‘SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS‘ IS ONE OF THE TOP SOUNDTRACKS TO OWN FOR DECEMBER, 2011
Also worth picking up: A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS, HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED ANNIVERSARY, SCROOGED, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, WOLFEN and ZOM-B MOVIE
To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
1) A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS
What is it?: It’s part of this seditious series’ way of twisting straight-laced society that the latest “Kumar” has gotten William Ross to do a lushly melodic score for number three in 3-D. After all, this is the “Thumbelina” composer who’s also orchestrated the warm, fuzzy, child-friendly sound of Alan Silvestri’s “The Polar Express” and “A Christmas Carol.” So it’s fitting he’d apply said holiday magic to a “Very” special yuletide film filled with s pot-crazed super baby, a sadistic Russian and an ornery Mexican hombre. But it’s in how well Ross nails that eclectic, eccentric glow, from Santa’s cherubic cheeks to the sparks of a rapidly extinguishing joint, that’s part of this hilarious holiday score joke.
Why should you buy it?: Imagine the caroling sound of “Home Alone” gone very wrong, but without winking an eye at its naughtiness, and you’ll get the thoroughly fun musical gags here. But when William Ross isn’t running down the checklist of Williams-worthy Xmas emotions, the composer has a blast with the film’s more obvious insanity, from Mussorgsky exploding on steroids, the dying, heroic gasps of a wafflebot and pastiches of “The Matrix,” Spaghetti westerns, “Naked Gun” jazz and caped heroism. But where another, less seasoned composer might make these musical jokes plain stupid, Ross turns them stupid-smart, and completely hilarious. It’s a score whose Loony Tunes humor, and orchestral production values are fully baked.
Extra Special: Oftentimes an accompanying song album turns out to be a lump of coal in my stocking. But Water Tower Music’s “Harold” tune collection is as much of a delight as the score CD. Think you can throw it on for the family with chestnut tunes by the likes of Perry Como and Johnny Mathis? Just watch out those four-letter sound bytes sandwiched in between them, let alone Big Boi’s rap of “Daddy Fat Sax,” Ross joining with Paul Oakenfeld for an electronica-orchestra battle of “Carol of the Bells” and Doogie Howser himself doing a way-too cheerful Christmas Medley, very much via Broadway.
2) CHILLERAMA PRESENTS ZOM-B MOVIE
What is it?: Though he’s done a crazed job on the hellbilly scores of the “Rest Stop” films and “Wrong Turn 2,” Bear McCreary’s zanier supernatural tastes have been held in check to the point of brain dead-ness by the muted tone of the inexplicably popular “Walking Dead” series (a show whose initial promise has admittedly kept me in slave-like thrall). Thankfully, the composer’s creative horror-scoring shackles were finally ripped off of this year for “Zom-B Movie,” music that makes for the wrap-around segments, and climactic gore-a-thon of the drive-in horror spoof “Chillerama” (check it out on Netflix instant). It’s a musical mash of sex-powered zombies whose grade-Z cheesiness make for A-level listening entertainment, especially if you’re as much of a horror score fanboy as McCreary shows himself to be.
Why Should you buy it?: McCreary’s hilarious pastiche is far more about the melodically chilling soundtracks of old as opposed the crashing noisiness masquerading as music that infects much of today’s horror product. 1950’s sci-fi Theremins mix it up with the electronic percussion of the great 80’s John Carpenter / Alan Howarth scores (along with the era’s more godawful synth tones), while the syncopated beat of Jerry Goldsmith’s “Gremlins” dance about with the more manic symphonic stylings of Danny Elfman- all complete with a Phantom of the Opera / horror host pipe organ for good cobwebbed measure. Yet it’s spoof music with a nice, heroically emotional heart that holds the sillier stuff together. And while McCreary does a fun job with the rockabilly angst of “I Don’t Want to Die a Virgin” (which also marks the composer’s music video directing debut), McCreary’s one genre tribute that’s as coolly unexpected as it is bizarre is a 70’s Blaxploitation groove, complete with female coos about the sensuality of shit. This Schifrin-accented, jazz-funkadelic approach makes for a nearly twenty-minute bowel ode for “Deathication (Movement Number Two). Raya Yarbrough’s poetic lyrics are awesomely delivered Barry White-style by honkey Joshua Silverstein, creating a vibe that crosses a Miles Davis jam session with the svelte beat of John Shaft. It’s likely that neither would approve.
