Alien Nation – music by Jerry Goldsmith

Alien NationThe differences between Alien Nation‘s movie and TV incarnations are so significant that they almost shouldn’t share the name. Both had shortcomings: the TV series delved into the concept more fully, but was often cutesy in an ’80s-family-drama kind of way; the movie was a bit edgier, but ultimately less successful in fleshing out the concept.

The soundtrack of Alien Nation (the movie) wasn’t one of the things that made it edgier. It was also the second soundtrack the film went through: Jerry Goldsmith had originally been hired to score Alien Nation, and created an all-synth score which was subsequently rejected and replaced by the Curt Sobel score that was ultimately heard in theaters. The liner notes of this release paint this as the movie’s loss, but it may be a toss-up as to which composer would have serviced the movie better.

Here’s the problem: frankly, the TV series had better music, because it dared to give its alien characters alien music. There seem to be a few hints that Goldsmith had thoughts about going in that direction, but most of those hints take the form of unearthly noise sweeps at the beginning of some tracks. But for the most part, as unlikely as it may seem to describe anything composer by Jerry Goldsmith this way, Alien Nation a la Goldsmith is unremarkable.

2 out of 4It’s no better and no worse than any other synthesized score, but the music itself seems remarkably tame for what was meant to be an adventurous, high-concept new take on a classic genre. It almost sounds like a demo rather than a finished score, which may or may not have been the intention. And in any case, Goldsmith would go on to create better music for better projects than Alien Nation. Maybe the material just didn’t inspire him.

Order this CD

  1. Alien Landing (3:47)
  2. Out Back (2:01)
  3. Are You Alright? (1:50)
  4. Take It Easy (2:53)
  5. The Vial (2:13)
  6. Jerry’s Jam (1:51)
  7. Alien Dance (1:57)
  8. Are You There? (2:01)
  9. The Beach (3:42)
  10. Tow Truck Getaway (1:52)
  11. 772 / I Shall Remember (4:08)
  12. Tell Them (1:29)
  13. A Game Of Chicken (2:36)
  14. Overdose (2:26)
  15. Got A Match? (2:53)
  16. A Nice view (2:34)
  17. Just Ugly (1:57)
  18. The Wedding (4:43)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 46:43

Planet Of The Apes: The Series

Planet Of The Apes: The SeriesThe most unexpected Planet Of The Apes soundtrack of all is this compilation of music from the franchise’s brief extension in live-action TV. Though the series boasted some segments worthy of the Apes brand of storytelling, it’s often ignored by more serious afficionados of the original film series because it doesn’t try very hard to adhere to the movies’ timeline. What the TV series had going for it was lavish location filming, Roddy McDowall again donning the makeup of a sympathetic ape, and what was actually a fairly effective music library.

With the rules of television scoring being different in the ’70s, not every episode of the Apes TV series got its own score; many of its installments were “tracked” from this music written for early episodes. Lalo Schifrin also composed the oppressive, guttural main theme, so his scores tended to quote that theme frequently, providing some unity. The episodes scores by Schifrin were less adventurous than, say, the same composer’s globe-style-trotting music for Mission: Impossible, but he wisely leans in favor of “aping” the brutal, occasionally dissonant sound established by the first movie’s groundbreaking Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack. With a smaller ensemble at his disposal, Schifrin makes the best use of his orchestral resources: there’s more brass than strings here, and he can’t hope to match Goldsmith’s wall of violent unconventional percussion. What he manages to pull off with that smaller orchestra is impressive.

Some of the better cues are the wrap-everything-up-on-a-less-hopeless-note final scenes from Schifrin’s scores. “Your World”, from the series pilot, is the musical epitome of “cautiously optimistic,” while “A Beginning” (the final cue of the show’s second hour, The Gladiators) is less certain in its feel-good send-off (and was used to close out many of the series’ installments). The Gladiators score also provides a showcase for what Schifrin was able to do with his more modest percussion section.

