The Idle Race – Back To The Story

The Idle Race - Back To The StoryIn the post-Sgt. Pepper 1960s, many an up-and-coming British band longed to be the next Beatles, and with record labels hitching their wagons to the musical “British invasion” of America, there was certainly no shortage of success stories. Some bands, however, by choice or by fate, remained strictly local concerns – and such was the case with the Idle Race, a Birmingham group that rose from the ashes of a previous local band, Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders, after Sheridan left the band and a young guitarist named Jeff Lynne joined up. Even while the band was still actively recording and playing live, Idle Race won critical acclaim (including from the Beatles themselves, who invited the band to sit in on some sessions for the White Album)…and sold so few records that the band might’ve vanished into local history but for one of its members’ later success. Back To The Story is a 2-CD set that collects all three of the albums recorded by the Idle Race – two with Lynne in the driver’s seat (including his first credit as producer), and one recorded after his departure.

An utterly charming little slice of obscure ’60s psychedelia, The Birthday Party is the Idle Race’s debut effort, boasting intricate arrangements, some teriffic vocal harmonies, and even a studio string section, quite an unusual luxury for such a young group. The harmonies and the sense of whimsy running through both music and lyrics are clear evidence of a Beatles influence, though there are also touches that might remind keen-eared listeners of the Byrds here and there.

The Idle Race - The Birthday PartyBy modern standards, The Birthday Party is barely an EP, not even weighing in at half an hour, but the songs are layered enough to merit repeat listening. Where there’s lyrical whimsy, it’s almost too much at times, with “I Like My Toys” and “Sitting In My Tree” sticking out in that regard; depending on your mood, it’ll either be a little too saccharine, or endearingly childlike. It’s in numbers like “Follow Me Follow” and especially “The Lady Who Said She Could Fly” that the real potential of the group is exposed, and they’re a revelation – decent rock numbers with a nice string arrangement woven into and around the Idle Race’s basic rhythm section. The songs leave a huge impression – honestly, why they haven’t been covered is a total mystery to me – and they show that the group’s young lead vocalist (and self-appointed rookie producer) Jeff Lynne had some very clear ideas about what he’d do with a studio and a band at his disposal. Despite overtures (ha!) from his friend Roy Wood to join The Move, Lynne stubbornly stuck it out with the Idle Race for another album.

The Idle RaceThat album was the self-titled The Idle Race, and while Lynne’s songwriting and production are still front and center, somehow the second album doesn’t just reach out and grab me the same way that The Birthday Party does. In a few places, Lynne is reaching too far for the kind of Beatlesque affectations that many critics accuse him of being about for his whole career. If you thought Lynne was trying too hard to set up shop on the Fab Four’s turf during his ELO career, stay right away from The Idle Race here. There is one bona fide gorgeous Lynne classic on here in the form of “Follow Me Follow”, which just about makes the whole album worthwhile. “Come With Me”, “Sea Of Dreams” and “Going Home” are a nice triple-act right at the beginning of the album…but all this means is that The Idle Race has an extremely soft center. The second CD kicks off with a selection of non-album singles and B-sides, which are also a mixed bag; I thought I’d get a big kick out of hearing Lynne cover his buddy Roy Wood’s “(Here We Go ‘Round) The Lemon Tree”, originally performed by the Move (and with Roy Wood sitting in on this cover version), but while it’s a faithful enough rendition musically, the production touches are a bit much – this is Lynne at an age where he was getting a big charge out of being The Producer, and he was throwing everything plus the kitchen sink at the job, whether the song called for it or not. There’s a really good cover of “In The Summertime”, dating from the band’s brief post-Lynne era, but it differentiates itself so very little from the original that you might as well stick to Mungo Jerry.

The Idle Race - Time Is...In any case, Jeff Lynne did ultimately join the Move and, with Wood, later formed ELO; his Idle Race cohorts released a third album, Time Is…, which sounds absolutely nothing like Lynne-era Idle Race. Roger Spencer and the other members of the group steered things into a more mainstream psychedelic rock vein, and while there are some nice tunes to be found on the group’s swan song, you have to keep in mind that this is solid 1969/1970 material a year or two past its sell-by date. These songs slid right under the radar because music had moved on – Led Zeppelin was in full force, and even the Move was busting out mind-blowers like “Open Up Said The World At The Door”.

Thus ends the complete catalog of the Idle Race – enough to fill two CDs, with space left over for both sides of the final Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders single, and a few alternate versions. (Hey, albums were shorter back then.) The alternate takes of three songs – including the gorgeous “Follow Me Follow” – quickly reveal why the versions we’re used to are what made it onto the albums. “Follow” in particular is marred, in this recording, by a strange effect on the vocals during the chorus; at best, this bit of “producing” is just unbecoming considering the rest of the song’s beauty.

3 out of 4
A “complete recordings” box set is due later this year, rumored to span more than twice as many discs as this set, but between my own post-baby budget and my ambivalence about the material presented in this collection, I’m going to have to see some awfully good reviews and see some awfully tempting stuff on the tracklist before I blow my money on it. For most people, even diehard fans who “Follow Me Follow” Jeff Lynne wherever he goes, this complete presentation of the Idle Race’s commercially released material will do nicely.

Order this CD

    Disc one
    The Birthday Party

  1. The Skeleton and the Roundabout (2:21)
  2. Happy Birthday / The Birthday Party (3:23)
  3. I Like My Toys (2:10)
  4. The Morning Sunshine (1:46)
  5. Follow Me Follow (2:48)
  6. Sitting In My Tree (1:53)
  7. On With The Show (2:22)
  8. Lucky Man (2:37)
  9. (Don’t Put Your Boys In The Army) Mrs. Ward (2:13)
  10. Pie In The Sky (2:27)
  11. The Lady Who Said She Could Fly (2:19)
  12. End Of The Road (2:09)
  13. The Idle Race

  14. Come With Me (2:45)
  15. Sea Of Dreams (3:13)
  16. Going Home (3:44)
  17. Reminds Me Of You (2:54)
  18. Mr. Crow And Sir Norman (3:17)
  19. Please No More Sad Songs (3:21)
  20. Girl At The Window (3:44)
  21. Big Chief Woolly Bosher (5:15)
  22. Someone Knocking (2:56)
  23. A Better Life (The Weather Man Knows) (2:45)
  24. Hurry Up John (3:33)
  25. Bonus tracks

  26. Lucky Man (alternate take) (2:35)
  27. Follow Me Follow (alternate take) (1:56)
  28. Days Of Broken Arrows (alternate take) (3:39)
    Disc two
    Singles & B-sides

  1. (Here We Go ‘Round) The Lemon Tree (2:44)
  2. My Father’s Son (2:15)
  3. Impostors Of Life’s Magazine (2:21)
  4. Knocking Nails Into My House (2:27)
  5. Days Of The Broken Arrows (3:51)
  6. Worn Red Carpet (3:03)
  7. In The Summertime (2:58)
  8. Told You Twice (3:38)
  9. Neanderthal Man (3:56)
  10. Victim Of Circumstance (3:36)
  11. Time Is

  12. Dancing Flower (2:14)
  13. Sad O’ Sad (3:28)
  14. The Clock (3:23)
  15. I Will See You (3:11)
  16. By The Sun (6:42)
  17. Alcatraz (4:02)
  18. And The Rain (2:52)
  19. She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune (3:07)
  20. Bitter Green (3:45)
  21. We Want It All (4:13)
  22. Mike Sheridan & The Nightriders

  23. It’s Only the Dog (2:15)
  24. Your Friend (3:22)

Released by: EMI
Release date: 1996 (re-released in 2007 without Nightriders tracks)
Disc one total running time: 74:26
Disc two total running time: 73:23

Sliders – Music By Dennis McCarthy

Sliders - Music By Dennis McCarthyReleased through composer Dennis McCarthy’s web site, the music from the first and last episodes of the first season of Fox’s 1995 SF series Sliders will probably sound familiar to fans of McCarthy’s Star Trek work. It’s more of the same of McCarthy’s signature style, though it’s just possible that he gets to cut loose a bit more here – there are more action setpieces in the music than one would expect to find in the average episode of Next Generation or Deep Space Nine. This CD includes selections from the two episodes McCarthy scored in the first season – the two-hour pilot movie and the season finale Luck Of The Draw.

McCarthy’s trademark foreboding style is all over the pilot; with the exception of a few more exciting than usual action cues, much of his pilot score might as well be a Star Trek score, if a slightly more energetic one than usual. Cues like “The Ice Tornado” are big, bustling action cues of precisely the kind that executive producer Rick Berman discouraged at nearly all costs on Trek; fortunately, though, this isn’t Trek.

McCarthy splits the difference between his orchestral style and something a bit more contemporary with the cues from Luck Of The Draw, the first season finale episode which involved a parallel Earth that uses lotttery-selected suicide as a means of population control. For action cues that don’t have to musically illustrate that society, McCarthy slips back into full orchestral mode, again a little more boisterously than he generally would’ve been allowed to be in that other SF universe.

The rest of the first season was scored by Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo fame), who also composed the series’ main theme; his contributions don’t appear here.

Wrapping up the Sliders CD is a McCarthy original, “Past, Present & Future Suite”, which combines a wild electric guitar intro with some of the composer’s favorite Trek cues, including the heroic opening from the second season opener The Child, and some completely original “rock” material. The opening minute or so of this piece is just awe-inspiring, but its more contemporary middle section peters out about before getting back to business. Still, it’s basically a piece of Next Generation music that hasn’t been heard elsewhere, which is why I’ve got this in the database as a Star Trek soundtrack.

3 out of 4The Sliders soundtrack is an interesting piece of work, and fans of his work (or even listeners who thought he was playing action sequences awfully tame on Star Trek) will probably dig it, whether they’ve seen the show in question or not.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (1:38)
  2. The Wormhole (1:56)
  3. The First Slide (4:42)
  4. The Ice World (3:16)
  5. Ice Tornado (4:11)
  6. Strange Land (3:33)
  7. The Rescue (2:23)
  8. Wade’s Death? (1:46)
  9. Sliders Escape (2:28)
  10. Interlude (1:11)
  11. Finale / End Credits (1:38)
  12. Slide In (0:29)
  13. A New World (1:15)
  14. The Girl’s Suicide (2:51)
  15. Jail Break (2:26)
  16. Wade In Danger (1:23)
  17. Slide Out / Quinn Shot (3:12)
  18. Past, Present And Future Suite (2:40)

Released by: dennismccarthy.com
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 42:58

Alan Parsons Project – Tales Of Mystery And Imagination

The very first album by the team of Alan Parsons, Eric Woolfson and their various and sundry cohorts, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe – the album – was originally intended to be known as The Alan Parsons Project. It was only when radio DJs needed an artist/band name to latch onto, and a second album was in the works, that the Project became the name of this new musical entity. One gets the impression, though, that for those involved, Tales remains the favorite project, despite the wider success of later Project albums like I Robot and Eye In The Sky. With no studio pressure to highlight a specific vocalist even if their voice wasn’t right for the song, with no precedent or road map for what they were doing, there was no real boundary for Parsons and Woolfson to adhere to while making Tales. Their first album may well remain the best expression of what the two were trying to do. Part prog rock, part film-score-for-a-movie-that-never-was, there hasn’t been anything like Tales since.

The 1987 disc, which had already been digitally remastered 20 years ago, doesn’t seem to be noticeably remastered any further except to make it louder. (A tangent here: I sometimes wonder if cranking up the audio level and risking signal-flattening compression isn’t the real essence of a lot of modern-day “remastering”. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case here, but it’s something I wonder about.) Everything still sounds good.

The first bonus track is a series of excerpts from the album’s vocal songs featuring guide vocal tracks by Eric Woolfson. Recorded to give the songs’ actual guest vocalists an idea of how to approach a given song, what these guide vocals may demonstrate most effectively is that Woolfson doesn’t have a voice for every occasion; “(The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” just aren’t for his voice. “The Cask Of Amontillado” and “To One In Paradise” fare better with Woolfson vocals, but ultimately other people sang them on the finished recordings, and sang them better. Also interesting is how closely the backing tracks resemble the final recordings – there are only minor differences.

The complete reel of Orson Welles’ spoken-word introductions, interstitial pieces (not all of which were used) and the copy for the radio spots advertising Tales is included, and it’s an interesting listen. There just aren’t too many voices like Welles’ anymore, and the finished radio spot is included in its full glory on the 1976 disc. To the ears of the iPod generation, phrases like “a record album that will live in your memory forever” are either meaningless or ironically humorous; to the ears of someone like me who actually bought this album on vinyl once long ago, it brings a bit of a sad smile.

Even further afield than the radio spot is a section of sound effects, placed within the context of one movement of “The Fall Of The House Of Usher”, which has the listener walk through a sinister creaky door…and into a busy airport terminal full of sea lions and sheep. The liner notes are pretty clear that this was never meant for prime time, but was assembled by the producers for their own amusement at the time.

The first disc wraps with “GBH Mix: Unreleased Experiments”, revealing bits and pieces of what I suspect are several abandoned songs, including one that would’ve set “The Murders In The Rue Morgue” to music. There’s an incredible disparity between the handful of musical ideas here, and while the liner notes claim that the ragtime-esque portion that opens this track was a step on the road to “Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether”, I’m just not hearing it. Very strange stuff.

The 1976 disc presents Tales as it was originally released in 1976, minus the Orson Welles narrations and the various retouches and remixes done for the 1987 remastered edition. Again, this edition of Tales had already been remastered and re-released (by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, no less, in a limited edition that became a top-dollar collectible like many of MFSL’s re-releases), so it sounds as good as the more recent version.

The first bonus track accompanying the 1976 album is an early, early, early demo of “The Raven”, lacking fully formed lyrics or just about any of the production signatures that would come to be sonically associated with the Project – primarily because the demo pre-dates Parsons’ involvement. About 5/6 of the melody of “The Raven” as finally released is there, but the lyrics are barely recognizable, a bit ranting, and aren’t helped by Woolfson’s strained attempt at hard-biting rock vocals.

The next unreleased track, an Eric Woolfson demo called “Edgar”, is something that the record company strongly urged (i.e., in no uncertain terms) Woolfson to leave off the album, and for once, the suits were right on the money here. While the rest of Tales is derived from Poe’s actual works, “Edgar” would’ve been a piece of conceptual cotton candy amidst the Grand Guignol, something better suited to Woolfson’s stage musical work than to this album. It’s hard for me to really explain why this song doesn’t work, except to say this: instead of being based on one of Poe’s works, “Edgar” is obviously about Poe, and as such it does the musical equivalent of breaking the fourth wall. It’s so lightweight and fluffy that it would’ve been at odds with virtually the entire rest of the album. It’s interesting to hear it as a kind of deleted scene, but yeah, this had no place on this album.

Bringing things to a close is a vintage interview, dating back to Tales‘ original release, with Parsons and Woolfson, discussing – among other things – who came up with the idea of a Poe-centric album, how many musicians (and therefore how much money) were involved. File this one under “interesting time capsule” along with the Orson Welles voice-overs.

4 out of 4With the silly-going-on-insane prices commanded by the Mobile Fidelity re-release of the original Tales, this 2-CD set is easily worth the price of admission to hear both versions of the album, and the selection of bonus material is enlightening. As much as I admire Eric Woolfson’s songwriting chops, “Edgar” and some of “GBH Mix”‘s more bizarre segments make it very clear that Woolfson needed someone to help organize his sonic ideas and restrain some of his more frivolous music hall moments that might’ve been fine on stage but would’ve sabotaged a progressive rock album. Perhaps more than any of the other remasters, Tales makes it clear why we now know this musical entity as the Alan Parsons Project.

Order this CD

    1987 Version

  1. A Dream Within A Dream (4:13)
  2. The Raven (3:57)
  3. The Tell-Tale Heart (4:39)
  4. The Cask Of Amontillado (4:33)
  5. (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether (4:21)
    The Fall Of The House Of Usher
  6. I. Prelude (7:01)
  7. II. Arrival (2:39)
  8. III. Intermezzo (0:59)
  9. IV. Pavane (4:36)
  10. V. Fall (0:51)
  11. To One In Paradise (4:54)
  12. Eric’s Guide Vocal Medley (9:14)
  13. Orson Welles Dialogue (3:08)
  14. Sea Lions In The Departure Lounge: Sound Effects And Experiments (2:38)
  15. GBH Mix: Unreleased Experiments (5:22)
    1976 Version

  1. A Dream Within A Dream (3:41)
  2. The Raven (3:58)
  3. The Tell-Tale Heart (4:42)
  4. The Cask Of Amontillado (4:28)
  5. (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether (4:19)
    The Fall Of The House Of Usher
  6. I. Prelude (5:52)
  7. II. Arrival (2:41)
  8. III. Intermezzo (1:03)
  9. IV. Pavane (4:34)
  10. V. Fall (0:52)
  11. To One In Paradise (4:40)
  12. The Raven (Original Demo) (3:27)
  13. Edgar (Demo Of An Unreleased Track) (3:04)
  14. Orson Welles Radio Spot (1:03)
  15. Interview With Alan Parsons And Eric Woolfson (1976) (8:33)

Released by: Island
Release date: 2007
1987 disc total running time: 63:05
1976 disc total running time: 56:57

John Barrowman – Another Side

John Barrowman - Another SideBetter known for covering Cole Porter tunes and Broadway standards, John Barrowman takes his first swipe at mainstream pop – largely from the ’70s and ’80s – and reaches for the same earnestness and grandeur with that material. He manages to hit a few right out of the park, too – his covers of Billy Joel’s “She’s Always A Woman” and Elton John’s “Your Song” are winners. I’m not saying they’re replacing the originals in my musical affections, but they’re top-flight as reinterpretations go. There are even a few songs whose original records I don’t care for, but do enjoy here – Air Supply’s “All Out Of Love” and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, “Feeling Good”, a musical number that takes on an almost sinister air with Barrowman’s performance. I don’t know if that was actually the intention, but something about the arrangement and his vocal take on the song screams “seedy & dangerous” to me, which isn’t something that I get from the lyrics alone. (I’ll fess up here that I’m not a great consumer of musical theater, so I may be missing something in that context that has though in the know saying “Duh!” to me at this point.)

A few of these songs don’t quite soar that far, though – while they’re competent enough performances, the covers of the Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”, Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” just don’t do much for me. Nice enough to listen to, but I didn’t go back and listen to them again immediately like I did “Feeling Good” and some of the others. The cover of Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” knocks the song down a few keys to fit Barrowman’s range (which certainly doesn’t seem to be lacking anywhere else on the album), and while it’s pleasant enough, a big part of the original song was its production; it’s an interesting reading, but Peter Cetera need not quake in his boots.

The album seems to peter out a little bit toward the end – Eric Carman’s “All By Myself” is a song I’ve always considered to be a flat attempt at a faux-epic power ballad, and it’s just not a favorite of mine, to put it charitably (I will fess up to also having a blind spot for break-up songs). Even Barrowman, making his best attempt, can’t elevate that material for me, and I wind up skipping that track quite a bit (or at least hitting stop early, since it’s the last thing on the album) and thinking dude, sing something else – anything else. Your mileage may vary, however – I admit upfront that I’ve not a fan of that number in general.

3 out of 4Overall, I find Another Side very enjoyable. Golden Throats, it ain’t – Barrowman has a renowned career in musical theater, whenever he’s not traveling in the TARDIS or taming treacherous terrors with Torchwood – but it is a departure for Barrowman’s standard-centric recording career. Still, the guy can flat-out sing, and I could probably tick off about a dozen more songs I’d like to hear him tackle.

Order this CD

  1. All Out Of Love (3:55)
  2. You’re So Vain (3:55)
  3. She’s Always A Woman (3:23)
  4. Time After Time (3:59)
  5. Weekend In New England (3:47)
  6. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (2:33)
  7. If You Leave Me Now (3:43)
  8. Your Song (3:19)
  9. Please Remember Me (4:22)
  10. Heaven (4:04)
  11. Being Alive (3:13)
  12. Feeling Good (3:59)
  13. All By Myself (4:25)

Released by: Sony / BMG
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 48:37

Battlestar Galactica: Season 3 – music by Bear McCreary

Battlestar Galactica Season 3Like the television episodes that it accompanied, the soundtrack from the third season of Battlestar Galactica is an even more haunted, somber affair than its predecessors. The third season saw the characters’ bad decisions, bad personal judgement, and all-around character flaws come back to bite them on the butt in a big way. Opening with most of the surviving human race enslaved by the Cylons on a bleak world, the show got off of that planet in four episodes, but then proceeded to spend the bulk of its remaining shows reflecting on what had happened during that time. A side strand about Baltar trying to get his bearings among the Cylons offered some rather nebulous developments, until he fell once more into the hands of his fellow humans (who blamed him for their captivity). The pace suddenly picked up at the end of the season with the apparent death of Starbuck, the revelation that several key characters may actually be Cylons, and what at least appeared to be the return of Starbuck…with a tantalizing peek at Earth, just around the cosmic corner from Galactica.

Quite a bit of the soundtrack’s running time is spent with the Exodus two-parter, which saw Adama and the fleet return to liberate humanity from New Caprica, and with Unfinished Business, a segment that centered around a series of boxing matches to help the crew blow off steam. I’ll admit that Unfinished Business resides in the same “blind spot” I mentioned in an earlier review of the Doctor Who Series 3 soundtrack – there was an awful lot of music generated for the episode, but since I didn’t really count that episode among my favorites, I hadn’t paid close attention to its music. It turns out that, like the Who episode Human Nature, Unfinished Business had some fine music that I had overlooked.

The gem of the Exodus tracks is a mammoth (nearly 8 minute) cue that accompanied Galactica’s all-or-nothing struggle to rescue the trapped colonists. The show’s relentless percussion of the star of “Storming New Caprica”, but when low strings start to add a guttural urgency to the walls of percussion, things really get cooking. This may well be the best reason to get the soundtrack to begin with. Well, that and “All Along The Watchtower”. As odd as it may seem, a Bob Dylan song became central to the season finale, lyrics and all, though it’s a wildly different interpretation than just about anything you’ve heard before. It leans a little bit on the Jimi Hendrix version of “Watchtower”, but with the ethnic instrumentation and percussion that screams “Galactica” layered onto it. This is a cover of “Watchtower” that rocks, and rocks hard. It’s best listened to in conjunction with “Heeding The Call”, a piece of music heard on radios, in the launch bay, and “in the frakking ship!” as certain key characters began to suspect something was even more wrong than they had suspected. It leads into “Watchtower” nicely.

Maelstrom is another episode represented by a healthy sampling of music, including the final moments of the episode in which we’re led to believe that Starbuck has flown her final mission. The music from the episode Dirty Hands is fun too, with a swampy, slithery, bluesy guitar part that gives it a pretty unique sound. While the soundtrack from Galactica’s second season was markedly different from the first, bringing new elements and instruments into the mix, this CD almost sounds like a continuation of the previous season’s sound, dovetailing seamlessly in spots with the second season’s soundtrack.

4 out of 4A strong listen, but it took a little more time to grow on me than previous music collections from the new Battlestar Galactica. As with the episodes themselves, the season 3 soundtrack spends some time in introspective space, rather than blowing everything to bits. Those looking for action music won’t be disappointed, but there’s much more to the season 3 music than that.

Order this CD

  1. A Distant Sadness (2:50 – Occupation)
  2. Precipice (4:52 – Precipice)
  3. Admiral and Commander (3:16 – Exodus Part 1 & 2)
  4. Storming New Caprica (7:48 – Exodus Part 2)
  5. Refugees Return (3:43 – Exodus Part 2)
  6. Wayward Soldier (4:17 – Hero)
  7. Violence and Variations (7:42 – Unfinished Business)
  8. The Dance (2:33 – Unfinished Business)
  9. Adama Falls (1:43 – Unfinished Business)
  10. Under the Wing (1:16 – Maelstrom)
  11. Battlestar Sonatica (4:44 – Torn)
  12. Fight Night (2:27 – Unfinished Business)
  13. Kat’s Sacrifice (2:46 – The Passage)
  14. Someone To Trust (3:09 – Taking A Break From All Your Worries)
  15. The Temple of Five (2:44 – The Eye Of Jupiter)
  16. Dirty Hands (3:32 – Dirty Hands)
  17. Gentle Execution (3:28 – Exodus Part 2)
  18. Mandala in the Clouds (4:07 – Maelstrom)
  19. Deathbed and Maelstrom (5:53 – Maelstrom)
  20. Heeding the Call (2:11 – Crossroads Part 2)
  21. All Along The Watchtower
  22. (3:33 – Crossroads Part 2)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 79:02

Doctor Who: Series 3 – music by Murray Gold

Keen observers may have noticed that I wasn’t as thrilled with the third season of the new Doctor Who as I was with the first two. When the tracklist for the eagerly-anticipated Doctor Who Series 3 CD was revealed, I’ll admit that I was a little underwhelmed there too: half of it seemed to come from the two-parter Human Nature / The Family Of Blood, and those just weren’t my favorite episodes. Apparently I’d forgotten that they sported some of the season’s most distinctive music by a long way.

And when I say “distinctive,” it brings me neatly around to something that did bug me about the third season’s music – it seemed to repeat, a lot. Whether intentionally or otherwise, the third season’s music took on the feeling of library music drawing from a limited number of pieces, much like the original Star Trek, which tracked many of its 80 episodes from only 20 or so original scores. But compress that effect into 13 episodes of a single season, and the effect becomes more apparent even to the casual viewer/listener. “All The Strange, Strange Creatures (The Trailer Music)” is a tune that cropped up incessantly throughout the season, almost like the Amok Time fight music from Star Trek. It’s a fine tune, but man, did we hear it over and over again. Let me point out that it sounds great on CD, and its habit of turning up every other episode may have been an editorial decision on the producers’ part, not the composer’s.

There are quite a few episodes that broke that mold, and they’re the ones that are featured most prominently here: The Shakespeare Code, Evolution Of The Daleks (the best excerpt from which is the borderline-risque Broadway-by-way-of-burlesque song “My Angel Put The Devil In Me”), Human Nature / The Family Of Blood, Blink, and the closing trilogy of episodes, Utopia / The Sound Of Drums / Last Of The Time Lords. The Runaway Bride is represented by three cues, one of which may well be the new Who’s best chase scene ever, and there’s a “preview” number from this year’s Christmas special, a seasonal (but original) tune called “The Stowaway”.

“The Master Vainglorious” is the cue that represented Professor Yana’s regeneration into the Master as well as the arrival of the Toclafane, while “YANA (Excerpt)” accompanied the launch of the rocket to Utopia and Yana’s hijacking of the TARDIS. These two tracks, along with “The Futurekind”, which is a much heavier take on the same basic melody as “All The Strange, Strange Creatures”, are great stuff, as is the wild “The Runaway Bride” cue, which was heard during Donna’s freeway-rescue-by-TARDIS in the episode of the same name.

What I had forgotten was how nice the music from Blink was – and that was an episode I actually liked and rewatched a lot. “Blink (Suite)” is unique and atmospheric, almost like a modern take on ’70s TV detective show music. Gridlock is represented by “Gridlocked Cassinis”, which has some unique sounds (even a little cheesy in places, but it works), and “Boe”, which heralded that character’s demise. It’s the same basic tune as “The Face Of Boe” from the first new series soundtrack, but takes on a more elegiac tone before turning into a gentle, pleasant variation on the same melody. The choral version of “Abide With Me” is also heard here, from the end of Gridlock, but it’s pretty enough to silence even that persistent voice that’s still wondering if we’re ever going to get the music from School Reunion on CD.

The Human Nature music is pleasant, reflecting on the shattering of simpler times by leaning on simple, sparse music played by a smaller ensemble than you’re used to from the show’s big action setpieces. In retrospect, and away from the context of the episode and my opinion thereof, it’s actually quite nice music, and it’s easy to see why it became the centerpiece of the whole album.

4 out of 4Doctor Who: Series 3 may well be an example of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture effect – i.e. the music was better than what it accompanied – and it’s a great listen.

  1. All The Strange Strange Creatures (The Trailer Music) (4:07)
  2. Martha’s Theme (3:42)
  3. Drowning Dry (1:54)
  4. Order this CDThe Carrionites Swarm (3:23)
  5. Gridlocked Cassinis (1:17)
  6. Boe (3:43)
  7. Evolution Of The Daleks (1:53)
  8. My Angel Put The Devil In Me (3:08)
  9. Mr. Smith and Joan (2:05)
  10. Only Martha Knows (2:31)
  11. Smith’s Choice (1:42)
  12. Just Scarecrows To War (1:30)
  13. Miss Joan Redfern (1:51)
  14. The Dream Of A Normal Death (1:55)
  15. The Doctor Forever (4:18)
  16. Blink (Suite) (2:55)
  17. The Runaway Bride (4:18)
  18. After The Chase (1:26)
  19. The Futurekind (1:44)
  20. YANA (Excerpt) (0:54)
  21. The Master Vainglorious (3:22)
  22. Martha’s Quest (3:19)
  23. This Is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home (3:17)
  24. Martha Triumphant (2:49)
  25. Donna’s Theme (3:14)
  26. The Stowaway (3:36)
  27. The Master Tape (1:55)
  28. Abide With Me (2:28)

Released by: Silva Screen
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 74:17

Royksopp – Back To Mine

On the surface, it sounds like a neat idea – you ask a celebrity DJ or remixer to assemble a bunch of their formative favorites, those singles that got them interested in the business, and put their own spin on them, literally. That’s the idea behind the Back To Mine series, which has thus far cranked out a couple dozen of these compilations. They’re basically mixtapes on CD, assembled by the likes of Danny Tenaglia, Orbital, an so on. When a Back To Mine CD was announced, with a playlist personally picked out by those Norwegian masters of the downtempo genre, Royksopp, I thought I’d give it a try.

On the one hand, it’s interesting to hear the tunes that make Royksopp tick. With a playlist that goes from Talking Heads to Mike Oldfield Art Of Noise to Funkadelic, and stuff in between that I either haven’t heard in decades or have never heard of at all, there seems to be the promise of quite a fun ride. The other promise, though – that Royksopp will be giving you that guided tour and putting their own spin on things – is only partly fulfilled. I was eager to hear Art Of Noise a la Royksopp, simply because the collision of two of my favorite acts is a nearly irresistible proposition. Imagine my disappoint when Art Of Noise a la Royksopp turns out to be a short, exceedingly simple edit, sped up so it’s in the right key to dovetail with the tracks before and after it.

Some of these songs really do get the Royksopp treatment, such as Sphinx, which is transformed in much the same way that an obscure cover of Bacharach’s “Blue On Blue” was transformed into “So Easy” on Melody A.M.. I was amused to see a track by Emmanuel Splice slipped into the running order, that act being Royksopp itself under a pseudonym, effectively meaning that the track in question is Royksopp remixing Royksopp. But for the most part, it really does come across as a mixtape, with both the favorable and unfavorable things associated with that. You get to hear a lot of music and, like the weather, if you don’t like it, wait two minutes and it’ll change. But when the name “Royksopp” is what’s drawing people to this CD, 2 out of 4and there isn’t that much Royksopp in evidence, it smacks of a cheaply licensed throwaway compilation.

The selection of material is fine, but the scarcity of actual Royksopp remixing on what’s touted as an album of tunes remixed by Royksopp counts off some major, major points. Do yourself a favor, pass on this one, and wait for the group’s next original studio effort instead.

Order this CD

  1. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) performed by Talking Heads (3:34)
  2. Sphinx performed by Harry Thumann (2:33)
  3. One More Round performed by Kasso (2:35)
  4. Ma Quale Idea performed by Pino D’Angino (3:54)
  5. Above And Beyond performed by Edgar Winter (1:38)
  6. Off Side performed by Ray Mang & Nathan D’Troit (1:37)
  7. Take A Chance performed by Mr. Flagio (4:22)
  8. Platinum (Part 3: Charleston) performed by Mike Oldfield (1:20)
  9. Meatball performed by Emmanuel Splice (2:53)
  10. That’s Hot performed by Jesse G (4:25)
  11. Legs performed by Art Of Noise (2:52)
  12. 3:00am (12″ version) performed by I-Level (1:49)
  13. Dirty Talk performed by Klein & MBO (3:08)
  14. It Ain’t Easy performed by Supermax (4:03)
  15. Could Be Heaven Like This performed by Idris Muhammad (8:26)
  16. Night People (New York Club Mix) performed by Guy Dalton (4:07)
  17. Get Closer (Vocal) performed by Valerie Dore (4:55)
  18. Can’t Be Serious performed by Ginny (5:12)
  19. I’m Never Gonna Tell It performed by Funkadelic (3:24)
  20. It’s Been A Long Time performed by The New Birth (5:40)

Released by: DMC Records
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 72:27