What is it?: While William Ross isn’t so overt that’s he’s having stoner fun at Xmas’ expensive, Danny Elfman has never made any bones that the holiday has always been a dead man’s party for him, particularly with his cheerfully demonic, and demented holiday score that updated Ebenezer into a miserly, public-hating and altogether sleazy TV executive.
Why should you buy it?: Just as circus music is ingrained into Danny Elfman’s musical DNA, the holiday trimmings of sleigh bells, caroling and snowflake-like melodies have kept showing up in the Hanukkah-celebrating composer’s work, even when his scores weren’t about Christmas. But among the soundtracks that have directly dealt with the holiday like “Edward Scissorhands,” “Batman Returns” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Family Man,” “Scrooged” just might take the gonzo antlers. Director Richard Donner definitely hired Elfman on the strength of “Beetlejuice”’s supernatural shenanigans, reasoning that Elfman’s playful darkness would be a good match for Bill Murray’s manic performance. But beyond announcing the SNL star’s descent into angry guy parts from 1988 on, Elfman’s “Scrooged” score is a fiendish delight, twisting about such holiday favorites as “Dance of the Sugar Plum Ferries” and “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” (along with “It’s Howdy Doody Time” for good measure) into evil Xmas portents. As with his best supernatural work, Elfman’s “Scrooged” at once goes to town with the rhythmically cartoonish possibilities of the undead, while also playing the uncanny with gravely serious orchestral intent. It’s an unhinged, and thoroughly offbeat sound here that would deservedly launch Elfman into the realm of big ticket effects vehicles, with a sound which lets you hear that “Batman”’s Joker is right around the corner. But it’s the holiday spirits that get the last laugh in “Scrooged,” one that’s way more Halloween before it becomes Christmas.
Extra Special: La La Land does an exceptional job of joining “Scrooged”’s many short cues into a melodically cohesive listen, with several bonus tracks of even more chillingly festive music. Elfman’s source cues are also a delight, from the big top music of “Frisbee the Dog” to the snooty “Chez Jay String Quartet” and a perky “Jingle Bells,” all capturing the cheesy taste of an anti-hero raised on the boob tube. But perhaps no cue nails “Scrooged”’s media satire it like the evil synths and hellish rock guitars of “Frank’s Promo” a hellacious take on the importance of Xmas that just might be the funniest part of this cult film. Kudos as well to Jeff Bond’s liner notes, an Elfman expert par excellence who’s literally written the book on the composer for this year’s Grammy-nominated Burton / Elfman 25th Anniversary Music Box- a mega gift if there ever was one.
4) SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS
What is it?: Sherlock Holmes was always a bit of a stuffed British shirt before Guy Ritchie gave him a rock and roll, martial arts attitude that re-invigorated the character. Part and pipe of Ritchie’s in-your-face makeover was Hans Zimmer’s audacious score, whose crashing player pianos, scratchy strings and bombastic orchestra gave a terrifically fun, steampunk attitude to Holmes, in much the same way as his defiantly anti-historical music brought unexpected juice to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” soundtracks. Now Holmes and his ever reluctant partner Watson are back to take on the arch-nemesis Moriarty, with Zimmer’s hellzapoppin’ period stylings thankfully back for a ride that’s equal parts deduction, slam-bang action and overly slop-mo’d pursuits.
Why should you buy it?: When your original score isn’t broke, it’s not a good idea to fix it. But since Zimmer’s original “Sherlock” score had a broken-down sound to begin with, it’s a near-impossible task to top that rude perfection. And while the new “Sherlock” and its score might not equal the original, it’s a terrifically fun ride nonetheless. The musical game is more darkly afoot as Zimmer pits the war-mongering, Teutonic storm clouds and calculated, tick-tock percussion of Moriarty’s evil schemes against the manic energy of Holmes’ utter confidence. Giving fun warmth to the case is the return of all of our favorite Holmes themes and the Eastern European ethnic sound which made Victorian England seem like a Klezmer mosh pit. With a Gypsy heroine this time out, Zimmer brings her people’s wild dance rhythms to the forefront, giving the score extra spice along with its innovative familiarity.
Extra Special: Unlike Moriarty, Hans Zimmer is a composer who’s exactly as clever as he thinks he is, especially when it comes to “Games”’ best musical bits where he warps other composer’s pieces to his own deliciously twisted ends- giving Schubert’s pleasant ditty “Die Forelle” a drugged-out, reverse-sample backdrop, or turning Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” into a slam-bang race against time, But perhaps taking the cake is how Zimmer brings out the hee-haw fun of Ennio’s “Two Mules for Sister Sarah” a choice right in line with Morricone-esque quality of “Sherlock”’s guitar work- brilliant temp love if there’s ever been a case for it.