Another early episode score, The Legacy, was composed by guest musician Earle Hagen, and it’s distinctly different from Schifrin’s music. Less in-your-face pessimistic than Schifrin’s scores, Hagen’s music is more typical of mid 1970s drama scoring for American TV. Cues like The Soldiers demonstrate an attempt to mesh with the Schifrin scores, but most of the music is subtler and more mysterious, befitting the episode’s race to preserve a hologram which promises to be a storehouse of human scientific knowledge. Hagen went on to compose other scores for the series, ultimately providing almost a third of the show’s scores versus the two-thirds either scored by Schifrin or tracked from episodes previously scored by Schifrin.

The last score – incidentally closing out the first four episodes of the show – sees Schifrin return with a more robust percussion ensemble, and resuming the use of music that complements his main theme nicely. A few cues (the opening moments of “Riding For Urko” in particular) see Schifrin confidently stepping right up to the territory mapped out by Goldsmith’s score for the first Apes movie. 4 out of 4This score truly belongs in the Apes musical pantheon.

And so does the TV soundtrack as a whole. More obscure than even the later film sequels, the TV series suffered from a malady common to early ’70s TV science fiction – namely having well-worn plots from westerns or The Fugitive grafted onto the Planet Of The Apes backstory – but the music is one of the better things about the show, consistently reminding the audience of the stakes in play, even if the scripts didn’t make this quite so clear.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (1:15)

    Escape From Tomorrow by Lalo Schifrin

  2. The Spaceship (2:38)
  3. Apes (2:48)
  4. The Warp (2:03)
  5. Urko and Galen (4:05)
  6. Prison Guard (1:58)
  7. Jail Break (3:32)
  8. Your World (1:58)

    The Gladiators by Lalo Schifrin

  9. Jason (1:11)
  10. Fighting (2:14)
  11. Barlow (1:50)
  12. Trouble (2:25)
  13. Into the Arena (2:47)
  14. There Will Be Death (0:53)
  15. Humans versus Apes (2:34)
  16. A Beginning (2:32)

    The Legacy by Earle Hagen

  17. Into the Ruined City (2:28)
  18. The Machine (0:50)
  19. The Soldiers (2:30)
  20. The Key (1:25)
  21. Verdon and the Kid (1:10)
  22. The Family (1:56)
  23. The Reward (2:25)
  24. Knowledge Hunts (3:13)
  25. Farewell (0:38)

    The Good Seed by Lalo Schifrin

  26. Riding for Urko (1:48)
  27. Travel Without Stars (3:18)
  28. Attack (3:18)
  29. Bonded Humans (2:26)
  30. Next String (2:27)
  31. End Credits (1:59)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 68:34

Homemade Spaceship: The Music Of ELO Performed By P. Hux

Homemade SpaceshipThere’s gonna be a throwdown! At least that was what I thought when I first heard of this release: Parthenon Huxley, the songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist behind the excellent No Rewind album from The Orchestra (formerly ELO Part II), tries on some bona fide Jeff Lynne classics for size. Given ELO Part II/The Orchestra’s storied legal history with Lynne, surely Huxley had some massive brass balls. Not only had he become one of the inheritors of the ELO sound, but he was taking on classic ELO songs written by one of the group’s founders. A gutsy move, to say the very least.

Huxley is, like many modern power pop practitioners, an admirer of Jeff Lynne’s songwriting and production acumen, and so perhaps it was wise for him to do something really unexpected with Homemade Spaceship: in many cases, he almost rewrites the music. Same words, but completely different takes on some of the familiar melodies. There are plenty of hints of the familiar melody of “Mr. Blue Sky”, for instance, but the timing has changed, and Huxley completely changes the trajectory of the main vocal melody. The lush harmonies are gone for the most part too, further confusing the ear that’s accustomed to Lynne’s wall of sound.

Some songs stick very close to their source material: “10538 Overture” is a folkier take on the very first ELO song, and has the added benefit of making the lyrics easier to understand than the original does. The closest any of the tracks here comes to their inspiration is “The Diary Of Horace Wimp”, which is presented in a laid-back way but, unlike many of the songs covered on Homemade Spaceship, preserves much of the harmonies in the chorus. “Showdown” stays close to the original, but trades in the original recording’s layers of foreboding strings for a pared-down, folky western dirge.

Some of the songs that do stray further from the source material are real treats: Huxley makes “Evil Woman” his own via some melodic twists and turns that differ significantly from the original, but it still has a driving beat and a bluesy feel at its heart. “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” is a much softer song than the hard-rocking original, but the changes give the same set of lyrics a compeltely different emotional angle.

3 out of 4My one complaint about Homemade Spaceship is that, like L.E.O., Huxley chooses to parody “Don’t Bring Me Down” instead of doing a more straightforward cover of it. With a faux British accent, he turns it into a song that’s spoken instead of sung, and occasionally reduces it to a Pythonesque farce. After the rest of the album’s thoughtful deconstructions of numerous ELO favorites, this approach struck me as cheap and cheesy, but your mileage may vary. Overall, a very interesting collection – ELO ultra-purists need not apply.

Order a download

  1. 10538 Overture (3:09)
  2. Mr. Blue Sky (4:08)
  3. Showdown (4:03)
  4. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head (4:22)
  5. Telephone Line (6:26)
  6. Sweet Talkin’ Woman (5:05)
  7. Evil Woman (4:54)
  8. Ma-Ma-Ma Belle (3:43)
  9. Strange Magic (3:41)
  10. The Diary Of Horace Wimp (5:13)
  11. Do Ya (4:08)
  12. Don’t Bring Me Down (3:34)

Released by: Reverberations
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 52:26

Rediscovering Lost Scores, Volume 2 – music by Wendy Carlos

Film composer and synth innovator Wendy Carlos’ second disc of restored original score recordings focuses on her attempts to meld synthesizers and orchestral music in the 1970s and early 80s.

The second in a series of releases of “recovered” movie scores from Wendy/Walter Carlos’ library, this disc focuses on collaborations (and sometimes, collisions) between synthesizer and orchestra. Carlos provides her own liner notes both on the music itself and on the painstaking process of recovering it from the damaged master tapes upon which it had originally been recorded, which involved literally baking each reel of tape (quite literally in an oven) at a precise temperature for a precise amount of time; it wasn’t a process where you could put something back in the oven, either – there was one shot at getitng it right and preserving the original material. That same procedure allowed the composer to recover her original master tapes in time for the 20th anniversary release of the Tron score, and so it’s somehow appropriate that more music from Tron – both previously released and previously unreleased – can be heard here, along with music from equally iconic films.

Feel free to call me predictable, but of course what drew me to this volume (not having bought the first CD) was, naturally, the promise of new music from Tron. Fair warning: if that’s the only reason you’re thinking about getting this disc, maybe you should think twice. There isn’t a huge amount of new material presented here for the Tron fanatic, and a goodly chunk of it has been heard before: “Lightcycle Battle” was made available on the 20th anniversary edition DVD, and “Trinitron” – a.k.a. that part of the end credits that was covered up by Journey’s “Only Solutions” – has always been available as part of the end credit suite on the soundtrack releases, going all the way back to the 1982 LP release. (In the liner notes, Carlos makes it sound like this is the first time anyone’s ever heard it. Nope. It’s been my favorite piece of Tron music for 28 years running now!) The various other short tracks, which didn’t even make it into the movie, are interesting to hear…but they’re so short. It’s nice to have track-by-track liner notes for them though.

The material from The Shining, I barely remember, having seen that movie very few times (as opposed to having seen Tron about a zillion times); what I can tell you is that it sounds as sharp as the remastered Tron material, apparently baked to perfection. There’s also a healthy sampling of material from Carlos’ soundtrack to a movie I’ve never heard of, called Woundings.

Included as a couple of bonus tracks are two test tracks Carlos assembled for Dolby Laboratories, and they’re vintage Carlos material – 3 out of 4making use of very Bach-like counterpoint in the synth realm, and throwing in just one or two small musical in-jokes (i.e. “That’s all folks!”).

The second volume of Rediscovering Lost Scores is a nice cross-section of Carlos’ movie material, but it’s really not an entry-level album – this one is definitely for listeners who are either already fans of Carlos’ work, or of the movies whose music is included.

Order this CD

    The Shining

  1. Shining Title Music (3:54)
  2. Paraphrase For ‘Cello (3:26)
  3. Where’s Jack? (5:24)
  4. The Overlook (3:57)
  5. Psychic Scream (1:29)
  6. Day Of Wrath (1:07)
  7. Paraphrase For Brass (1:37)
  8. Title Music ‘Dies’ (3:46)
  9. Clockworks ‘Dies’ (2:23)
  10. Tron

  11. Creation Of Tron Vol. I (0:36)
  12. Creation Of Tron Vol. II (0:36)
  13. Lightcycle Games (2:06)
  14. Anthem (Studio Version) (1:24)
  15. Little Interludes (0:56)
  16. Trinitron (2:19)
  17. Split Second

  18. Visit To A Morgue (1:24)
  19. Return To The Morgue (2:50)
  20. Woundings

  21. Woundings Title Music (3:12)
  22. Angela’s Walk (1:05)
  23. Jimmy (1:38)
  24. Louise (0:56)
  25. Doug Does Angela (1:37)
  26. Scattering Ashes (1:33)
  27. Angela’s Aftermath (3:47)
  28. Jimmy Kills Louise (2:33)
  29. In A Cemetery (0:57)
  30. Fly Away And End (1:40)
  31. Two Dolby Demos

  32. Jiffy Test: Bee Dee Bei Mir (1:25)
  33. Listen: Tannhauser (2:18)

Released by: East Side Digital
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 61:55

Serenity – music by David Newman

If there’s one giant mystery about Serenity, it’s not the plot, nor even the decision to diminish the Firefly cast by two beloved characters on their first big-screen outing. There’s not even a big mystery as to how the movie came about – to put it simply, enough people loved Joss Whedon’s short-lived Fox TV show, especially its characters and its wild-west-of-the-future setting, that Universal was sold on the idea of doing Firefly for the big screen. If there’s one mystery I’m left with, it’s this: whatever happened to Greg Edmonson? The TV series’ music didn’t beat around the bush in establishing the western-in-space theme, and with its ethnic instrumentation, helped to remind viewers that there was more to it than that. Naturally, the last thing I expected from the movie Serenity was a score steeped in conventional, Star Wars-style orchestral leitmotif.

The Serenity score was composed by David Newman, who was responsible for the simply amazing music of Galaxy Quest. I’m hesitant to say that his assignment to this movie was a trade up or a trade down, but it was certainly a bizarre step sideways. Listening to the soundtrack alone, you’re three tracks in before you even get a hint of the western-inspired music of the series, and even then, it’s not even as authentically western as, say, Copland’s “Rodeo”. There’s almost hope for “Trading Station Robbery”, but then it seems like nobody can decide if the guitar should sound country-twangy or Duane-Eddy-spy-movie-music twangy.

Now, if you don’t care about whether or not it sounds like a musical continuation of Firefly, this is some fine classic David Newman SF action music – again, if you liked Newman’s score for Galaxy Quest, you’ll almost certainly like this. And I can sort of see an argument that Serenity is not just an episode of Firefly projected onto a big screen, but a larger adventure demanding the trappings of a larger canvas, including bigger, more theatrical music (call this the Star Trek: The Motion Picture defense). If that’s your bag, the music doesn’t get much bigger than “Crash Landing” or “Jayne & Zoe / Final Battle”.

3 out of 4This is a hard one to rate – it’s great music, but it just doesn’t mesh with the movie and the sonic universe that had already been established. And in the end credits of the movie, Newman even quotes the original Firefly theme, and that didn’t even make it to the CD. If you just pull the booklet out of the jewel case and pretend this is the soundtrack to a movie that has nothing to do with Firefly, you’re in good shape.

Order this CD

  1. Into The River (3:11)
  2. Escape (1:33)
  3. Serenity (0:51)
  4. Going For A Ride (2:24)
  5. Trading Station Robbery (3:21)
  6. River Goes Wild (1:28)
  7. River And Simon In Locker (1:00)
  8. Population: Dead (3:56)
  9. Haven Destroyed (0:56)
  10. Shepherd Book’s Last Words (1:00)
  11. You’re Not A Reaver (0:57)
  12. Mal Decides (3:09)
  13. Truth / Mal’s Speech (3:27)
  14. Space Battle (3:21)
  15. Crash Landing (2:00)
  16. Run To Black (2:58)
  17. Generator Room (3:06)
  18. Mal & Op Fight (2:10)
  19. Jayne & Zoe / Final Battle (2:49)
  20. Funeral / Rebuilding Serenity (2:01)
  21. Prep For A Flight (1:33)
  22. Love (1:06)
  23. End Credits (1:37)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 49:54

E.S. Posthumus – Unearthed

You’ve seen the movie, now hear the music – well, not quite. In this case, you’ve seen the movie trailer, now hear the music. E.S. Posthumus’ Unearthed is an unorthodox release by a group of producers and musicians whose “day job”, if you will, is to create music for movie trailers. The music is as epic and sweeping as anything you could probably find on the movies’ individual soundtracks, but this music is born in and lives in entirely commercial airspace. And frankly, the idea of marketing movie trailer music on its own is sheer genius. Three million people might see a movie on its opening night, but in the weeks and months leading up to that, between trailers attached to other movies, TV spots, and web exposure, you can bet that six million people have seen the trailer. Even if they don’t bother with the movie, they’ve been exposed to the imagery and the music. You’ve probably heard as much at least as much E.S. Posthumus in the past two or three years as you’ve heard John Williams – you just didn’t realize it.

Things start strong with the mellow-but-epic “Antissa”, while “Tikal” resides a little bit closer to Matrix territory musically. “Ebla” is another winner, with a rhythmic chanting anchoring the entire piece. “Nineveh” and “Pompeii” almost sound like background music from a video game, while “Menouthis” starts out apocalyptic and, again, moves into The Matrix‘s neighborhood.

For me, the crowning glory of Unearthed is “Estremoz”, a mournful choral piece set to a gentle breakbeat. I don’t recall having heard this on a trailer for anything, but perhaps there’s a reason for that – it’d have to be one hell of a depressing movie. The music itself is very relaxing and serene, however, if just a little bit of a downer. “Isfahan” closes out the album on a similar wistful note.

Now, of course, the real question is: will you like it? That’s a good question. If you’re predisposed toward soundtrack music, you’ll find something to like here, but keep in mind that many of these pieces are expanded versions of musical compositions that originally only needed to be 30 or 60 seconds; even with running times in the 4-5 minute range, things get a bit repetitive with some of these tracks. And enjoyable as they are, their original function also doesn’t leave a lot of room for subtlety – the full-blast epic pieces throw a massive choir and orchestra at you, and the quieter pieces fall back on every other musical cliche you can imagine, from Irish drums to uilleann pipe. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those instruments or the styles usually associated with them; it’s just that when they show up on this album, the tunes go exactly where you’d expect them to go. It’s almost a “stop me if you’ve heard this one before” phenomenon – a song you could swear you’ve heard before.

