Soundtrack Picks: “THE LITTLE PRINCE” is the top soundtrack to own for September, 2016
Also worth picking up CUTTHROAT ISLAND, CHARLES FOX: SEASONS, GENIUS, PETE’S DRAGON, IS PARIS BURNING?, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, SE7EN, STRANGER THINGS and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) CUTTHROAT ISLAND / ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE
Price: $19.98 /$12.98
What Is it?: Having swung from the rafters with the joyous “Jungle Book” this year, John Debney shows that he remains one of Hollywood’s most exciting composers, from an expanded release of the score that put him on the big budget treasure map to his delightful takeover for what appears to the be last, futuristic adventure of pre-history’s most famous animal best buds.
Why Should You Buy It?: The then husband and wife team of director Renny Harlin and actress Gena Davis came close to scuttling the pirate movie with 1995’s “Cutthroat Island” – at least until Jack Sparrow would resurrect the genre. But a box office boondoggle doesn’t mean that Harlin’s gargantuan, gloriously silly and often fun crossed blades salute doesn’t have an armada of scurvy, dog-eared fans, especially when it comes to John Debney’s twenty-one cannon salute to “Captain Blood,” and “The Sea Hawk.” Still a top fan favorite after nearly 200 scores, Debney’s beyond boisterous work treasure chest of symphonic swaggering on La La Land Records. With Disney blood in his own timbers, Debney started his career with an often brightly heroic sound with the likes of “The Young Riders,” “Seaquest 2032” and “Little Giants.” But it was “Cutthroat Island” that allowed him to truly play to the symphonic rafters for the first time, capturing the unhinged energy that Harlin brought to his “Island,” if with far more thematic structure. Digging back into the golden age glory days of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner and Alfred Newman, as well as such descendants as James Horner, Debney captures a rousingly melodic spirit that positively sings with shirt (and bodice)-ripping heroism. It’s an enthusiasm that immediately wins you over with the unmistakable strains of mast-swinging combat, a nimble dexterity that is inexhaustibly fun through any number of elongated action sequences, from a carriage chase to scaffold rappelling and a climactic high seas battle. With choral hosannas a’ blowing, Debney sinks in marvelous orchestral reveals, smashing percussive dastardliness and roguish romance. But if the classic pirate scores of yore might have been just a bit serious and symphonically dense in their wonderment, what makes “Cutthroat” into their worthy successor is that Debney’s approach is surprisingly light on its feet, replete with the self-aware sense of humor that Harlin gave to the film, especially when the composer engages in a snooty harpsichord waltz. The thrill certainly isn’t gone over two decades since the score that arguably made Debney’s career even as the movie smashed others’ on the rocks, and “Cutthroat” is blazingly well presented on this set, which features non-voiced versions of some major cues to boot. If Klaus Badelt turned pirate scores into electro-orchestral rock operas with the “Caribbean” movies, “Cutthroat Island” stands tall as a last, defiant gasp to the old-school symphonic way of playing brigands in all of their unapologetically symphonic glory, as accompanied by Jeff Bond’s entertainingly blunt notes about Carolco’s sinking ship.
Extra Special: With a cartoon enthusiasm that’s positive animated in his Disney bloodline, Debney has scored no end of CGI toons from “The Ant Bully” to “Chicken Little” and “Spongebob Squarepants.” But one of the most fun, not to mention best-performed, belongs to his entry into the “Ice Age,” just in time for what appears to be its final chapter with “Collision Course.” Given a series that’s been scored by the likes of David Newman and John Powell, Debney quickly establishes his own brightly identifiable symphonic palette that’s still well in line with the past soundtracks’ frenetic energy, with friendly, pokey rhythms and busts of spastic comic energy that also bring to mind Debney’s score to “Liar Liar.” But beyond the playful warmth of his melodies, and the eccentric, whistling, mouth harps, “Right Stuff” military marches and Nirvanic Indian rhythms of Shangri-Llama, Debney brings a galactic sense of sci-fi scale to “Collision Course” for the mammal’s desperate attempts to fend off a meteor, a sci-fi touch, complete with alien chorus, also touching on Debney’s great retro score to the feature version of “Jimmy Neutron.” But then, pretty much the gang’s all here when it comes to Debney’s comic repertoire as Carl Stalling split-second antics get wrapped into adventurous melodies that avert the end of the developing world. “Collision” bursts over with a real sense of fun and enthusiasm that defines the sheer likability of Debney’s touch in the cartoon realm, at once playing the situations for sweet, bouncy and sometimes perilous reality while never missing a gag. That this “Ice Age” might just be the best in an impressive score bunch to send off the franchise ending with a big musical bang.
What Is it?: While I don’t know if Adam Cork would feel comfortable thinking of himself as the composing version of author Thomas Wolfe, it’s fair to say that they’ll share the same sense of come-from-nowhere discovery from fans with an appetite for creative passion. Hailing from the London theater scene where his all-singing neighborhood murder procedural “London Road” recently received a cinematic adaptation, “Genius” gives Cork his first proper instrumental score as such in this examination of the relationship between literary editing and the wildly over-written word, as directed by Cork’s “Caligula” stage director Michael Grandage (making an impressive debut here as well). Given the rich partnership between a bookish grammar slasher and a beyond-effusive writer, Cork manages to take a beautiful trip back to 1930’s NYC and a timeless imagination bursting with description to spare, showing how film music can succinctly describe emotions that took Wolfe thousands of dead trees to get on paper.
