The Thin Red Line OST by Hans Zimmer (Expanded La La Land Records edition)

ThinRedLine-Large__42863.1549393387I listen to this all the time. Not a week goes by that I don’t listen to the first two discs, which comprise the entire score by Hans Zimmer as originally recorded in Autumn/Winter 1998, following two years of collaboration between himself and director Terrence Malick. Entire films can be written, shot and released in the time it takes Malick to edit a film, constantly reworking scenes and often editing, completing and then re-editing them with alternate music- TRL was no different, and when it finally got released, Malick would of course have further tinkered with the score, returning to classical choices he perhaps always favoured (something that no doubt irritated his composers before and after) and thus relegating much of Zimmer’s score to the cutting room floor (or Avid dustbin, however that all works in this digital age).

That The Thin Red Line was one of Zimmer’s finest efforts is nothing new- it was always a major part of the success of this haunting and magical film. However it is clear from this remastered edition, in which the original intended score is presented across the first two discs that this score is truly remarkable and more special than even its fans possibly expected (as the late Nick Redman comments in the liner notes, a two and a half hour program that is almost two-thirds unreleased). Some of it is familiar from the film but omitted from the original soundtrack album release, and some of it is totally new, cut from the film and never heard before. As a whole piece of music, it is in my mind clearly Zimmer’s masterpiece, his finest work. Richly lyrical, emotive, deeply soulful, mystical even. I have found myself listening to it as a musical work all its own, completely independent of the film it was written for.

I keep coming back to it. Its almost an ambient thing, something of a mood. Themes are woven throughout, returned to, dismissed, then later reprised. In this respect it is fairly routine of Zimmer’s work, in which he often populates a score with one or two admittedly fine themes and then constantly reworks them, remixes them throughout the whole, but goodness me, those themes he came up with for The Thin Red Line are quite extraordinary.  I am constantly reminded of Matt Irvine’s record reviews column in Starburst magazine, particularly his review of Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture score, in which he commented that the music was so strong as a narrative whole that it seemed akin to a modern symphony, a classical work in its own right. Irvine was absolutely spot-on and I do think the same could be said of this score too.

The score functions in a similar way to Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, in which it is mostly about mood and atmospherics, its music that you feel rather than even hear, sometimes. There are themes and leitmotifs just as in any score but they are almost secondary to the whole. One of the most iconic pieces of film music of modern scoring is the Journey to the Line track (as it was titled on the original OST album) which features here in an extended form with a different title- indeed this music is so popular and has been reused in so many trailers and temp tracks that it has become the bane of modern composers. Its interesting that in this complete score it turns up so often in so many different (sometimes subtly so) forms; woven throughout it forms the backbone of the score. Tellingly, it features in Nature Montage, the very opening of the score and a piece of music (some five minutes long) largely replaced in the actual movie. Its a lovely mood-setting piece, evocative of Witt’s dreamy, questioning narration (“What is this war at the heart of nature?”), the warlike, almost drone-like Journey to the Line theme falls to a lovely, soulful piece (Witts theme, really) that sets up the tensions of the film and the score as a whole. Its a genius piece to introduce the score and film and much of it all-new to our ears.

As we suffer the decline and near the end of physical disc formats and likely with it,  such perfectly curated score expansions such as this, it feels all the more special that we somehow got this expanded and remastered edition of this score.  It isn’t cheap, mind, and has come under some criticism. The new material is spread over the first two discs of a four-disc set, the third disc being a remastered edition of the original soundtrack album, and a fourth disc of Melanesian choir music- religious chants partially featured as source music in sections of the film. The inclusion of the original soundtrack is certainly well-warranted. It features music not used in the film, some music used in the film but not sourced from the original score, and edited suites unique to itself. While it is in truth the original album we fans loved for years, it actually feels like a standard third disc of alternates etc that an ordinary expansion such as this might contain. Whenever I listen to it now, that’s what it feels like. A collection of alternates and replacements to the score heard on the first two discs. The inclusion of the fourth disc is partially redundant -little of it was used in the film- but it was a major part of the films identity, and I believe Zimmer insisted on its inclusion, so who’s to argue? If nothing else, it makes the whole thing feel complete.

As far as soundtracks go, this is surely the release of the year, and having owned it a few months now, I often see it on my CD shelf and have a ‘pinch me’ moment of surreal disbelief. Its rather like La la Land’s own 3-disc set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Intrada’s 3-disc Conan the Barbarian– these are wonderful scores, some of my very favourites, and we have them in luxurious complete (or as near dammit) editions after waiting for years. Indeed, I would truly thought such releases were impossible, years ago. Just as films appeared in the cinema and then disappeared for years until eventually surfacing on television, so soundtrack albums were simple vinyl albums that came out during a films initial release and then quickly became OOP, relegated to second-hand speciality stores years later. We are very fortunate indeed now.





Back to the Moon 2: Eno’s Apollo

apollo2Sticking with the topic of July 20th’s anniversary, I thought I’d remark upon an interesting release timed to coincide with it- Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks is getting a re-release on July 19th, remastered (again? Hey, I’ve been here before) and now in an extended edition across two discs.

Written, produced and performed by Brian Eno with his brother Roger and Daniel Lanois, the album was recorded in 1983 for Al Reinert’s documentary, For All Mankind. The album is probably most famous for its beautiful highlight Ascent, one of the loveliest pieces of ambient music I ever heard (and the ‘inspiration’ I suspect for Eno’s contribution to David Lynch’s Dune, the Prophecy theme– no doubt Ascent was on the film’s temp track).

The second disc here is all-new music from the three musicians (their first reunion since the original album, apparently) and is a collection of new tracks designed as an alternative score to Reinert’s documentary. Intriguing prospect, but as I alluded to earlier, I’ve already bought this album twice on CD. Triple-dipping an album? I thought that nonsense went out with the umpteenth edition of Blade Runner. Oh well, here we go again.

One of the new tracks written and performed by Brian Eno can be heard here, sounds promising-




The Doors

doors1.jpgHmm, I’m indeed late to this one- Oliver Stone’s The Doors dates back to 1991, between his Born on the Fourth of July and JFK, and it’s the lesser of the three by some margin. I really didn’t enjoy it- so much so that it actually bored me, and I’ve never been bored by an Oliver Stone film before. Well, there’s a first time for everything I guess.

Something was missing- the film really didn’t seem to show me anything new. Jim Morrison took a lot of drugs, drank a lot of alcohol, had a lot of sex, and died an early (if not really surprising, considering his lifestyle) death. I can’t say the film really explained much to me about the appeal of The Doors or their music, other than perhaps that it was of its time and you really had to be there. In that respect, the film does a reasonable job of recreating the ‘sixties and the mood of the times, but not in any way I hadn’t seen before. In anycase, I always felt the film was an unreliable narrator, in a sense that I don’t think it ever got me inside Morrison’s head, that I never really understood him or where he was coming from, what he was doing. He took a lot of mind-altering substances and all the excess fucked him up, basically- but I knew all that before I saw the film, and I can’t say I was ever a fan of his music enough to really care.

It felt like the film was a failure, on Stones’ part. It didn’t really work, to me. Indeed, I’m surprised we never saw multiple subsequent cuts trying to fix it as Stone did with his Alexander years later, and that film was never, in any version, as messed up and broken as this one felt. Clearly I’ve therefore missed something because Stone was evidently happy enough with it to live well alone.

But yes, something was missing for me- we’ve seen stories of these self-destructive, narcissistic superstars before – perhaps the point of the film was that, in this respect, Jim Morrison was the Real Deal, while most pop stars only play the part. But the film didn’t explain why he was that way, what made him. As a child he witnessed some car crash in the desert that in some way impressed him or marked him- but beyond that ‘revelation’ what really explains it? And was that a fiction of the films unreliable narrator or was it something that Morrison himself revealed? I don’t know. Whatever Stone was trying to achieve, it didn’t work for me, and all the odd ghostly reprises of Native Americans from his childhood experience just seemed clumsy and forced. Not Oliver Stone’s finest hour in my book, and not a film I’m ever likely to rewatch.

In Johann’s Endless Pause

endlessIt seems I am endlessly reminded of the loss of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose sudden passing last year still feels like some kind of shock. I suppose it’s because I keep on returning to his music, and the kind of melancholy that infused so much of it. For the past few days I’ve been listening to In the Endless Pause There Came The Sound of Bees, one of his early albums and the soundtrack to a little-known animated short film titled Varmints. Its a short album – the original animation is less than thirty minutes long- but it is full of al kinds of beauty and tenderness, a really deceptively complicated soundscape with fragile melodies and textures. I discovered the album back when I first became besotted with Jóhann’s music through his Fordlandia album and became obsessed with discovering his past albums, scouring the internet for copies where I could. In the Endless Pause is a really fine soundtrack, so much so I would not be at all surprised to find some fans of his music consider it their favourite. It is so subtle and otherworldly, using electronics, organ and choir and solo voice to weave some particular magic that only Jóhann could really manage, somehow- and a sober reminder indeed of what we fans lost. Everytime I listen to some of his music I wonder at his talent at what what may have lay ahead of him, what fine music we will never hear, what films may have benefitted from his touch. I listen to his music now and feel like I and his music are held in some endless pause- as if some divine ‘pause’ button was pressed too soon, and I’m waiting for someone to press the ‘play’ button, so somehow he’ll be back, and there will be more of his beautiful music in the world.

To give readers unfamiliar with either Jóhann or this particular album an idea of what this music is like, here’s a link to the film/album’s End Theme.

Its a fine gem of an album indeed and perhaps surprisingly upbeat. Jóhann’s music has a reputation for being moody and sombre, and much of it is, but I don’t think that necessarily means its dark or depressing- I suppose it’s the Icelandic in his soul. I think ‘fragility’ is a word I’d prefer to use, or ‘intimate’.

The album was rare when I bought it, years ago, but can be found now on a Deutsche Grammophon anthology, Retrospective 1, which contains seven of his early recordings (a second Retrospective collection is due next year, likely collecting his later and more commonly found works). The Varmints film itself came be found on Youtube too and is well worth a watch, and I believe can be purchased on itunes.

Empire Jazz

rempire jazzI used to have this album. Back when The Empire Strikes Back came out, thanks to the huge success of the Star Wars OST and associated releases (cover versions, Meco’s album etc) the label that had the music rights for Empire, RSO, went all-out on Empire-related vinyl. We had the soundtrack as a single album, a double-album with gatefold/booklet, a story-of album, Meco’s ‘inspired by’ album, a disco album by Boris Midney, and this, a jazz album from Ron Carter. A laid-back Jazz rendition of the Imperial March had to be heard to be believed. I hated it at the time (I was, what, 14, a sucker for anything Star Wars and the cover was strangely cool, but every kid has his limits) and changed it for something else, which at the time made perfect sense but something I regretted has years have gone by. Not that I expect I would ever have really fallen for the music, but as a piece of nostalgia, sure, I wish I still had it with my other Empire albums. Its one that never saw a CD release, or even a digital release, so it’s pretty rare. You can hear it on Youtube, naturally, and it still sounds pretty odd (jazz is an acquired taste certainly and Yoda Jazz even more so), and it was years before Twin Peaks made this kind of stuff cool to us dumb geeks.

So anyway, here’s a link I found to a Youtube video of the entire album. Just imagine my 14 year-old-self hearing this for the first time back in 1980. No wonder I freaked….


Game of Thrones Season Eight soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi

The dust hasn’t yet settled on the debate about Game of Thrones‘ final season, but to me there is a certain irony to the fact that the one thing that everyone can agree on is that the score by Ramin Djawadi totally delivered. Finally, after several seasons of trying, it all seemed to click into place. I have all the season soundtracks for GOT, and other than isolated moments I’ve really struggled with them. They seem to represent that Media Ventures/modern Hollywood approach to scoring, in which the music has always been supportive and mood-inducing, part of the sound effects ‘landscape’ as opposed to what I’d describe as ‘proper’ scoring such as, say, Jerry Goldsmith would produce. Beyond what has become a very successful and somewhat iconic main theme, most of the music seems to slew away from leitmotifs and big, bold musical scoring- its fine and is exactly what the show’s producers wanted, I’m sure, but over the years I’ve always wondered what it would have been like had, say, Bear McCreary gotten the gig. McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica scores are huge and  emphatic and complex and as richly deep as Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings scores. Indeed, McCreary’s ongoing scores for Outlander perhaps indicate closest what his take on Game of Thrones might have been like.

Anyway, I’m sure fans of Djawadi and GOT are ready to attack me already for daring to suggest his scores were lacking. Sure, each season had its standout moments and I’ve made a few in-car compilations over the seasons over the years that work just fine but really, although it’s a stylish intention that is in some ways reflected by Djawadi’s scoring for Westworld, Fringe and Person of Interest too, I really think GOT deserved more. It was always more of a musical wash that lacked the thematic complexity it really deserved.

