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.


    “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

Sixpence None The Richer – Divine Discontent

Sixpence None The Richer - Divine DiscontentThe band’s final group effort before going their separate ways to new
careers, Sixpence None The Richer’s swan song isn’t one of those farewell albums that makes you feel like you understand perfectly well why they’re calling it a day. Divine Discontent is an example of the best you can hope to do with a farewell album: the listener is still likely to want more when the show’s over.

“Breathe My Name”, a twitchy song with quirky chorus harmonies, exemplifies what I miss about Sixpence already – the combination of Matt Slocum’s songwriting and guitar work and Leigh Nash’s voice is a winner when the band is firing on all cylinders.

The cover of Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” surprised me quite a bit. I’ve heard everything from choral interpretations to reggae covers of it before, and it’s a testament to the power of the original song as written that it stands up to (nearly) every permutation I’ve heard it put through. This is one of the better covers I’ve heard, transforming into a guitar-based number without the trademark organ solo of the original. It’s also interesting to hear a female vocalist do the song.

Even more surprising is the hard-hitting “Paralyzed”, which seems almost like something one would expect the Cardigans to do. Lyrically, it goes a little bit outside of what one would expect from a Christian band with crossover success. There’s nothing in the song that just shocks me speechless or offends me, I just wasn’t expecting to hear it from these guys. I’m really pleased to hear impassioned, non-cookie-cutter anti-war lyrics from a Christian group, even if they’re pre-Iraq War.

4 out of 4Ironically for an album that includes a cover of “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, a paraphrase of a passage that I remember reading in a book about Crowded House springs to mind: Divine Discontent doesn’t sound like a band that’s on its way out, but a band proving it’s fighting to live. That certainly seems like an apt description for Sixpence None The Richer’s final studio album.

Order this CD

  1. Breathe Your Name (3:56)
  2. Tonight (3:52)
  3. Down And Out Of Time (3:28)
  4. Don’t Dream It’s Over (4:03)
  5. Waiting On The Sun (2:54)
  6. Still Burning (4:02)
  7. Melody Of You (4:50)
  8. Paralyzed (3:54)
  9. I’ve Been Waiting (4:19)
  10. Eyes Wide Open (3:28)
  11. Dizzy (6:36)
  12. Tension Is A Passing Note (3:30)
  13. A Million Parachutes (6:19)

Released by: Reprise
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 55:11

The Martian Chronicles – music by Stanley Myers

The Martian ChroniclesI barely remember the lavish 1979 British/U.S. co-production of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. I seem to remember being hyped up about it (as I was about most anything that had to do with space), seeing a little bit of it, and then my mom deciding unilaterally that this miniseries was Not For Me. And oddly enough, I haven’t seen it in its entirety since, despite it being on DVD these days. (That’s a gap in my SF TV knowledge I need to correct one of these days, come to think of it.) But boy, do I remember the music. I had already seen Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers (and, of course, Star Wars) by this point, but The Martian Chronicles clearly had Music From The Future. With its futuristic synth sweeps giving it a foothold in the new wave sound while its orchestral components were firmly tied to the disco-fied ’70s, The Martian Chronicles’ music is bold, brassy, memorable, and that spacey element pushes it just far enough across the line to make it sound, musically, a bit like a science fiction version of Dallas.

Anchoring the entire theme as a heavily-used (and very adaptable) leitmotif is the “Space March”, which appears in its full form several times during the album. (The fullest expression of it is in the track “The Silver Locusts”; the track actually titled “Space March” is much more brief.) Elements of this theme eventually split off on their own and become a brooding, serious theme that recurs in many of the later scenes, as heard in such cues as “Million Year Picnic”. The action and suspense cues turn out to be the bits that haven’t aged gracefully, instantly dating themselves to the 1970s with disco-style guitar work and percussion.

3 out of 4And yet, for all of these things that should be fatal blows, the music from The Martian Chronicles works quite well in its own little continuum. The late British composer Stanley Myers (who composed, among a great many other things, a very early Doctor Who adventure) did a great job of devising very adaptable themes and motifs, and then developing those fully. It may come across as a bit cheesy according to modern sensibilities, but it’s a musical time capsule of sorts, and one that I enjoy returning to quite a bit.

Order this CD

    The Expeditions

  1. Prologue (2:19)
  2. The Martian Chronicles Theme (2:03)
  3. Space March (0:59)
  4. Ylla’s Dream (1:39)
  5. Mask Of Conflict (2:19)
  6. Mr. K Returns (1:22)
  7. Concern For The Future (0:44)
  8. Mrs. Black’s Piano (1:13)
  9. Realization (0:11)
  10. Saying Goodbye (1:24)
  11. Col. Wilder’s Promise (3:14)
  12. Spender’s Anger / One Of Our Own (2:26)
  13. Martian City (2:37)
  14. Hunting Spender / Is This How It Will Be? (3:43)

    The Settlers

  15. The Silver Locusts (2:39)
  16. Lustig’s Visitor (4:03)
  17. Return To The Dead City (2:01)
  18. David Is Confused (1:18)
  19. Chase In First Town (1:25)
  20. Father Peregrine’s Vision (4:55)
  21. Col. Wilder’s Thoughts / Rumors Of War (1:32)
  22. The Martian Appears (0:18)
  23. Parkhill Sees Earth Destroyed (0:40)
  24. Dead Earth (0:37)

    The Martians

  25. Final Conflict (1:56)
  26. Hathaway’s Last Chance (0:52)
  27. Lights In The Sky (2:06)
  28. Ben And Genevieve (2:41)
  29. Never Give Up Hope (0:59)
  30. Hathaway Dies (1:03)
  31. Martian Highway (0:46)
  32. Memories (1:07)
  33. Placing The Explosives / Canal Journey (2:36)
  34. Setting Up Camp (1:13)
  35. The Million Year Picnic (2:53)
  36. End Titles / bonus track: Source Music (4:52)

Released by: Airstrip One Company
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 68:45

Intellivision In Hi-Fi

Intellivision In Hi-FiMore or less an album songs performed by or inspired by the Intellivision video game console, Intellivision In Hi-Fi is an affectionate throwback to the days when video game music was anything but hi-fi. To come even close to approximating a popular piece of music was a feat, and achieving true polyphony, even in just a flat, synthesizer-esque tone, was pure luxury. Intellivision was the first home game console to manage this level of musical sophistication, and even so, it only did so on the most primitive of levels – no attack or decay or anything as fancy as sounds intended to emulate acoustical instruments. But even with that extreme return to the basics of making music, Intellivision game designers pulled off some real winners – the jazzy chase music heard when Snafu drops from a four-player game to a two-player death match, the catchy theme (coined by a then-unknown musician named George “The Fat Man” Sanger) from Thin Ice, and the sticks-in-your-head-and-stays-there music from Shark! Shark!. All of these and more appear on Intellivision In Hi-Fi.

There are also numerous Intellivision-generated ditties from never-before-heard programmers’ concept tests and a few aborted works in progress. These include classical pieces such as “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (better known to many as the theme from 2001), and more decidedly modern works along the lines of the James Bond theme and a McDonald’s jingle, among others. (It’s interesting to note that a James Bond video game was later made, but not for the Intellivision, and not by Mattel Electronics, the company that originated the console in 1979.)

To round things out, there are a few more tracks which are either songs about the Intellivision, or are reinterpretations of classic Intellivision musical themes on actual instruments. This along brings us to George Sanger’s surf-rockin’ “Surfing On Thin Ice”, which is in itself a good reason to buy this CD. Jazzy interpretations of music from Snafu and Shark! Shark! also prove to be entertaining. Confusium provides two tracks featuring copious samples of Intellivision sound effects and vintage TV ads starring George Plimpton; the first of these opens the CD to great effect, while the latter is simply too bloody long and wears out its welcome. (At nearly 15 minutes, I find it hard to sit through the whole thing without skipping to the next track.) Best of all, however, is Michael Schwartz’s “My Intellivision”, an appropriately new wave-flavored pop tribute to the machine, sung from the perspective of someone who pines for his long-lost Intellivision.

3 out of 4Naturally, this CD is really for those who are already enthusiasts of the game machine in question; Intellivision In Hi-Fi doesn’t feature gobs of stuff remixed into a more modern form, opting instead to give you the actual beeps-and-boops sound of the original hardware. I’m a fan of both approaches, but this album’s diverse sampling of original sounds and reinterpretations should have something to please just about everyone.