Why Should You Buy It?: Just as Thomas Wolfe bursts into editor Max Perkins’ office at Scribner’s with a gigantic ego and a man-child twinkle in his eye, English-born Cork has the gentle, symphonic swagger of a North Carolinian convinced that he’s written The Great American Novel. Cord’s gorgeously melodic score balances that swoon with a rural sensibility at its heart, a lone, country-fied fiddle pointing towards the heartland that Wolfe has spent the better part of his life running from, yet also looking homeward at. As Wolfe struts around Manhattan with Perkins trying to get the erudite man of cutting words to open up, Cork subtly brings in the sense of a big city on the cusp of being transformed into a hub of all that jazz Then in a Gershwin-esque instant (or saucy uptown Scott Joplin and Dixieland swings at that), a burst of blue rhapsody shows how Wolfe uses words like free-form jazz, music that he hears as the key to life itself. Cork’s cleverness even integrates Stephan Grappelli gypsy violin with Klezmer as Perkins tries to hide bad book reviews from Wolfe while he’s travelling in Paris. There’s a surfeit of such imagination to “Genius’” soundtrack as Cork uses jazz to stoke Wolfe’s fever dream way of writing reams of copy, and the Scribner employees’ attempt to keep pace at deciphering them via a battery of typewriters.
Extra Special: Always at “Genius’” heart is the lonely, flute and piano feeling of a little boy lost – conveying an author whose enthusiasm leaves human wreckage behind that he can’t comprehend, or doesn’t want to. Yet there’s a wondrous, often swelling magic to Cork’s score, giving off the radiance of being in the company of an all-too brief literary shooting star, basking in his fraction of light for all of its fault and splendor, and final heartbreaking majestic requiem – certainly one of the most stirring musical send-offs since Spock’s torpedo was shot to the Genesis planet. Conjuring heartbreak, melancholy and magic with touching, enervating originality that an author who can’t reach the point without his far more restrained friend’s guidance, “Genius” heralds a composer’s major sale that will hopefully only continue to grow after this memorably entry.
3) THE LITTLE PRINCE
What is it?: “Kung Fu Panda” director Mark Osborne takes Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic, metaphoric story about wonder and mortality and dares to mix it with a way more weightily obvious modern tale about a small girl’s desire to find her own path out of cookie-cutter adulthood. It’s certainly a different approach from Stanley Donen’s faithful, musical realization of the tale from 1974. Yet even if the rhythms of this modernized “Prince” are a bit off (though thoroughly touching by the end), it’s a new fairy tale-versus-reality take that opens up big worlds of wonder for Osborne’s “Panda” co-composer Hans Zimmer, whom along here with Richard Harvey weaves an utterly enchanting soundtrack that resonates with both optimism, and fateful realization.
Why should you buy it: Hans Zimmer has scored numerous animated talking animal features like “Madagascar” and “Shark Tale,” while equally longtime composer Harvey’s credits include such kid-friendly TV productions as “Terrahawks” and “Arabian Nights.” But what makes “The Little Prince” stand out is the numerous levels it works on beyond the fluffily entertaining, especially given Osborne’s combination of a heroine’s CG toon world with the striking, stop-motion quality of the royal boy she yearns to meet. Seamlessly combining their distinctively melodic approaches into a one voice, Zimmer and Harvey capture “The Little Prince’s” more obvious slapstick antics with a deeper, moving story that’s signifies that hard realities of growing up. The result is a charming score that stays aloft with its sense of the joy of friendship between girl and affable old coot, but one whose wings are tipped with melancholy that it’s a friendship that will be over all too soon. A master of rhythm, Zimmer’s orchestra gently moves along with its sense of discovery, paying tribute to the source material’s French origins with the accordion (though there’s nothing particularly Gallic about the movie itself). Musical invention abounds here in similarly fashion. Virtually chained to her chair by a life goal-obsessed mom, Zimmer and Harvey use voice to connote the incessant math homework thrown at her. Lush orchestra and bravura pianos swoop between worlds with the wings of George Gershwin, where just a touch of Django Reinhart inflects other whimsical moments. Brass becomes the lumbering sound of this resoundingly anti-Capitalist film’s businessmen villains, where a burst of symphonic color turns into triumph against the colorless adult world. And when it comes to eliciting emotion that signals the off-screen end of life, violins and angelic vocals effortlessly elicit tears while conveying the next, blissful flight of the afterlife.
Extra Special: In a movie filled with planetoids and stars and their musical approximation of them, the biggest radiant force comes from Camille Dalmais. A longtime star of France’s Virgin division, Camille’s lovely voice becomes a striving, adolescent character in the score, both as a rhythmic, lullaby-like instrument and in full vocal flower as the singer of the poignant ”Equation” and the whimsical theme song “Turnaround.” Carrying the energy of a wonderfully inescapable earworm tune you might hear in a Parisian nightclub, this ditty is endearingly repeated (along with a song version of the math theme) throughout the album’s generous running time, likely no more to Saint-Exupery’s heavenly delight than in the song’s original French lyrics as well.
4) PETE’S DRAGON
What is it?: 1977’s “Pete’s Dragon” was a frenetically silly, song-and-dance live action film with a green lizard who’d reveal himself in resoundingly two-dimension animated form. And if that loveable, lumbering beast has remained a fond memory for Disney fans of a certain age, this goofy specimen from a time that wasn’t exactly the Mouse House’s glory days isn’t a sacrosanct classic that would have people roaring with outrage over a far more realistically told re-boot. Now nearly four decades later, a new generation who’d have none of that foolish kid’s stuff have truly believed a dragon can fly, especially given the wings of musical wonder provided by composer Daniel Hart, a composer who maries his folksy indie cinema roots with huge, orchestral splendor to truly magical effect.
Why should you buy it?: As a rising voice on the arthouse scoring scene, Daniel Hart has created a lyrical, often acoustically mesmerizing sound that graced “Comet,” “Tumbledown” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” the latter two conveying a particularly dreamy, rustic sound. While Hart’s ethereal melody held promise for bigger things to come, “Pete’s Dragon” has him suddenly saddle a beast of a far more epic size. Yet Hart handles the reigns of this story’s Spielbergian demands quite well for his “Saints” director David Lowry, who brings a gentle lyricism to otherwise straight-ahead “E.T.”-inspired get-it-home shenanigans. The result is pretty much as close to an indie film as a Disney multiplex picture will come to, gently moving the story of a boy and his dragon at an unhurried, poetic pace. Given a big symphony for the first time, Hart makes it swoop, soar and exhale with fiery peril with a memorable main theme, showing an often epic command of strings and brass. There’s gorgeous, heartfelt emotion in his use of flute and angelic voice as well, with a thunderous peril that brings to mind the score that James Horner likely would have done for this picture had it been made in the 80’s fantasy glory days. Conveying the unbreakable bond between a boy and his dragon in a way that uncondescending breaks out the handkerchiefs, Hart’s most emotionally effusive scores captures the kind of tenderness that makes for the kind of creature-kid relationships that’s the stuff of pure “Neverending Story” Luck Dragon enchantment. But what really sets “Pete’s Dragon” apart is just how beautifully Hart captures the guitar strumming magic of a mountain town, with a sense of mischief that’s the spirit of wild forest boy youth. But both the film and score never come across as kid’s stuff. Much like Robert Redford’s recollections of the dragon as a gently mythic story already told, Hart delivers on both verdant, picaresque beauty as well as the thrills that come from being chased by nasty adults, “Pete’s Dragon” resonates with a feeling of family, showing off an indie composer who’s as capable of far larger symphonic talents as he is of keeping his music nicely on the rustic homestead.
Extra Special: What makes “Pete’s” soundtrack particularly interesting is just how many songs there are on it, which often play in place of where you’d think score should go (especially in a scene where Pete runs about town in his Tarzan-like glory). There are sweet country ballads aplenty with Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s “The Dragon Song,” fiddle-topped Disney-radio country western rock for Lindsey Stirling’s “Something Wild” and The Lumineers’ soulfully acoustic “Nobody Knows.” Even the original’s Oscar-nominated “Candle in the Wind” gets a thoroughly unplugged, twangy cowboy take by Okkervil River that’s likely to raise the eyebrows of “Pete’s” purists. But the cleverness of the song choices goes to the use of Leonard Cohen’s regretful “So Long, Marianne,” whose lyrics of a “Gypsy Boy” show off a clever indie spirit that’s gone into making “Pete’s Dragon” both stripped-down and wonderfully big with seamless tones of green.
5) STRANGER THINGS VOLUMES 1 and 2
What is it?: If you didn’t know better when listening to the recent batch of scores involving killer super soldiers, determined demons and ravenous kiddie zombies and misanthrope hackers, you’d think we were straight back in 1983 given the pulsating retro synth approaches of Steve Moore’s “The Guest,” Disasterpiece’s “It Follows,” Kreng’s “Cooties” and Mac Quayle’s Emmy winning “Mr. Robot.” All are using the alternately energetic and ambient sound that defined such artists as Tangerine Dream (“Wavelength”), Charles Bernstein (“Deadly Friend”) and John Carpenter (“Halloween”) back in the day (heck, even Carpenter himself is back in the game with albums of imagined movie themes). But when it comes to absolutely spot-on recreation the electronic scoring heyday, the prize would likely go to Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, two musicians from the Austin indie quartet band S U R V I V E who’ve teamed for the instant sensation retro coolness of the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” Like their stainless old school keyboard score,” show creators The Duffer Brothers have cobbled together elements from such cult 80’s features as “Firestarter,” “Altered States,” “A Nightmare On Elm Street” and “E.T.” in a way that appeals to both kid adventure sensibilities and far more adult horror-conspiracy terrors, More importantly, it doesn’t have the forced feeling of slavishly recreating the greats that inspired so many of today’s filmmakers (here’s looking at J.J. Abram’s otherwise decent “Super 8”). Instead, “Stranger Things” is a salutary jam session of paying tribute to the greats without self-awareness.
Why should you buy it?: Seemingly coming from nowhere, the buzz of “Stranger Things’” trailer exploded into binge watching mania once the show hit the air, with its score receiving particular raves. It’s given 80’s retro score home Lakeshore Records the incentive to not only put out one, but two volumes of throwback synth goodness. But if there’s one picture, and score that “Stranger Things” draws from in particular, then it’s “Firestarter,” especially given its angle of a telekinetically enhanced girl on the run from evil government agents. That film’s Tangerine Dream aesthetic of energetic grooves mixed with pulsating atmospheres marks Dixon and Stein’s work, which sounds like it could have been wired together in a garage (in the best sense of that image). For where Tangerine Dream had a thoroughly polished sound that grew out of prog-rock, there’s a distinctive, rough analogue sound to “Stranger Things,” all the better to get across enthusiastic Dungeons and Dragons fans thrust into adult peril they could never have imagined. Like TD’s entrancing sound, Dixon and Stein give their numerous tracks a powerful, thematic identity, without gelling into any particular motifs as such during the score, unless you count the show’s catchily pulsating main title, certainly one of the more effective examples of writing a memorable motif (which even TD has now played tribute to). There’s a fun innocence that grows with suspense for the rhythmic pieces that comprise most of the first album. But it’s on the second collection that “Stranger Things’” scariest, and most interesting music lies. The negative light realm of the “Upside-Down” from which its Thing-like creature hails from is a great opportunity for the composers to engage in truly bizarre ambiences that reaches far further back into the electronic ether to capture the chattering sound-mass quality of Gil Melle’s 1971 score for “The Andromeda Strain.” Where that score conjured the growing threat of alien bacteria, Dixon and Stein’s swings between chilling, lonely atmospheres and evil, foggy percussion coalesce into the sci-fi horror score twilight zone, as well as the emotional horror of a little girl possessed of lethal power – gripping tonal peril that strongly elevates “Stranger Things” out of the realm of geeky homage kid’s stuff it could have been lost in the dark in.
Extra Special: That a S U R V I V E track helped give birth to the show itself, and that the group’s work has also shown up in “The Guest’s” retro soundtrack shows how Dixon, Stein (and their group by extension) is going for the real retro deal, treating it with honor as opposed to mistaking the style for some hipster-synth art project. Now with their forthcoming album “RR7349” (among numerous call sign record titles) signals another valentine to a synth style that’s been grabbed kicking and pulsating from another dimension best loved by grown up 80’s genre fans, “Stranger Thing” stands as the next evolution in that synth style, while sounding like the first generation of hardwired keyboards and samplers budget-needy composers put together to explore a new musical realm. In Dixon and Stein’s hands, it’s nothing less than an amazing, raw time machine back to the days when keyboard ruled the genre earth, and dimensions beyond.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
Sure Rocky may have had a hard time taking on Ivan Drago to prove American superiority to a stadium full of Commies, but that doesn’t compare to Steve Armstrong throwing a punch for the entire human race against the giant, foam rubber filled aliens that enter the boxing ring of a space station “Arena.” One of the many, fun genre rumbles that exec producer Charles Band filled his Empire Pictures with in the late 80’s (including the boxing “Robot Jox”), an obvious contender in the musical corner was Band’s brother Richard, who’d provided any number of orchestral t.k.o’s for the family business with such scores as “The Day Time Ended,” “Metalstorm” and “Re-Animator.” But while orchestral scoring for final days of picture like these getting any kind of theatrical release were on the ropes (as was the soon to be knocked-out Empire), Band was far from down and out as he proudly walked into “Arena” with a dynamic synth-sample score (abetted by “52 Pick-Up” Gary Chang at ringside). Not only did Band have a uniquely powerful Fairlight and Synclavier electronic ensemble in his corner, but more importantly, he had the energy to match his impressively rubber-ized opponents. Giving “Arena’ heart and punchiness, Band infuses his grand symphonic sound with a percussive, rock and roll energy and twinkling, percussive themes that not only captures a fun, sense of sci-fi wonder, but also a defiant human energy that does a great job of telegraphing the fist-versus-claw (or tentacle) punches. It’s fun, well-choreographed music that’s distinctively Band in sound, keeping up the suspense of alien fixers determined to make a mere man take the dive with punchy, dramatic defiance. With a new mix that brings out all of the stereo richness from Band’s first real step into the electronic ring, “Arena” captures the sheer, ludicrous fun of the outsized imagination of his bro’s genre spectacles.
. CHARLES FOX: SEASONS
Much like a melodist such as Vivaldi, some composers are continuously gifted with conjuring one memorable tune after the other. And while the themes for “Wonder Woman,” “The Love Boat,” “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley” might not be in the culturally elite pantheon of “The Four Seasons,” they’re instantly identifiable to score fans – let alone the bouncy work that composer Charles Fox has done for any number of movies like “9 To 5,” “Foul Play” and “One on One.” Varese Sarabande has certainly been celebrating Fox’s lyrical repertoire by re-releasing the latter two soundtracks. But perhaps none is as meaningful to the composer as their U.S. premiere of “Seasons,” a concept album that Fox recorded in 1980 with an orchestra at Burbank’s long-missed Evergreen Studios. Where these alternately sweeping and intimate covers of Fox’s work saw an album release overseas, this nicely refurbished CD (produced by Varese’s retro specialists Carey E. Mansfield, Bryon Davis and Peter Hackman) mark “Season’s” welcome American debut. Fox offers sumptuous string odes to the classics with the title track, as well as a gorgeously lush “Pachelbel’s Cannon in D Major,” a tune familiar then from the success of “Ordinary People” at the time, and giving birth to an album where Fox could show his ability to make Baroque upbeat while collecting any number of his chart-topping collaboration with lyricist Norman Gimbel. Their most famous song “Killing Me Softly” displays Fox’s virtuoso piano, to bring out the tune’s melancholy nature, a soft lyricism that also fills the duo’s stage music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with “I Need You Now.” Symphonic passion raises with Fox’s “Reflections” the album’s unique track amidst its clever, pop friendly reworking of past material. One particularly catchy Fox and Gimbel instrumental is “Elusive Blue” (from the unknown Treat Williams romantic comedy “Why Would I Lie”), music whose synth-mysterioso beat brings to mind Fox’s Hitchcockian cheekiness for “Foul Play.” However, voices do grace the lovely, guitar-flavored song “My Fair Share” from “One on One” which is once again graced with the folk voices of Seals & Crofts. A new, notable addition to “Seasons,” and the continued versatility of “Killing Me Softly’ is The Harlem String Quartet and clarinetist Eddie Daniels’ haunting performance, one that resonates with a yearning, virtuoso jazz vibe that’s very much uptown (though recorded in Sante Fe in 2015). Fans of Fox and Gimbel will find much enjoyment here, while I can only hope that the composer’s renaissance of re-releases might see the actual, official release of his eternally groovy 60’s score with Bob Crewe for the shagadelic space age “Barbarella.”
. DON’T BREATH
In much of today’s horror scoring, composers tend to throw a kitchen sink of percussion at the listener to convey fear. But rarely has a musician literally thrown every household appliance at the listener, plus the entire contents of a musty garage and garbage-strewn backyard at the same time with the pointed, blunt effectiveness of Roque Banos in “Don’t Breath” A prolific Spanish composer of horror scores who pricked up American ears with his eerie Theremin-topped Bernard Herrmann-esque score for “The Machinist,” Banos truly made his Hollywood box office splash with director Fede Alvarez’s reboot of “The Evil Dead” before his beautiful score for “In the Heart of the Sea’ sank along with the film. But while the composer can write beautifully melodic scores like no one’s business, it’s horror that keeps pulling him back in and putting him back on top, as proven by the smash reception to Alvarez’s “Don’t Breath.” Accompany a trio of woefully unfortunately home invaders who get their just deserts at the hands of a blind vet with mad human-hunting skills that Daredevil would envy, Banos comes up with the high concept of beating, winding, and raking a battery of “found” percussion instruments that likely required a tetanus shot to work with. Given that he used a wind-up alarm to signal terror for “Evil Dead,” it’s an idea that’s taken to an insane extreme here in conjuring a blind man’s bluff house of horrors, the sonic equivalent of stumbling about in the dark into one awful metal tool after the next, all while a monster breaths down your neck. It’s a sound design score that feels like someone slowly scratching a gigantic rake across a chalkboard, only to have metal percussion explode into frenzied chases. But where most of this subwoofer-trashing score is the stuff of dissonant nightmares, Banos also provides a memorable piano theme for a heroine who puts up a mask of being hard-bitten. It’s a poignant piano motif that becomes a melodic thread to desperately hold onto as the score becomes progressively more manic, pouring on the adrenalin with an equally memorable chase theme, a stomach-churning slow burn theme for its seemingly superhuman “villain,” and any other number of motifs that stick out like razors amidst the noisy terror. A score most definitely not to be played with the lights out, “Don’t Breath” exhales with a sadistic effectiveness that’s in perfect, nasty tune when not shredding any semblance of harmony as its truly dumb characters desperately try to find the light switch.
. FAMILY GUY: MOVEMENT 1 (5,000 edition)
Mea Culpa. I have not seen one episode of “Family Guy” (or any other Seth MacFarlane animated show for that matter) in the fifteen seasons it’s been running, though I certainly enjoyed Walter Murphy’s jazzy work on the smart-ass entrepreneur’s “Ted” movies. So while I might not know who the heck the Griffins are, I can imagine that they part of a Simpsons-esque seditious sitcom universe given this hilarious collection from Murphy and Ron Jones that can easily be enjoyed for its vibrantly snarky music alone. But while I might not have an idea of “Family Guy,” I most definitely did my time as a kid watching any number of 70’s and 80’s sitcoms and their wonderfully insipid scoring – a peppy, “act out” style that “Family Guy” is unmistakably having fun with, along with referencing any number of other cult disco-symphonic shows like “CHiPS” and “Buck Rogers,” and big screen soundtracks like “North By Northwest.” It’s a mix of on-the-nose sentiment, geek love and outright, over-dramatic hysteria a la Ira Newborn’s “The Naked Gun.” And there’s certainly enough material from over a decade to pull from for this consistently entertaining album. As the Nelson Riddle to MacFarlane’s Sinatra, Walter Murphy gets most of the big band stuff, and gets a surprisingly lush orchestra to sock home its jazzy nostalgia while spilling over with Frank Drebin-esque retro cop show energy. For those used to the straight-laced approach that Ron Jones took for the next generation of “Star Trek” shows, hearing “Family Guy” allows us hear the composer’s talents when he’s really let out to play. A longtime TV vet. Jones has an obvious blast lampooning the network’s wonderfully dated sound, while his more action-oriented cues have an unmistakable “Trek” signature to them. Swinging from sexy sax to apocalyptic excitement and music from the days of when network stars battled, the “Family Guy’s” insanely entertaining stylings are a love letter to kitsch TV music and the big band era in equal measure, making for a totally delightful album of meta-cartoon scoring that’s way more about taking down musical live action clichés.
. GAME OF THRONES: SEASON 6
The sword and sorcery version of “The Godfather” reached epic heights with taking care of the family business for the show’s most thunderously magnificent season yet – especially when it’s came to the work of its constant composer Ramin Djawadi. Increasing both his creativity in tandem with his orchestral forces, his sixth tour of duty in Westeros and its adjoining realms yielded memorable work that’s been collected for this album, no more so than when incorporating his inimitable violin-topped theme into the music (particularly when sung in an ancient tongue for “The Winds of Winter”). The frightening, white walker zombie percussion of “Hold the Door” goes from relentlessness to tragedy for the loss of the beloved, monosyllabic character, the title melody slamming home the revelation, and likely loss of what “Hodor” actually means. But then it’s this kind of character-driven emotion that’s behind the success of the show itself, vengeful battle music signaling the payback of a “Bastard” against the GOT villain to rule them all. Where a chorus gives majesty worthy of a fire and dragon-controlling goddess to the Khaleesi, there’s just as much cruel intimacy to the score, or downright creepiness in the theme for “The Red Woman” and the assassin followers of The Many-Faced God. But surely one of the finest moments of Djawadi’s Medieval-flavored approach goes to the nearly ten-minute “Light of the Seven.” As Cersei Lannister fully steps into Michael Corleone’s show, Djawadi creates the definition of building suspense. Starting off innocently enough with piano and violin, the composer creates both lyricism and suspense over the brilliantly developing cue, an organ bringing in the sense of a religious cult about to meet its maker, a boy’s chorus is added, until a full, rhythmic orchestra takes us to the point of a big green bang.
