Stories from the shelf (Part One)

shelfoneEvery shelf tells a story. Here’s the top shelf of a corner unit that contains many of my film soundtracks collected over the years (mostly the ‘premium’ limited expansions that I largely had to import from America). It possibly says more about how my brain works than anything else, as I clearly tried to make it alphabetical, or something, starting therefore with John Barry and a few titles beginning with ‘A’ then going somewhat astray. Lower shelves in future instalments will be all Goldsmith and Horner and Williams and more, but I’m going to start from the top and work my way down, so we begin with John Barry.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Barry, but I know many film soundtrack lovers are absolutely convinced he’s brilliant and top of the pile. One soundtrack I didn’t squeeze in here and probably should have is his soundtrack for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is probably my favourite of his (and my favourite Bond film, too). I suspect the reason why that expanded CD isn’t on this shelf is because I’m not actually sure where it is…

You may find a recurrent theme going on, where notable absences come to my mind for the same reason.  I’ve been buying too many CDs for so many years, and part of the reason why I put up some more shelving last summer was to put my favourite and most treasured discs in one place so I know where to find them (this years project is to do the same with my books but hey-ho we’ll see how THAT goes). Part of the problem is that, once a disc is ripped onto my laptop/external hard drive, I can then listen to it often but without going back to the CD, so that disc actually gets untouched for months, years…

Anyway, back to this shelf. And Barry. My issue with Barry is likely the same reason his devotees are so devoted. Barry had a knack of finding a ‘killer’ theme and therefore compilation albums of his soundtracks are often very successful, but unfortunately (from my point of view) this would also prove to be Barry’s weakness in his actual full scores, and certainly score expansions on CD. Barry would write a wonderful theme for a film and then he would use that for most of the score, reworking it and re-orchestrating it endlessly. His fans adore this, I’m sure. My personal mileage varies so I only have select albums, and one or two even then only because I bought them in sales.

lion1This criticism, by the way, is possibly actually unfair, certainly in the case of the first disc here, The Lion in Winter, a film I haven’t even seen but I was recommended the score and yeah, its a wonderful piece of work. Some people refer to it as Barry’s Christmas album and that rather fits: its in a medieval mode, with choir and pomp and majesty. It features, typical of Barry, some simply magnificent themes (‘Eleanor’s Arrival’ is quite gorgeous, the kind of music that as soon as you hear it you stop what you are doing and purely listen, enrapt, and frustratingly this is one of those times where Barry doesn’t then reuse the theme continuously so my argument regards Barry comes undone). This is possibly my second-favourite Barry score. It dates from 1968, so its almost as old as I am (its aged considerably better).

dances1Second on the shelf is his immensely popular Dances With Wolves soundtrack, here the two-disc expanded edition from La La Land Records (a label you’ll see plenty of here, alongside Intrada and the late, lamented FSM) which was released in 2015. Soundtracks are often like Blu-rays, they seem to get released on anniversaries, something marketing boys seem to be fascinated by which endlessly irritates me. Disc releases of films seem to be delayed years in order to tie into some 15th or 20th or 25th Anniversary (the higher that number goes the more scared I become when its one I recall seeing it at the cinema). An interesting piece of trivia: Dances With Wolves was originally supposed to be scored by Basil Poledouris (of Conan the Barbarian and most pertinently, Lonesome Dove fame), but he backed out of it in order to fulfil obligations to his friend John Milius regards his delayed Flight of the Intruder film. Wolves would have been Poledouris’ break-out score, conceivably changing his career completely and fans of Lonesome Dove can only wonder at what Poledouris might have conceived recording the score for Kevin Costner’s hit Western. Poledouris’ career slid downhill after that, and the bittersweet sting in the tale is that Intruder got pushed back six months so Poledouris could have scored both after all. Life can be cruel. But then again, I guess Barry’s fans hear that story and grit their teeth thinking that they almost missed out on one of Barry’s most popular scores. Its certainly got some wonderful emotive themes and was a big part of the films success. 