What is it?: James Horner had been clawing his way up from the low-budget likes of “The Lady in Red,” “Humanoids from the Deep” and “Battle Beyond the Stars,” giving 110% of his already formidable thematic talent to these enjoyable Roger Corman-produced flicks. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood would notice, and 1981’s one-two Orion Picture horror punch of “The Hand” and “Wolfen” would deservedly take Horner into the big leagues- even if these two thrillers remain cult items. But among soundtrack fans, they’ve also been two of James Horner’s most-requested releases. Now Intrada allows at least one to howl with still-startling power for an ersatz werewolf picture that packs proto-OWS politics on its mind.
Why should you buy it?: Horner certainly had the animal in him for “Wolfen,” unleashing snarling, gnarled percussion, with a furious spittle you could practically taste. Rarely has Horner been able to indulge in the kind of crazed, avant-garde musical gestures that he hoped would mark him for the concert hall before he transformed into a whole other composer. Yet as savage as the roaring impressionism of “Wolfen” might be, Horner’s soulful passages reveals them as ancient, noble beats with a righteous grudge against a coke-snorting real estate tycoon. Their kinship with American Indians also allows Horner to not only make “Wolfen” a score of throat-ripping percussive power, but also one about the mystical, unconquered power of nature. It’s a pretty big musical, and cinematic idea to chew on, and Horner gnashes away with a score of startling complexity.
Extra Special: The paw prints that would take Horner to new, interstellar heights are all over this score, from the clanking percussive action and cosmic beam sound that soon sent the Enterprise into battle with Khan, as well as the shivering string effects that took a battalion of space marines into renewed combat with xenomorphs. “Wolfen” marks the scent of future greatness to come, while being memorably frightening in its own right.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY
It’s a very dark musical night when the bats are ruling the belfry, or in this case the unleashed, insane inmates of comics’ most infamous asylum- one that’s also become video gaming’s most acclaimed lock-up. Arkham’s gotten expanded to its own bizarro Gotham for the latest edition of the smash franchise, with Batman / Bruce Wayne trapped behind enemy lines. However, the most sonically important dual identity belongs to Nick Arundel, a man who’s served as the audio director and composer for both “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City.” Given a powerful orchestral expanse in which to wage war against the criminally insane (along with Ron Fish as his musical Robin), Arundel’s greatest feat is summing up the cinematic scores that audiences have come to know the caped crusader by, from the stormy Wagnerian vengeance of Danny Elfman to the winged, rhythmic propulsion of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Arundel seamlessly meshes their styles into his own impressive work, with ominous choruses, furious percussion and an atmosphere of desperation and heroism that pits Batman against waves of old, evil friends, the music telling us they very well may get the better of him this time. With the sound of madness and do-gooding in the air, this metropolis is a memorable button-mashing entry to Batman’s musical canon in its own right.
. THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY
One of the most rollickingly enjoyable crime movies of any age, Michael Crichton’s 1978 historical heist flick had dapper Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and a particularly bodice-cous Lesley-Anne-Down ripping off the Crimean War gold from said speeding train. But the fourth accomplice who truly helps them get away with the crime of the Victorian century is composer Jerry Goldsmith, delivering what arguably stands as his most elegantly stylish, and fun score of all time. With a score that sounds as much as a locomotive as melodically possible, the thematically driven Goldsmith varies his main motif between the thrill of the conspirators’ key-stealing set-ups and their breathless pursuit of the vaulted, moving treasure. Whether taking the forms of a sensual harp, the dark suspense of a prison break, chugging ahead with a whistle and percussion, and engaging in his brassy, staccato action writing, Goldsmith’s score is an exemplar in rhythmic pacing. His music always carries a cunning wink in its eye without sacrificing the criminal enterprise’s sense of danger, or the magic of the glistening prize- a lush, orchestral majesty that even hearkens to Goldsmith’s upcoming gig on “Star Trek- The Motion Picture.” In any case, consider “The Great Train Robbery” as Goldsmith’s “Oceans Eleven,” employing a fun, funky classical approach in going for the big heist. First released on LP at a concise 27 minutes and change, Intrada’s ultimate edition packs the original album while also giving us the whole musical treasure, one that reveals even more energetic, scheming complexity to Goldsmith’s masterwork, with Victorian source stylings to spare. It’s a long-awaited release that’s a steal.
. HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED ANNIVERSARY
It’s been ten years since The Master Chief took on The Covenant to essentially create the modern video game industry. And through numerous sequels, spin-offs and rip-offs, the legend of the “Halo” name brand has been the one ringworld to rule them all. But just as importantly, “Halo” helped show the non-gaming industry that music for the medium could rival the musical quality, and production values heard on television and film. Credit for that can be given to “Halo” composers Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, the distinct voices that have been heard through all the main “Halo” games. While it might have been hard to imagine a neo-religious, monk-like chorus accompanying an alien-blasting Spartan warrior, the duo’s notable theme, symphonic sound and ethnic percussion opened up a whole new musical world to video role playing, especially with battle music two steps removed from an Irish jig. Mixing heroic fanfares with eerie synth atmospheres, and rock and roll firepower with ethereal beauty, “Halo”’s music was an experience as enveloping as the compelling graphics and storytelling that have stood for this trendsetting franchise. Though the gameplay and graphics have been ever evolving, O’Donnell and Salvatori’s original music stands the test of time, especially with their black, gold, green and red armor spiffed up for this two-CD tribute edition by Paul Lipson, Lennie Moore, Tom Salta and Brian Trifon- a team whose love of all music “Halo” shines here with the new musical tech they’ve given to this golden oldie. It’s an evolved soundtrack whose pulsating, spiritual power has remained undiminished in opening up a new level for of musical possibilities way beyond the Xbox.
. THE IDES OF MARCH
In the midst of a very busy year that’s included “The Tree of Life,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” the finale of “Harry Potter” and the ironic opening and closing titles of “Carnage,” French-gone-gloriously Hollywood composer Alexandre Desplat found time to expose our nation’s king-making machine during the month of “The Ides of March.” Far more serious in tone than his previous, ironically offbeat political takedown for “Ghost Writer,” Desplat lets his Americana flag fly here, and at low, concerned mast. A Copeland-esque orchestra reveals George Clooney’s potential president as yet another moralist full of hot air, with a trumpet showing Ryan Gosling’s consultant that there’s a high human cost to his electoral game playing. Once again, Desplat’s penchant for sub-sonic tones creates suspense, along with a bright, near militaristic march theme for a flag-waving political machine on the march. But by the end, Desplat’s often-tender music shows both ends of the political coin as being part of the same hypocrisy, one where dark deeds must ultimately be done for a seemingly just cause. It’s a compelling score that tells us there’s something very rotten in Denmark, let alone our musical heartland.
. I MELT WITH YOU
40-something guys behaving badly get a beguiling collection of 8o’s era American punk, new wave and English beat songs for an album that plays like a Goth hell version of “St. Elmo’s Fire.” You can practically see the black eye shadow dripping from the emo singers whose music made for the characters’ best years, songs whose guitar-driven angst thankfully took pop b.s. into the rabbit hole for the birth of alt. music a couple of decades ago. Now their brooding, vibrant melodies for addiction, suicidal tendencies and sexual dysfunction make “Melt”’s twisted beach get-together anything but a blanket bingo. Effectively choosing these doom-ridden cuts from experience, rock video-turned film director Mark Pellington effectively mixes ironic, original alt. classics by Bauhaus (“All We Ever Wanted Was Everything”), Love and Rockets (“Kundalini Express”) and Adam and the Ants (“Dog Eat Dog”) with the contemporarily soulful strumming of Galaxie 500’s “Blue Thunder,” the long, disturbed journey of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” and the ill portent of Tomandandy’s score cue “Here.” But perhaps no depressed spin on the characters’ long-vanished youth speaks to the f’d up wasteoids they’ve become like Modern English’s “I Melt With You,” where the band takes their bouncy anthem of 80’s affirmation (best experienced as the theme song of “Valley Girl”) and turn it into a slow, gnarled guitar drug trip that’s a nightmare of better lives long gone by.