Order this CD

  1. Compare This! – Confusium (5:03)
  2. Snafu (1:33)
  3. Shark! Shark! (0:29)
  4. Buzz Bombers (0:29)
  5. Mind Strike (0:24)
  6. The Jetsons’ Way With Words (0:21)
  7. Melody Blasters (Blasters Blues) (0:31)
  8. Thin Ice (Carnival Of The Penguins) (0:43)
  9. Billiards Blues (1:34)
  10. Surfin’ On Thin Ice – The Fat Man (3:06)
  11. Also Sprach Zarathustra (0:47)
  12. Scooby Doo’s Maze Craze (0:32)
  13. Thunder Castle Songs (1:29)
  14. Lounge Shark! Lounge Shark! – The Tilton-Tate Orchestra (3:21)
  15. Maple Leaf Rag (1:21)
  16. My Intellivision (1982 Mix) – Michael Schwartz (4:38)
  17. James Bond Theme (0:37)
  18. You Deserve A Break Today (0:36)
  19. Linus & Lucy (1:14)
  20. Blow Out (0:58)
  21. Yogi’s Frustration (0:23)
  22. Rocky & His Friends (0:16)
  23. The Bullwinkle Show (0:19)
  24. Snafu City – The Buddy O Trio (3:12)
  25. The Closest Thing To The Real Thing – Confusium (13:58)
  26. Tron 1.1 – Tom Kahelin (7.49)

Released by: Intellivision Productions /
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 55:42

Firesign Theatre – All Things Firesign

Firesign Theatre: All Things FiresignThe Eight Shoes reunited once again in 2002 for a series of short radio comedy sketches airing weekly on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered from Independence Day through New Year’s Eve. Phil Proctor, David Ossman, Phil Austin and Peter Bergman revive such cracked classic characters as private detective Nick Danger and the now-retired General Curtis Goatheart to probe the post-9/11 national psyche through every available orifice.

Order this CDI’m not your typical Firesign Theatre fan; my friend (and occasional contributor) Shane Vaughn introduced me to them via 1972’s Dear Friends well over a decade ago, and I was instantly hooked – and then had a slightly hard time realizing that most of the rest of their output simply isn’t in the same vein. Not that it isn’t good, and not that I haven’t learned to love their utterly strange longform projects such as Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers, but to me, the Firesigns were always about Dear Friends. When I saw – long after the fact – that the group was releasing their NPR sketches, I was enthusiastic. This was a return to the short-sketch-comedy style that I had fallen in love with.

Having heard it now, it must be said that All Things Firesign is uneven. The war on terrorism is ripe for their unique style of comedy – political but not partisan, reveling in the absurdity coming from both ends of the political spectrum without just relentlessly slamming certain public figures – but they seem to miss the mark as often as they hit it, sort of the comedy equivalent of blowing up a cave three weeks after Osama Bin Laden vacated it. There is good stuff here, though: “It’s Saddam Shame!” pokes fun at the fact that terrorist organizations suddenly have media savvy, “TIPs Hotline” gives us a look at America’s Most Wanted as hosted by John Ashcroft instead of John Walsh, “Bob Heeblehauser’s Tacomasaur!” finds an inventive solution to the energy crisis, and perhaps best of all, “No Jokes About America!” aims squarely at that feeling that was still in effect circa 2002 that we had somehow lost the right in this country to crack a smile about anything.

The media itself has always been a rich vein of material for Firesign Theatre, and All Things Firesign is no exception. In a series of sketches, self-proclaimed “prisoner of the 21st century” Hal Stark drones on, Andy Rooney-style, about everything that’s wrong with the modern world, which turns out to mean everything except Hal Stark. Cooking and hunting shows, cryptic Gulf War v1.0-style military press conferences and even those DVD players that’ll censor movies for you all wind up in the Firesigns’ sights.

This CD even features one sketch that NPR quickly turned down. And admittedly, it’s easy to feel your eyebrows raising higher and higher as the Firesigns almost seem to be trying to find something to offend everyone in “Thanksgiving, or Pass The Indian, Please!” – and I was surprised too, because offending everyone isn’t really what the Firesigns are known for. They turn it around with an almost South Park-style twist at the end (and I don’t use the comparison lightly, for I’ve come to regard South Park as perhaps the Firesign Theatre’s only spiritual successor in any medium), but…yeah, you can see where the NPR producers might have been squirming in their seats on this one.

If you can’t handle anything making sport of the present situation, skip All Things Firesign. Those with no sense or humor, and no ability to see that there is at least a little absurdity in every situation, should steer clear. If you’re up for something that does find the absurdity in our soundbite-driven, slogan-ridden modern world, doesn’t slam the military and has a little well-observed fun at the expense of a few high-profile figures on both sides of the war on terror, this is right up your alley.