. GHOSTBUSTERS (Score Soundtrack)
Where enthusiasts like to say that Elmer Bernstein was so funny because he played things “straight,” you can always hear the bright side even in his most “serious” scoring for plane disasters, military incursions and college frat barbarism. Hence, while formidably cloud roiling, Elmer’s “Ghostbusters” score wasn’t likely to scare anyone. The same cannot be said for Theodore Shapiro’s girl power reboot and its sense of terrifying purpose. A composer who played the movie ‘Nam, male modeling and a Trumped future for all of its hilariously dramatic, over-the-top worth “Tropical Thunder,” “Zoolander 2” and “Idiocracy,” Shapiro takes an adventurously frightening approach here that’s positively unisex in its effectiveness. Though Ray Parker’s song gets quoted at just the right moments (and quite rousingly for some ectoplasmic machine gunning), any O.G. Elmer music is conspicuously absent as this “Ghostbusters” strives to be its own score. If anything, having a brassily heroic theme battle with raging, unholy choruses and dissonant effects that wouldn’t be out of place in “Alien 3” make this akin to a supernatural “Avengers” score as its mix of slasher-rific horror music, frantically heroic suspense and towering dark choral chanting (organ included) set up pure demonic evil versus boisterous, brassily thematic team spirit. Sure Iron Man might not musically show up, but using blasting, western-styled bad-assery for women armed with proton packs makes these SNL stars the musical equal of any Marvel superhero. Sure this isn’t your outraged geek daddy’s “Ghostbusters’” music. But in terms of hell blazing spirit smashing, Shapiro’s positively scary music is as gargantuan in sound as the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, symphonically socking home its girl power with the epic force of Marvel’s Night on Bald Mountain, as staged in Times Square. That there’s nothing at all funny here works quite nicely in making this “Ghostbusters” its own person.
. IS PARIS BURNING?
Some composers write war scores from the thankfully safe vantage point of a piano. Others actually live the events, which gives a particularly memorable sense of Parisian patriotism to Maurice Jarre’s most epic WW2 score – now given new thunderous vigor on the occasion of its 50th anniversary by the once-occupied players of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. A young man when the Nazis marched into his country, Jarre would have numerous chances to play France’s indomitable spirit during the period in such scores as “The Longest Day” and “The Train.” But no Hollywood-sponsored all-star resistance was as impressive as director Rene Clement’s 1966 film “Is Paris Burning?” a sprawling true story of the citizenry’s struggle to stop the Germans from blowing up The City of Lights before the Allies ride in – and the equally dangerous struggle of conscience of Hitler’s high general of whether or not to defy these apocalyptic sore loser plans. As can be heard on this CD’s second WW2 disc in its re-performed selections from Jarre’s “Night of the Generals,” “The Train,” “Weekend at Dunkirk” and “The Damned,” the composer particularly delighted in contrasting anthemic marches and waltzes with the brutalist, brassy music of the Germans – a constant battle between melody and a blaring, brassy assault that powerfully rages in “Is Paris Burning?” duel of marches and the nationalistic pride of good versus evil. Defining the struggle with a theme that rings with both patriotic pomp and sacrifice, with a glorious waltz conveying victory, Jarre’s music conveys an indomitable spirit against unimaginable odds, his strings both romantic and a suspenseful race against time. But as gloriously proud as the orchestra gets in its “La Marseilles” – like swells of defiance (with the Allies getting in quotes of “Over There” and “Yankee Doodle Came To Town”), “It Paris Burning?” also offers surprisingly delicate, and ominous use of the piano (of which there were twelve at the original scoring session – overdubbed with two here), the instrument’s keys often hushed as the strident percussion of Nazis soldiers coming perilously close. But just as the people mock their occupiers as soon as their jackboots have passed, Jarre employs an oompa-esque brass section and satirical Strauss-ian dances as a raspberry blown in the Huns’ direction. The of-course accordion topped “Paris “is constantly on the melodic move in conveying the grand scope of a the world’s most famed metropolis in dire peril, all while trumpeting its never-say-surrender valor in this giant march of a score (whose Resistance peril Jarre would later play humorously in “Top Secret”), the hit theme given lovely new voice by Melinda Million. Where a compilation of Jarre’s original soundtrack had long ago been issued on LP and CD, Tadlow producer James Fitzpatrick and conductor Nic Raine’s spot on rendition of the complete 68-miute score is a revelation to the scope, and proud emotion that Jarre pays to his compatriots, a grand salute that firmly placed “The Lawrence of Arabia” composer in the front ranks of Hollywood’s epic composers. Having brought new glorious life Jarre’s most iconic score, as well as “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” “Villa Rides” and “The Message,” “Is Paris Burning?” gets an equally assured and vigorous treatment, with Frank K. DeWald’s liner notes providing an informative look at how Jarre got to re-live his own history with memorable, flag-waving vigor.
. JASON BOURNE
Fourteen years ago, John Powell went rogue with a world-running agent to change the face of action scoring with “The Bourne Identity.” Combining supersonic speed rhythm with Afro-beat percussion and lushly mysterious strings, “Bourne” was more music for a whirling dervish dancer than a murder-programmed spy, a fusion of alternative club stylings with solidly symphonic tradition, graced with a memorable theme to tie its kinetic energy together. That Powell’s style has only gotten more shakey-camera frantic over the course of its two following films (with James Newton Howard doing a decent job of interpreting it for the non-Bourne spin-off). Now the band has been put back together to frantically powerful effect in “Jason Bourne,” with the significant addition of David Buckley to keep the character vibrantly on his toes. Buckley is a composer who’s certainly shown he’s good at playing with others, especially when it comes to action with his collaborations with John Ottman on “The Nice Guys” and Eeran Baron Cohen on the deceptively serious sound of “The Brothers Grimsby.” With “Jason Bourne,” Buckley does more than heading up the Powell tribute band, even though you might not hear anything different about the basic beat beyond mostly subduing the ethnic part of it. The usual thematic suspects are also thrillingly on hand in a score that barely stops over its literal two hour running time (half of whose music has been well-chosen for this album). But among enough metallic percussion to fill up several Blue Man shows, a fan of the “Bourne” scores can hear how much smoother the score is given its biggest orchestral component yet. Even if the score never stops, “Bourne” is exceptionally well modulated as it goes from breathless chase to computer laptop-typing suspense, never losing its sense of melodic ideas while insuring enough rhythm to hit the shakey cam visuals as strings take the form of incredibly suppressed emotion. It’s like Bourne’s trend-setting scores never left, but have only grown with more vibrancy without breaking the mold of what worked, and set the action scoring trend that’s still kept going without a break. It’s a chase that just keeps on giving, let alone with the second time the series has awesomely ended on Moby’s “Mysterious Ways” – whose lushly improved groove sums up the score’s as well.
He may not have had Stallone’s biceps. But Jerry Goldsmith’s steroid action defined America’s vengefully heroic masculinity more than any score of the 1980’s. Where his “First Blood” certainly had no shortage of rousing, brass-fueled action, Goldsmith’s 1982 treatment of John Rambo was far more melancholy, with a trumpet reflecting a gravely wounded ‘Nam vet trying to find his place in his unforgiving country. Given the chance in 1985 to avenge our loss to the Vietnam (while rescuing POW’s in the bargain), Goldsmith leaped to the chance with gleeful, berserker fury with a score whose continued popularity has resulted in almost as many CD soundtrack re-issues as DVD editions of “The Evil Dead.” Now Intrada gloriously gets in the last note with their adrenalin-pumping two-disc edition that offers two presentations of the score in both blasting stereo and 35MM three-channel mixes, with both sounding terrific. Where “First Blood” had been a primarily symphonic score, “Rambo” really gave Goldsmith his biggest opportunity yet to flex both electronic and flesh and blood orchestrations in service of a patriotic body count, beginning with rattlesnake-like synth percussion. But where lesser composers could have let the music go through the explosive motions, “Rambo” is an exemplar or Goldsmith’s method of basing just about all of his music on memorable themes, as backed with militaristic might and the lone horn of a wounded warrior who will never win his internal battle. The villains are appropriately cartoonish, with ching-chong Asian music for the dirty Vietcong Reds (along with unexpected beauty that reminds you that Goldsmith wrote “The Sand Pebbles”), and boastful, Prokofiev-like music for their Russian controllers. It’s a comic book dynamic that sneakily dances around the bad guys for Rambo to spring forth with his gigantic knife and make triumphant bursts of heroic musical mincemeat out of them. Eventually reaching fever pitch heroic excitement, Goldmsith unleashes some of the best, ballsy escape-and-chase music of his career, with Rambo’s emotion always at the center of the sound and fury. Intrada’s ultra-deluxe edition not only offers Goldsmith’s variation on his “Rambo” music that begat the Carolco logo music (a studio his music helped build), as well as alternative tracks, original trailer music and its coolest find – a boisterously happy end title. Replacing it would be be bro Frank Stallone’s ballad “Peace In Our Life,” a song also on hand here to demonstrate the underrated vocal chops of a master of 80’s action anthems whom I’d be happy to see in concert any day. Intrada head Douglas Fake writes an interesting detective tale in how he completed the mission of putting Goldsmith’s not utterly complete, and still-vibrant score under the company label, alongside the now-complete composer trilogy for America’s kick-ass ambassador of foreign policy.
SE7EN (The Collector’s Edition)
Howard Shore might be film scoring’s version of Will Graham. For even though he has yet to score the remakes of “Manhunter” that keep appearing with the regularity of a lost tooth, the soft-spoken composer has found himself time and again in the musical company of psycho killers – most notoriously with Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs,” and time before and again with “The Brood,” “A Kiss Before Dying,” “The Cell,” “and “A History of Violence.” Yet somehow, Shore manages to hear each of his chilling muses differently, though no more terrifyingly than in 1995 with David Fincher’s game changing “Se7en,” For if mainstream audiences thought that serial killers couldn’t get worse than Hannibal Lector and Buffalo Bill, they hadn’t reckoned on the fiendish punishment meted out by the sin-eating John Doe. If music could be an avant-garde nightmare, than Shore certainly conjured an utterly relentless, yet somehow melodic tone poem to pure evil that’s lost none of its shocking power – especially in the first release of the soundtrack’s complete form after 21 years. Now expanded from the original soundtrack’s 20 minutes to 60, what makes this musically reborn “Se7en” all the scarier is just how densely melodic it is. For while while many composers would attack these kinds of artsy atrocities with a full, percussively stabbing fury that would be barely “musical,” Shore took a far smoother approach here as it were, yet with striking themes with a slow inevitability akin to drowning in a corpse-filled tar pit. “Se7en” is all about a build to an impossibly nihilistic ending, the score’s lurching motifs getting darker and darker, while avoiding Bartokian impressionism for the most part. To be sure there are punctuations to the score’s grisly discoveries, as with a somehow noble orchestra for a Swat armada before stumbling upon the desiccated Sloth in one of cinema’s most shocking jump-scares. Where “Silence of the Lambs” took more of a subtle approach as it were, what also sets “Se7en” apart is the sheer level of pounding volume the score goes for, especially in the ever rising, sharp strings of a rain-soaked pursuit of a trench coated killer. By the time our luckless detectives find Doe’s copious entries in Apartment 604, Shore’s music has achieved a level of throwback, ominous string gloom that would be right at home in a Universal horror film of the 1940’s given the density of its orchestra. The only ray of hope is provided in the lyrical opening cue “The Last Seven Days” – of course unused in the movie itself, but hear with great surprise here. When it comes to hammering the listener, Shore’s ever-escalating assumption of becoming Wrath still stands as the most unnerving cues of this genre, conveying a sense of inescapable dread determined to drown out everything before it. Yet for all the punishment that “Se7en” unleashes, the brilliant, ghastly thematic architecture of Shore’s work remains nothing less than hypnotic on this sumptuous new presentation. For a score that’s the epitome of punishment, “Se7en” still hurts so good.