Well, I’m pleased to finally say that with season eight, Djawadi delivered and did his part. Although the series comprised of only six episodes, the album producers deemed it fit to make this release a two-disc set (available digitally only at present with the physical release due shortly) offering about two hours of score, and I have to say, there’s very little redundancy here, it’s all pretty great. Most will be familiar with his The Night King track, a near nine-minute opus that was put on Youtube and social media following the third episodes airing, and which accompanied that episodes climactic moments. Its a piece of music heavily indebted to Light of the Seven from season six, and in that sense is a little disappointing as its maybe lacking a little originality, but it works very well in the episode and represents a kind of scoring the show didn’t really revel in, in which the music really takes the lead and carries the moment. In a way, much of this season’s music is like that, in that it reprises much of the better musical moments of the seven seasons before and brings them to a kind of thematic peak. So it’s familiar but more, somehow. A GOT greatest hits, maybe.

Its telling, mind, that some of the best music on the album (choral tracks in particular, like Not Today, or Stay a Thousand Years), is either material not used in the series or instead only featured during end-credits, maintaining the series crushing tendency to leave the music as supportive background rather than in a leading role that might draw attention to itself.

If someone has never listened to or bought any of the GOT soundtrack albums over the years, I’d say this one makes the rest redundant, with most of the themes reprised or represented in some way, and it manages to form a cohesive whole musically as a listening experience whereas earlier albums might have felt lacking.

Soundtrack Shelf: Cherry 2000/The House of God (Basil Poledouris, 1987/1984)

cherry 2000It seems only fitting that following Edward Scissorhands, my next pick from the soundtrack shelf would be this charming double-bill from the late, great Basil Poledouris, as the Cherry 2000 soundtrack shares the same quirky, irreverent sense of inventiveness as Elfman’s score. The film itself was a b-movie sci-fi Western with inevitable nods to Blade Runner and Mad Max, which languished on the studio shelf for two years before getting an eventual release (I think it turned up late at night on television many years ago, don’t think I even managed to get through all of it- which was my loss, as it might have been nice to have heard the score years before I eventually did). The House of God, meanwhile, suffered an even worse fate- completed in 1980, it was eventually dumped onto television/cable networks in 1984, and I’ve never seen it. So with this Intrada release (hey, another link with Edward Scissorhands) we’re in the realm of blind-buying soundtracks for films we’ve never seen, either from recommendations online or simply due to the composer’s name.  Its something of a wonder either of these scores got an official release, but they certainly deserve to. Cherry 2000 is part orchestral, part electronic, reminiscent of his Robocop score (both would have been written around the same time, I imagine) but is a much lighter score, blessed with a gorgeous love theme that demonstrates the composers gift for melody. The electronics work really well, my favourite track is Drive, which thanks to the magic of Youtube I can offer a link to below-

I must say there is something utterly magical and fun about the Cherry 2000 score. Whenever I listen to it, it always brings a smile to my face. Its electronics are certainly of its time, adding a nostalgic bent to it with memories of other Poledouris scores, and also Jerry Goldsmith’s scores of the time, like Gremlins, Twilight Zone: The MovieExplorers and InnerSpace, among others, which often seemed to share that same ‘sound’. There are tender, intimate moments using that achingly sweet love theme, and big, brassy moments of almost traditional Western Movie scoring that hint at Poledouris’ later triumphs (Lonesome Dove for one) and sadly remind listeners that he later willingly dropped out of scoring Dances With Wolves.

Giving a telling insight to Poledouris’ range and ability, his score for The House of God is a rather baroque, chamber-orchestra piece, rather sombre and intimate and quite beautiful. Its got something of an Ennio Morricone feel to it. The penultimate track, The Turf of Jo, is one of the most exquisite pieces of score music I have ever heard, and to think it’s part of a 17-minute score that few have possibly heard (for a film few have likely had opportunity to see) is really quite depressing. I’ve included a youtube link below to a suite from the score- the track The Turf of Jo is featured at about 8:50.

As usual for my soundtrack CD collection, the Intrada disc I have is now OOP. Which is a pity, as both are very fine scores that demonstrate some of the sublime genius of Poledouris, a composer who never really seemed to get his due in Hollywood. I have several of his scores on disc and I’m sure I’ll feature some of them later in this series of Soundtrack Shelf posts, if only because I really should listen to them more often. I’ve really enjoyed revisiting this disc and shall have to do so more often.