3 out of 4

Order this CD

  1. Antissa (5:11)
  2. Tikal (3:46)
  3. Harappa (4:36)
  4. Ulaid (5:09)
  5. Ebla (6:09)
  6. Nara (4:51)
  7. Cuzco (4:02)
  8. Nineveh (3:42)
  9. Lepcis Magna (3:27)
  10. Menouthis (3:55)
  11. Estremoz (5:06)
  12. Pompeii (3:40)
  13. Isfahan (4:34)

Released by: 33rd Street
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 58:08

The Complete Sounds Of Katamari

The Complete Sounds Of KatamariThe final release in a trilogy of soundtracks accompanying the trilogy of Katamari games (Katamari Damacy, We Love Katamari and the PSP title Me And My Katamari), The Complete Sounds Of Katamari is an unusual combination of material, ranging from the music of Me & My Katamari to previously unreleased tracks from We Love Katamari to tunes from other Namco video games with no Katamari connection at all. But as with the previous two soundtracks in the series, Complete Sounds has enough gems of pure musical cheerfulness to offer that it’s easy to overlook any lack of cohesiveness.

As one might expect, the first disc – featuring only music from the Katamari games – has moments of pure gold, as well as moments that really work better as in-game music than stand-alone listening material. “Shine! Mr. Sunshine” is a highlight of the tracks from Me & My Katamari, with a soulful, southern gospel feel that’s almost unexpected after its opening, which is a short, NES-style rendition of the Katamari theme. That theme is reinterpreted and experimented with endlessly, in such tracks as “Katamari On The Moog” and “Katamari On The Funk” (to name just two of the better tracks). From track 10 onward, the first disc presents music from We Love Katamari that didn’t make it onto that game’s soundtrack CD; a favorite among these is the quirky “One Tip March.”

Disc two’s tracks are more symphonic in nature, and hail from such games as Splatterhouse and Tales Of Eternia Online – an interesting mix to be sure. There are also a few tracks of ambient Rating: 3 out of 4outdoor sound effects. It’s almost like a Namco “best of” collection, but given how expensive this 2-CD set can be (depending on where one gets it), one wonders why Namco didn’t just divide this package into two separate releases and save some of us who are really after more Katamari music the money.

It’s all a nice package of music, but certainly a strange collision of styles and sources.

    Order this CD in the StoreDisc One

  1. Overture III (2:35)
  2. Katamari On The Funk (10:22)
  3. Katamaresort (3:04)
  4. Shabadoobie (3:01)
  5. Jesus Island (4:47)
  6. Family Damacy (4:41)
  7. Katamari On The Moog (0:32)
  8. Shine! Mr. Sunshine (5:36)
  9. Katamarhythm Box (1:41)
  10. Dan Don Fuga (2:14)
  11. Tron The Grasslands (4:27)
  12. One Tip March (2:43)
  13. Do Re Mi Katamari Do (3:13)
  14. Starlight Jamboree (2:56)
  15. Everyone Dancing Katamari Damacy (1:00)
  16. Love & Peace & Katamari Damacy (0:43)
  17. Big Cosmos Salon (3:03)
    Disc Two

  1. In A Muddle (7:05)
  2. Kanewood Edge – Morning (0:40)
  3. None But the Lonely Heart (Op. 6-6) (2:51)
  4. Presto Scherzando (1:35)
  5. Appassionate, Allegro Moderato (2:15)
  6. Super Taiko Damacy (0:59)
  7. None But the Lonely Heart (Op. 6-6) (2:58)
  8. Super Taiko Damacy (Refrain) (0:26)
  9. Sadness (1:42)
  10. Stizzoso (1:08)
  11. Kanewood Edge – Day (0:33)
  12. Con Energico (5:49)
  13. Sento Nel Core (Arrange Version from Splatterhouse (4:24)
  14. Kuttsuki Taro (2:43)
  15. Misterioso (3:03)
  16. Chaotic Ambience (0:54)
  17. Andante, Con Moto, Grandioso (1:41)
  18. Big Fire (1:55)
  19. Night Moo Moo (0:41)
  20. Kanewood Edge – Star (9:55)

Released by: Columbia Japan
Release date: 2005
Disc one total running time: 56:38
Disc two total running time: 53:17