. STAR TREK BEYOND
There’s no better composer when it comes to cinematic reboots than Michael Giacchino, who’s re-imagined the classic strains of Lalo Schifrin, Jerry Goldsmith and John Willams, all while keeping their stylistic imprint intact for his scores to two “Mission: Impossible” pictures, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Jurassic World.” But the jewel in Giacchino’s crown of continuing voyages remain aboard The Enterprise, the biggest pop culture cult property of them all. Given spiffy, homage surroundings by J.J. Abrams for “Star Trek” and “Into Darkness,” Giacchino’s wondrous, large-scale scoring encapsulated the classic Trek TV work of such composers as Alexander Courage, Fred Steiner and Gerard Fried, not to mention such big screen franchise composers as Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner (who gets a particularly nice shout out here) an enthusiasm that remains unabated for the franchise’s 50th anniversary under the new directing helm of Justin Lin for “Star Trek Beyond.” Knowing that personally identifiable themes that are just as important as the characters that fans keep coming back for, Giacchino reprises his own memorable “Trek” motifs for the this most TV-esque of the “Kelvin universe” films, which resembles one of those episodes in which Kirk beat the stuffing out of a fellow officer gone mad (as we’re definitely not going to be getting a sense-of-wonder movie after the financial disaster of the unsung “Star Trek – The Motion Picture” anytime soon). Yet another destroyed Enterprise and scaly baddies give Giacchino a real action workout here that makes “Beyond” close in spirit to “Jurassic World.” Giacchino’s ability to keep the excitement emotionally centered is the glue of his score, which conveys a brass-pounding sense of jeopardy to our beloved crewmembers, even if the main foe makes far less sense than the Khan of the somehow reviled, and far stronger film “Into Darkness.” Giacchino certainly isn’t on autopilot as he stretches his familiar themes to new heights, especially with this score’s impressive use of chorus, most powerfully as it’s the only thing that plays as Kirk’s pride and joy meets its maker. There’s also fun tribal, Gamelan-centric sound for the sexy, white alien warrior-ess who’ll be the stuff of fanboy crushes. By the time that its last act pretty much reprises “Darkness” spaceship city-smashing Giacchino’s score is right at the point of excited exhaustion, yet somehow keeps its pedal to the Beastie Boys-enabling metal. Given that Varese has a way of putting out the complete “Trek” scores, there’s doubtless more than meets the ear of Giacchino’s “Beyond” to arrive at a later Score Date.
WHERE DID THEY FILM THAT?: THE MUSIC JOURNEY
While we’ll always have Paris, there’s no foreign country that Hollywood seems to visit more often to stage unbridled romance than Italy. It’s a land with song in its heart, especially having given birth to the robust style of opera, whose performers sing their passion to the theater rafters and well beyond. Given that form of music is a few centuries old, we can leave it to such modern, wonderfully emotive performers as Romina Arena to invest it with a distinctly modern rhythm that has taken it into the realm of “popera,” of which she is one of the premiere practioners. Put that ebullient approach into any number of classic, Italian-flavored movie songs, and you’ve got Arena’s charming album “Where Did They Film That,” a tie-in to her other talent as an author for the fun, similarly-tiled book that tracks down famed movie locations (available HERE). Arena has done a nice job selecting such standards as “To Rome With Love’s” “Volare,” “A Time for Us” from Franco Zeferelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” and of course “The Godfather” waltz “Speak Softly Love.” Just as enticing are less familiar, robustly sung tunes as “Rome Adventure’s” “Al Di La,” Il Postino’s “Mi Mancherai” and the slow-burn tango of “Portifino’s” “Love in Portofino,”songs that all share a yearning, star-crossed quality. Beyond her alternately uptempo and heartfelt backing, what often gives “Where Did They Film That?” a spin that’s both truthful, and accessible is how Arena starts many of the songs in Italian, then segues to English lyrics halfway through them, making us fall in love with the poetry of of the language itself, then in its “actual” lyrics – though Arena’s gorgeous rendition of the Trevi-set “Three Coins in a Fountain” is entirely American for its lovestruck visitors. Also quite beautiful is Arena’s rendition of Ennio Morricone’s theme for “Cinema Paradiso,” an instrumental now given emotionally affecting voice. Another nice surprise is being joined by tenor Aaron Caruso for the standard “O’ Solo Mio,” which “Only You” used to swooning affect for yet another lovely Yankee woman lured to a country that’s sung in the shape of pure romance, especially given this unique collection of eternally Italian movie themes.
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