolution (3:59)
  2. Mind’s Eye (4:52)
  3. T2K (5:23)
  4. Ease Yourself (7:52)
  5. Tracking Depth (5:04)
  6. Constructive Demolition (4:05)
  7. Future Tense (5:54)
  8. Digital Terror (5:07)
  9. Hyper Prism (4:26)
  10. Glide Control (5:12)
  11. Ultra Yak (4:00)
  12. 2000 Dub (7:31)

Released by: Atari / Interplay
Release date: 1994
Total running time: 63:25