Director Steve McQueen (soon never to be confused with the actor) takes us on the musically eclectic predilections of a sex addict’s listening tastes, both from Brandon’s utterly confident position as a vinyl-obsessed pick-up artist to expressing the unrelenting carnal drive whose reasons are never expressed in the film. A bit more of a glossy cousin to the sensual, s & m likes of “9 ½ Weeks” than “Shame” would like to admit, McQueen’s choice cuts lend class to the unseemly, ranging from Glen Gould’s vocalized Bach playing to the seductive retro beats of Blondie’s “Rapture” and Chic’s “I Want Your Love.” Brandon’s prowling grounds of noir, night time Manhattan are smokily captured by John Coltrane’s jazz jam of “My Favorite Things,” Chet Baker’s silken-voiced “Let’s Get Lost,” and Carey Mulligan’s painfully overlong “New York, New York,” a piano bar rendition so uncomfortable that you’d wish the city would stop boning and get some sleep. Howlin Wolf provides r & b bump-and-grind when things truly get nasty towards the climax with “You Can’t Be Beat,” with the techno beat of Mark Louque’s “The Problem” realizing a sex club as an entrancing circle of hell. While composer Harry Escott’s long-building “Brandon” is more than reminiscent of a similar simmer from “The Thin Red Line,” the spare, haunted pianos of his “End Credits” tie in nicely to the album’s many Gould pieces, painting Brandon as an elegant, sympathetic miscreant in need of some help. But perhaps the element of “Shame”’s collection that really pushes the limit is how it goes over the 79-minute mark, a demarcation point I thought a compilation couldn’t handle. Even if McQueen might not intend it, “Shame” is suave listening for a seducer’s bachelor pad, one that’s likely to score.
. SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND
A year before Johnny Rico screamed, “Kill ‘em all!” towards the bug planet of Klendathu, space marines were shouting their battle cries at Chigg fighters on the deepest galactic skies of the small screen. And just as Basil Poledouris applied symphonic battle fury to that film’s classic score, Shirley Walker showed she had the right, manly militaristic stuff to blast aliens to the tune of a 1996 Emmy scoring nomination for “Space: Above and Beyond.” “X-Files” producers Glenn Morgan and James Wong followed up that show’s tenuous genre tone with this outright sci-fi series, their first with Walker, who’d go on to far darker ends with the duo for their “Final Destination” franchise and the rat thriller “Willard.” But even by their first pairing for “Space,” Walker was a hardened veteran of macho action scoring, especially on such shows as “The Flash” and “Batman- The Animated Series.” Yet while Walker gave that same, thrilling orchestral firepower to “Space” over its one season, what’s particularly notable about “Above”’s overall tone is how thoughtfully somber it is. For if “Troopers” was about sending its young recruits into the bloody fun of battle, Walker’s “Space” deals more with the dread, and sacrifice of its fresh-faced fighter pilots being sent to save their planet against a formidable, and mysterious enemy. While Walker uses electronic percussion, and even a rock guitar for good measure, “Space”’s centering on dramatic orchestral dread, drum roll sacrifice and noble patriotism makes for music that’d be just as home in “Combat!”’s theater of war as the great “Beyond.” “Space”s’ solidly emotional approach is testament to the hard-ass, melodic skill that made Walker the first female composer to break the action scoring barrier. La La Land collects the best of Walker’s twenty-three episodic scores for “Space” over three CD’s with a presentation that will delight fans of this cult show, let alone admirers of TV music that had the impact a theatrical war in the stars.
. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
Having dealt with political subterfuge in “Che” and his Oscar-nominated score for “The Constant Gardener,” Spaniard Alberto Iglesias gets to take on Britain’s spy agency of The Circus for the second major adaptation of John Le Carre’s classic novel. But whether Iglesias was dealing with Latin rhythms or African percussion on his previous ventures into subterfuge, the composer’s work has always been distinguished by how simultaneously cerebral and melodically entrancing it’s been. That talent is taken to a whole new, subtle level here for what might be the calmest, action-less and near-geriatric spy movie of all time- which certainly isn’t a bad thing when you’ve got a film of “Tinker”’s slow-burning intelligence- one that takes about half of its running time to truly catch fire. Much like the unremarkable agents who move about in the shadows, Iglesias’ score keeps its head low with anxious strings, percussion and a lonely piano and violin, all making for a tone poem that conveys George Smiley’s life of espionage as a rather lonely and sad one. It’s an approach that also captures the moody danger of such Michael Small conspiracy scores like “Marathon Man” and “The Parallax View,” seminal 70’s score from “Tinker’’s era. But while Iglesias’ spying is more than a bit noodling at times, it’s also certainly not without interest, particularly when Iglesias employs an electric guitar and a jazz combo to show that Smiley’s got a spring in his step that his adversaries don’t expect, let alone the listener.
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, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande