CD Review: November Soundtrack Picks

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‘The RCA Classic Film Score Series‘ One Of The Top Soundtracks To Own For November, 2010

Also worth picking up: Fair Game, Human Target, In A Better World, Kung Fu, Megamind, The Next Three Days, Patton, Red Hill and Skyline

To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover


Price: $18.99

What is it?: Whether it’s Halloween or Xmas, TV has loved to celebrate the holidays with special episodes. But it’s doubtful any of them have sounded cooler than when the usually agnostic Time Lord (in the series 4 personages of David Tennant, David Morrissey and Martin Smith) has decided to make the Yuletide gay. It’s also a great occasion for the always creative DR. WHO composer Murray Gold to unleash the musical bells and whistles for this two-CD compilation that includes “The Next Doctor,” “Planet of the Dead,” “The Waters of Mars” and “The End of Time.”

Why should you buy it?: There are certain musical signatures you expect to hear during the Christmas holidays, among them children’s choruses, regal brass and symphonic spiritual uplift. Gold checks off the list here with an uncommonly sumptuous orchestral sound (exceptionally well played by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales). But given the Doctor’s eccentric nature, Gold’s scores also offer up AUSTIN POWERS-worthy spy satire, goofball carton music that Tom and Jerry could chase their tails around and a clanking Cybermen march (which reprises Malcolm Clarke’s original music from three decades past). But while cool digressions abound, what unites all of these WHO special scores is an adventurous sense of drama and epic jeopardy, the kind of urgency that tells us the universe (let alone Santa) is hanging on Gold’s music- which it usually is in the case of DR. WHO.

Extra Special: There’s no lump of coal in another welcome WHO collection from Silva Screen, which continues to show off Murray Gold as a composer who brings not only a sense of wonder to sci-fi scoring, but also the kind of giddy fun that’s made the new DR. WHO arguably the most successful reinvention of an iconic TV character. And while that touch can be a bit stranger in the series itself, Gold’s music for the WHO specials share a warm, traditional touch that’s as comforting as warm eggnog sipped in a particularly spiffy TARDIS.

2) HUMAN TARGET: SEASON 1 (2,000 edition)

Price: $24.98

What is it?: Bear McCreary continues to prove himself as the hardest-working composer on television, whose sound gets bigger and better with each show, none more spectacularly than with the ripping symphonic style he’s given to Fox’s spin on DC comics’ HUMAN TARGET.

Why should you buy it?: Though he’s composed the pokey country experiments of EUREKA, the sci-fi mythos of GALACTICA and CAPRICA and the chilling apocalypses of THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES and THE WALKING DEAD, there’s always seemed to be a superhero waiting to break free from Bear McCreary. And while TARGET’s danger-seeking impersonator might not have any powers beyond being extra crafty, McCreary’s adventurous scoring is truly ripped, taking on the sweeping, melodic brawn usually heard in the bigscreen approaches of such musical adventurers as John Williams and David Newman. Like them, McCreary knows how to write a sweeping theme to tie the action together. And the engaging, Emmy-nominated motif he’s composed for HUMAN TARGET is omnipresent through this first season, with a live orchestral sound that’s a rarity for the medium. There’s enormous stylistic dexterity as well in TARGET’s turns, whether the music is in the mode of Indiana Jones, going to tropical percussion, being techno cool, tangoing or have just a bit of relaxed silliness. It’s the stuff that playful good guys are made of, and a welcome lack of the dramatic tsuris that McCreary usually deals with. That makes TARGET particularly liberating for an obviously enthusiastic McCreary, who delivers his most purely enjoyable work here.

Extra Special: La La Land collects McCreary’s greatest TARGET hits into an oversized CD pack containing three discs and nearly three hours of music, all of which is consistently engaging, not to mention melodically cohesive. It’s a listen whose excitement makes the listening time fly by, one again proving this Young Turk has the stuff to take on any bigscreen comic adaptation, let alone a hero in the mode of Christopher Chance.


Price: $14.99

What is it?: Though his one-time minion Heitor Pereria beat him to the supervillain scoring punch with DESPICABLE ME, Hans Zimmer gets the last laugh by actually seeing his similarly-themed, and equally fun MEGAMIND score (done in cahoots with Lorne Balfe) get an actual release on Lakeshore Records.

Why should you buy it?: Sure, both flicks might have arches trumpeting their dastardly doings. Yet both DESPICABLE ME and MEGAMIND also show their uber-evil characters as big musical softies. In fact, MEGAMIND is downright sweet for the most part as its titular fiend’s baby bells mix it up with ersatz superhero bombast, music that plays Megamind as the good guy he’s always wanted to be. It’s this sympathetic, excitingly melodic touch that helps distinguish MEGAMIND as the first truly “human” score that Zimmer’s done for Dreamworks after the funny animals of the studio’s SHARK TALE and KUNG FU PANDA. Once again propelled his score with strong themes, Zimmer and Balfe deliver on the mad science and cosmic battles between the good and not so evil, while also providing lush, entrancing girly music that wouldn’t be out of place in a Zimmer romance like THE HOLIDAY. If MEGAMIND and DESPICABLE ME can share a prize without blasting each other to smithereens, then it’s having their composers hear these over-the-top CGI toon characters as empathetic, flesh and blood people, even if their lackeys are yellow fuzzballs and a mutant fish.

Extra Special: What would a comedy about an evil genius be complete without hearing George Thurogood’s & The Destroyers’ “Bad to the Bone,” let alone such now satirically hip numbers as Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation (as remixed by Junkie XL), Minnie Ripperton’s suffocatingly saccharine “Lovin’ You” or Gilbert O’Sullivan’s melancholy anthem “Alone Again Naturally?”


Price: $19.99

What is it?: Jerry Goldsmith may have been an armchair general when it came to WW2, but it’s doubtful few composers gave as much glory to our fighting men, and their leaders with the likes of MACARTHUR and INCHON. Yet few of these outstanding Goldsmith scores have the immediately recognizable stripes of his 1970 Oscar-nominated PATTON, a soundtrack that defined the imperious can-do attitude of America’s most gloriously infamous officer.

Why should you buy it?: Right from his unscored opening speech to his belief in reincarnation, George S. Patton wasn’t so much a military leader as he was a force of nature. And while PATTON’s music is most famous for its rollicking, patriotic march, Goldsmith truly earned his stripes here by getting to the deeper heart of the man, a solemn feeling of duty through the ages, as personified by reflective strings, a subtly religious organ, and the echo-plexed sound of trumpets. But while there’s somber, military honors to go around, Goldsmith also has Patton give a beating to The Hun by contrasting our bright, can-do military percussion against the dark, neo-Wagnerian brass of the Nazi machine, making for some of the most exciting war montage music to grace a film score.

Extra Special: it seems that there are have been as many releases and re-performances of PATTON’s score as there are parodies of its main theme. Now Intrada’s unlimited, two-CD issue finally stands as the mother of all PATTON’s, with a first disc that calls the original film tracks to revelry. It’s a listening experience that reveals the score’s thoughtful dramatic arch, along with a five-minute bonus track that shows Goldsmith endlessly trying to nail the sound of the echoplex. The second CD is the true first for digital, as it hails Goldsmith’s own re-performance of the score for its original LP release, complete with George C. Scott giving the oft-quoted rallying cry for our troops to go rip apart the enemy, a speech that’s indivisibly tied in our memories to the sound of Goldsmith’s rollicking theme for Old Blood and Guts.


Price: $8.99 (per CD)

What is it?: The 1970’s were a renaissance for film suite compilation albums, as young LP listeners were introduced to the works of such Hollywood scoring legends as Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rosza and Franz Waxman. But no great re-performance of these golden age masters functioned as the gateway drug for film music appreciation like the RCA Red Seal Classic Film Score Series, which had Charles Gerhardt conducting The National Philharmonic Orchestra. With the original movie orchestrations under his baton, and enticingly designed album covers to sell these ambitious releases, Gerhardt and series producer George Korngold (son of Erich) conjured a wash of infinitely lush strings that made the romantic sound of the studio system come alive for a new generation of melody-loving listeners.

Why should you buy it?: What united these albums’ pitch-perfect selections from the likes of CAPTAIN BLOOD, THE CAPTAIN FROM CASTILLE, KEY LARGO (and even such newbies as AIRPORT) was a gloriously florid approach that showed how a bunch of Eastern European expatriates used their classical training to create a similarly operatic sound for Hollywood, full of soaring choruses and rich leitmotifs, music that was virtually wall-to-wall during the cinema’s “good old days.” While there might not be much in the actual way of underscoring here, Gerhardt had a way of finding each classic score’s greatest hits, then collecting those themes into punchy suites. There’s a true, lovingly nostalgic panache to his renditions. Yet Gerhardt also brought out a fresh vitality from these masterpieces, filling impressionable ears with the true, sweeping imagination that can be conjured from great film music. Though Gerhardt never appeared in front of an audience to conduct, his glorious work set the gold standard for any live symphony doing a classic film music night.

Extra Special: Sony Masterworks has done a spectacular job of re-mastering six of the fourteen Gerhardt “Classic Film Score” series- albums devoted to Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Stein, Alfred Newman, Dimitri Tiomkin, a CASABLANCA-topped collection of music from Humphrey Bogart films, and the romantic grand-daddy of them all, GONE WITH THE WIND. For fans of a certain age, and anyone interested in classic movie music, these “new” albums (complete with their original liner notes by Tony Thomas) show how no producer, and conductor captured the musical magic of yesteryear with the symphonic sweep of Charles Gerhardt.


ALIEN: RESURRECTION (3,500 edition)

The release of Fox’s mega-ALIEN ANTHOLOGY collection on blu ray is a particularly good time to revisit the saga’s scores, which have now gotten virtually complete releases on CD and isolated DVD tracks. While we’re still waiting on a full album release for Elliot Goldenthal’s wonderfully strange score to ALIEN 3, another major check has been added for what might be the most unsung score in the series with the release of John Frizzell’s music to ALIEN RESSURECTION, which hits from La La Land as a two-CD edition that collects the complete score, its alternate takes and the original 1997 soundtrack. Done the same year as Frizzell’s other breakout action score for DANTE’S PEAK, ALIEN RESURRECTION remains a balls-out testament to the young composer’s exceptionally strong talent at combining a boldly thematic orchestra with the kind of bizarre electronic effects he’d conjured for the show VR.5- starting straight off here with a gurgling main title. After paying nice tribute to Jerry Goldsmith’s original ALIEN theme, Frizzell goes off on his own intoxicatingly mysterious direction as a xenomorph plague breaks out on a space station, his music powerfully capturing the melancholy human vs. alien struggle going on inside a cloned Ripley. And with the jump-the-shark moment of a double-jawed victim digging into his skull, Frizzell’s score goes suitably insane, but with far better purpose. His RESURRECTION remains some most hellaciously exciting music heard in a sci-fi horror hybrid, with the frenzied players almost blowing their guts through their brass instruments in unceasing cliffhanging escapes that skirt the edge of anarchy. With the full, creative scope of the 90-minute score now revealed Frizzell’s knowingly over-the-top mania makes RESURRECTION sound like a steroid mash-up of Goldsmith’s chilling tension and James Horner’s thrills, as funneled through the enthusiasm of a composer giving it his all for a big franchise break.


Having composed the last two scores for this series of this particularly malleable role playing games, Russell Shaw returns for the third chapter of FABLE. And as you chose whether to save, or squander your fantasy kingdom of Albion, Russell is there to weave an uncommonly rich tapestry of melodic enchantment, Not only does he give you the heroic orchestrations, brass heraldry and female choruses you’d expect from any videogame quest, but also offers some nice unexpected bits, from Gypsy violin playing to the off-kilter bells of a music box and Greensleeves-like guitar strumming. But whether Albion ends up in riches or rags by the end of your crownship, Russell Shaw thankfully gives listeners only one, powerfully thematic path for this soundtrack, conveying the kind of fun majesty every role player must have heard in their heads since the days of dungeons and dragons.


John Powell re-invented the action spy beat when he teamed with director Doug Liman for the first BOURNE IDENTITY, a mélange of ethnic percussion and pounding orchestral drive that Powell’s since varied for the director with the explosive humor of MR. AND MRS. SMITH and the boisterous action of JUMPER. But what makes Powell’s new teaming with Liman different is that FAIR GAME’s battlefield is mostly centered around the duplicitous halls of the Bush White House, let alone the suburban home of its finked-out CIA heroine Valerie Plame. Instead of sleeper agents crashing through her door, it’s the press that wrecks her life when she pays the price for her reporter husband’s reveal that there’s no smoking gun in Iraq. The musical result is an unusually subdued variation on Powell’s ever-reliable undercover rhythms, with just a bit of Middle Eastern textures to reflect the tragic cost of Plame’s blown cover on her contacts who are left to fend for themselves in Sadam’s collapsing regime. Powell keeps up a suspenseful click-clack pace and subtle acoustic rock vibe throughout GAME, with Plame’s emotions kept to the somber string lines. And while you won’t hear any of SMITH’s tangos here, Powell isn’t beyond giving GAME a welcome bit of pizzicato playfulness. The result is another exciting, impressive hybrid for Powell that’s more about the mental pitfalls of the Washington spy game than running at breakneck pace through some European city with the entire forces of the agency after you.

HAUNTED SUMMER (1,200 edition)

Christopher Young would grace many a low budget horror score with his eerily graceful melodies, among them HELLRAISER, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 and TRICK OR TREAT. Just before he’d go on to the more bloodily prestigious likes of COPYCAT and THE DARK HALF, Young took a last stab for the mini-majors with this beautiful swan song to the very beginnings of horror fiction with Cannon’s HAUNTED SUMMER. This was second (and far more lucid) cinematic rumination on the dalliances of Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelly and John Polidori- literary lions who would create vampires and science-stitched walking corpses during their 1816 season of sex, drugs and poetry. While rocker Thomas Dolby went for his weird science approach for Ken Russell for more lascivious take on the subject in 1986’s GOTHIC, 1988’s SUMMER is better in every respect at playing the poets’ unhinged creativity with erotic, Baroque chills. Yet many of Young’s musically fearsome touches are on hand (most notably his hellraising talent for music box melodies), as refined for a period of violins, keyboards, plainsong and even an Alpine horn. In dealing with the excess of creative minds, Young conjured one of his most truly beautiful, and spectral scores, music that hypnotically winds about in long, intoxicating, synth-heavy suites. Even now, SUMMER continues to stand as one of Christopher Young’s most impressive works, as well as showing a real aptitude for experimental classical scoring (most recently heard in the equally turbulent, and elegant score for the Darwin biopic CREATION). La La’s release collects Young’s original concept album along with the actual SUMMER movie tracks, which offers even more period pleasures. Though it might not be as visceral as his many blazing horror scores to follow, HAUNTED SUMMER has a transfixing, melodic quality that continues to sweep one into a miasma of artful madness.


As composer Barry Gray showed with THE THUNDERBIRDS, puppets are far more believable when the composer is playing them for real, especially with music that doesn’t have any strings attached to imbuing the marionettes and their miniature settings with epic heroism. Now with his music for the WW2 spoof JACKBOOTS ON WHITEHALL, Guy Michelmore delivers what’s probably the coolest music to grace marionettes since the days of Team Tracy. As the band of puppet brothers go against the Nazi troops who’ve invaded England, JACKBOOTS summons an explosive spirit in line with TEAM AMERICA, But where Harry Gregson-Williams did a great job of delivering the kind of innocuous action rhythms of the Jerry Bruckheimer pictures that film was spoofing, JACKBOOTS’ premise draws on the richer thematic tradition of classic war scores by Elmer Bernstein, William Walton and Roy Budd. Leave it to Michelmore to make a big leap from the animated action of Marvel cartoons like DOCTOR STRANGE and PLANET HULK to capturing the stirring patriotism of THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN and THE DAM BUSTERS here, as Britain’s fighting spirit joins with the bagpipes of Scotland, along with such witty contemporary vibes as a rock guitar version of “Deutschland uber alles.” But for the most part, Michelmore plays JACKBOOTS for straight-laced derring-do, complete with the drums, fifes and sweeping orchestrations you’d get for any human fighting Der Fuhrer. From the score’s rousing start to finish, JACKBOOTS draws bright, valorous emotion on warriors whose emoting is otherwise limited by Styrofoam. Non-marionettes actors should be this musically lucky.


It’s finally time to snatch a pebble out of Film Score Monthly’s hand with this soundtrack two-fer, which combines music from two poetically different scores for men seeking their way in the American outback. The first traveler just happens to be everyone’s favorite Shaolin fugitive monk Cain, whose mystical tête-à-têtes with his teachers are front and center through much of KUNG FU. Though designed as a concept album in 1973 by composer Jim Helms, some score purists might take umbrage to so much dialogue on an FSM release. Yet it’s almost hard to imagine Helms’ harmonies without the Confucianisms, the music’s lilting harpsichords, flutes and Oriental percussion flitting about the dialogue with the delicacy of hummingbird wings. There are notable instrumental tracks as well for the first CD release of KUNG FU, with Helms’ majestic east meets western music belying a show whose noble thoughts would usually end in an ass kicking. Yet Helms was essential to making KUNG FU TV’s most thoughtful, and mystically underscored attempt at bringing the true philosophy of the martial arts to a mass audience. Composer Johnny Harris also finally gets his digital due for 1971’s MAN IN THE WILDERNESS. While he scored such cult TV favorites as BUCK ROGERS and WONDER WOMAN, Harris delivered one of the great manly adventure movie themes here, as A MAN CALLED HORSE star Richard Harris once again endured to the tortuous extremes of the outdoors as a left-for-dead mountain man. Using his MAN theme in permutations that range from charging brass to lush strings and the bells of a music box, Harris conjures a WILDERNESS as capable of beauty as it is savagery, music that takes the listener on a rugged, emotional journey that provides the ultimate kick to its pairing with KUNG FU.


After his innovative, haunting work on LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and MURDER FARM, Swedish composer Johan Soderqvist teams for the eighth time with BROTHERS and AFTER THE WEDDING filmmaker Susanne Bier for a family story that segues from the Sudan to Denmark. The result is another deeply affecting, eerily off-kilter score from Soderqvist that uses some of the most strikingly beautiful percussion to grace a drama since Mychael Danna’s ICE STORM. Here, the spectral, bell-glass sounds of the African Array Mbira merges the feelings of a doctor treating victims of tribal violence in a Sudanese refugee camp with the problems that his son faces back in Denmark. It’s a similar set-up to the original BROTHERS’ themes of “exiled” violence coming back home to roost, an idea that Soderqvist treats with emotional delicacy, as mournful voices seamlessly blend with spectral samples, piano and strings for a slow, dramatic burn. Call this approach emotional alt.-scoring if you will, a translucent, transcendent sound that hears how one family’s problems on both sides of the globe can come crashing together with affecting results.


When Danny Elfman tackles action, it’s usually with the frenetic rock-orchestral energy of WANTED, or bringing down the dark cosmic thunder of HELLBOY 2. So it’s particularly cool when the composer gets to stretch with more realistic protagonists in the action arena, especially for the family-driven thrills of THE NEXT THREE DAYS, in which Russell Crowe (whom Elfman last scored for PROOF OF LIFE) tries to spring his character’s wife from an unjust murder rap. Elfman’s inimitably eccentric style has perhaps never sounded so effectively normal as it were, combining an emotional heartbeat with gripping suspense rhythms, as tender guitars, pianos and melodically tense strings reflect the love and determination that turns an ordinary husband into a fugitive. And no cue in DAYS packs a suspenseful punch like the big “Breakout,” as empathetic, ever-shifting orchestral percussion and guitar stylings bust our heroine out of stir. It’s a master lesson how to make an eight minute run of music into a virtuoso exercise in breathless excitement, turning this cue into a highlight in Elfman’s already remarkable cannon. Top DAYS off with a soulful voice that sings for family ties taken to the breaking point, then add two Moby numbers, and you’ve got another piece of Elfman dynamite that isn’t so much constantly exploding as it is impressing with its humane power.


A bunch of Halloween revelers get a very nasty tricks played to their quickly decimating numbers in this aptly titled horror film, which features an appropriately creepy score by Albanian composer Aldo Shllaku. Though he might not have a 100-piece orchestra at his command, Shllaku has obvious fun with the musical tropes of a black-humored body count. But what really socks him over as a composer to not turn your back on are ferocious bursts of a pipe organ and throttling rock guitar riffs. Combine these unexpected treats with any bunch of spooky-ooky melodies, and STORMY NIGHT serves up fun mayhem that promises bigger musical kills coming Shllaku’s way.


It’s ironic that two of the coolest wild west scores to arrive in years both hail from Down Under, as Dmitri Golovko’s RED HILL joins Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ THE PROPOSITION as prime examples of how to give an old musical warhorse a shot of ferocious outlaw energy. But where PROPOSITION’s nerve-jangling percussion brought modern experimentalism to a blood-soaked period piece, RED HILL shoots its raw, old-school acoustic sound into a contemporary western- in this case playing the last stand outback sheriff standing against an recently released villain out for some biblical payback. There’s very little that’s Aussie here in Golovsko’s guitar-centric approach, which is joined by a simmering harmonica vibe, sinister, clopping percussion and even pianos to create an eerily dusty atmosphere. All growling roads lead to a full-on Spaghetti showdown with fateful trumpets, gongs and wailing choruses paying tribute to the timeless feel of duster coat bad guys and noble lawmen meeting for the big gundown- a sound that fully brings his vibrant homage score ripping into the 21st century.


If you’re doing a DIY, apartment-set riff on ID4 for the sum of 10 million dollars, then trying to make your production look like it cost 10 times that, you’d better have a score as big as your ambitions. Thankfully, the effects wizard Strause brothers have Matthew Margeson unleashing the big orchestral guns for their unfairly maligned, and thoroughly entertaining gonzo sci-fi pic. With mad action skills learned during a career whose highlights range from assisting Klaus Badelt on CONSTANTINE, to arranging KICK-ASS and programming synths for ANGELS AND DEMONS, Margeson now has his own major debut to apply all of the rhythmically melodic tricks he’s learned alongside the hot properties of Hollywood action scoring. Margeson uses his own, exciting voice as grand themes of emotional devastation mix with the eerie electronic pulses of brain-eating blue lights and bombastically patriotic air force vs. alien music that Randy Quaid would be proud to play for a kamikaze dive into a mothership. But most importantly, Margeson’s powerful score is no small reason for SKYLINE coming across as a film that’s far bigger than it is, playing the shock and awe that’s going on outside the windows of its apartment-trapped, good-looking heroes. And after the unexpectedly gnarly guitar cue for the film’s cool twist ending, I can’t wait to hear what he’ll come up with if the Straus brothers attempt another guerilla flick for the end of the earth. In any case, SKYLINE sounds like it’s just the beginning for Margeson.

CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes. Moviemusic, Moveiscoremedia, Perseverance, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande

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