Barry’s smouldering, evocative score for Body Heat follows: Lawrence Kasdan’s wonderful neo-noir is a fantastic film truly elevated by Barry’s moody score. Its possibly too repetitive (this is FSMs 2-disc expansion with full score on disc one and Barry’s original album on disc two with an added near-thirty minutes of theme demos that wears thin) but its so atmospheric, its almost like a sultry, smoky score of summer heat, which is exactly what Barry was aiming at. 

kongAnother FSM disc follows- Barry’s score for the 1976 King Kong. Back in the early 1980s, the vinyl album of this was in the bargain bins of record stores and I picked up a copy (as I recall it came with a poster): I was always seduced by that films poster art that was actually promising some other movie entirely (not the poster which FSM used, by the way, as they obviously intended their 2-disc edition to stand out from the original which FSM had actually reissued on CD a few years earlier). I didn’t see the 1976 film until several years later, when much of the music would make more sense, but the film always fascinated me because a paperback of the making of the film was one of the first books I ever read and one that really fired my imagination about movies and the stories about the making of them. So while this King Kong was really a disaster movie for all the wrong reasons, I’ll always have some affection for it. This Kong has something so typically Barry- an absolute belter of a love theme, and it sounds fantastic in some of its variations here in expanded form. Some of the action music is quite jarring and atonal but the romantic sweep of the love theme is quite timeless, Barry just had a gift for melodies like that (see also Somewhere in Time, Raise the Titanic and so many others). I will also just say that the track Kong Hits the Big Apple was a big-band number that was much derided by my freinds and I back in the day when we listened to the vinyl album, and it hasn’t really aged well since, but hey, it was 1976.  

Then we come to Barry’s The Black Hole score. Again, this was one I had on vinyl and it really suffers from Barry’s habit of just repeating ad nauseam a theme over and over. The Black Hole was an ill-fit for Barry; I don’t think this kind of space adventure flick was really suited to him, it was really John Williams domain and to be fair, even a great like Jerry Goldsmith possibly struggled at that kind of thing (although Star Trek: The Motion Picture is absolutely magnificent, but more on that later, as that’s a story for another shelf). I recall that The Black Hole was one of, if not THE, first digital recordings of a major film score., because they made a big deal of it on the cover of the album and in adverts I read in Starlog at the time (1979). In that respect, it seemed more something of the future than the actual music did. Its no disaster but I remember buying this expanded CD edition more out of a sense of nostalgia than a love of the music, although it is a pretty cool main theme (the heroic action theme is diabolical though, that REALLY didn’t suit Barry- Star Wars theme it isn’t). In hindsight the case of The Black Hole, and Disney so clearly trying to mimic the appeal/success of Star Wars, is really kind of funny when you consider that they spent over $4 billion buying the thing from George Lucas decades later- if you can’t beat ’em, er, buy ’em, seems to be the lesson of that story).

abyssThis post is getting too long already so we’ll skip on past a few Barry discs I bought in sales in order to instead dwell on Alan Silvestri’s score for The Abyss, here the expanded Varese two-disc edition that was something of a Grail of mine. I’m not a big fan of Silvestri’s scores, but I always loved The Abyss, score and movie. 1989: summer of Batman, soundtracks like Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, Pet Semetary… soundtracks that were coming out on CD then, vinyl being a thing of the distant past. The Abyss was a suspenseful, dramatic and strange score, even if its Main Title owed an awful lot to the opening of James Horner’s Brainstorm. Temp music rearing its ugly head again, I suspect (I mean, that thing is a blatant rip).  

Back then I still bought soundtracks from shops, even though that seems something so long ago. I remember the Saturday I went into town and bought both The Abyss CD and Laurie Anderson’s Strange Angels CD, listening to both of them late that night on headphones (Strange Angels has always been a personal favourite album, by the way, which is possibly why I remember that day so clearly- oh and two girls in the town who I think were trying to pick me and my mate Andy up, but I was too distracted (okay, ignorant) to pick up on it at the time, foolishly batting them off. I had odd priorities for a teenager back then and I placed nerdy concerns somewhere higher than girls).  

Varese’s original The Abyss album on CD was typical of the time, limited to about 40 or 50 minutes or so (which was pretty good, as many hovered around the 30-minute mark due to music union issues), certainly far from complete and missing some of the music I enjoyed in the film- so the deluxe version released in 2014 really was something special, so much so that I posted about it here at the time. A limited edition, as so many of these score expansions on disc are, I recently noticed this edition being up for sale at £150 on Amazon. Yikes. I dare say quite a few CDs on my shelves might be worth something now, or at least for as long as people have CD drives/players. 

how2Here’s where my filing of my CDs becomes a little eccentric. What follows on the shelf are a number of discs linked by the actor who stars in the particular films, rather than by the composer: Avanti!, The Apartment/The Fortune Cookie, Irma La Douce How To Murder Your Wife/Lord Love A Duck and Barefoot in the Park/The Odd Couple (regards those last two, the films in question are definitely NOT Lord Love A Duck or Barefoot in the Park, its just that those each feature scores for two films by Neal Hefti). The actor in question is of course Jack Lemmon, and these are films I absolutely adore, and they date from a period when film music was really quite wonderful, melodic and memorable: scores that are great, for great movies that star a great actor. The actual music is quite varied and the composers quite different in style, but generally seem to have great romantic themes that really soar: Carlo Rustichelli’s Avanti! is beautiful and timeless, and Neal Hefti’s How To Murder Your Wife has a love theme that just.. well, I fell in love with THAT theme back when I first saw the film many years ago, and it never ceases to amaze me that it ever came out on CD one day, and one that actually featured the full score as well as the original album on a second disc.  I think I was buying film soundtracks at a particularly fortuitous time: the last score for a Jack Lemmon film that I’m really holding out for is Prisoner of Second Avenue, another personal favourite film whose Blu-ray I can endlessly re-watch. Maybe one day.

silentNext disc on this shelf is Peter Schickele’s Silent Running. This is another CD that is pretty special to me. Douglas Trumbull’s film Silent Running has always been a particular favourite of mine and its ecological themes have only gotten more prescient as time has moved on, and Schickele’s score is one that sounds really quite unique: its very 1970s, featuring small orchestration with folk songs from Joan Baez that should really date it (maybe they do, but that only adds to the films strange charm). It was one of the films from which I recorded the music via tape deck and holding a microphone to the tinny tv speaker, and listened to the cassette with the music mixed with some dialogue and sound effects.

Many, many moons ago back in the 1980s I used to see the vinyl album in stores but I never bought it (pocket money never stretched that far), and when it went out of print I just thought it would turn up on CD someday (everything seemed to eventually), but it didn’t. I think the reason was that the master-tapes were lost or destroyed, so when Intrada finally released it on disc in 2016, it was actually a recording sourced from a pristine vinyl copy, and surprisingly, it sounds pretty damn fine.  Plenty good enough to me, considering I’d been pining for a release for decades at that point. Whenever I see this CD on the shelf I have a bit of a ‘pinch-me’ moment. 

doorostFinally, Marcelo Zarvos’ The Door in the Floor soundtrack: I love this music. Its one of those deeply emotional, rather dark and reflective scores… the film is a pretty bleak drama, really quite sad, being about the break-up of a marriage that being destroyed by the unbearable grief over the loss of two children in an accident (it stars Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger and Mimi Rogers and is really quite good). Its one of those cases where the music is as integral and important as any other part of the picture. In this respect its like Vangelis’ Blade Runner: the score is the soul of the movie. Zarvos’ score is such a powerful work of longing and regret; to me it works completely seperate from the film the music it was written for. I suspect many will have never heard it or seen the film (it dates back to 2004, incredibly).

Crikey, this one went on a bit. Might have to pause awhile before I get around to the next shelf: Horner!

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Yes I know, ‘G’ (for Goldsmith) comes before Horner but there is a method to my madness…

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Horner’s Magnificent Fall

legfallJust arrived from Intrada (via France and Music Box) is the expanded edition of James Horner’s magnificent Legends of the Fall soundtrack. I didn’t really ever see this coming- like the expanded The Thin Red Line set that La La Land Records released last year, this was an expansion that I figured would never happen. To be fair, the original score release was pretty good (Horner’s albums at that point -1995! crikey!- were usually pretty lengthy and a far cry from the paltry 30-minute highlights editions we were used to in the 1980s) but when a score is as good as this one, well, more is always better.

I don’t buy many soundtrack albums these days – part of this is just because, over the years, most everything I’d have wanted has fortunately gotten released, even Silent Running, and I’ve so many discs from Intrada and La La Land etc collected over the years that I often pick one off the shelf and can listen to it like its something new (except for The Thin Red Line, which as I have remarked upon before, I seem to be listening to all the time). Couple that with the crazy cost of shipping these days making the CDs so very expensive, I really have to think twice about releases (recent expansions of John  Williams’ Far and Away and The River failing to make the grade).

Didn’t have to think twice about this one though. This dates back to James Horner at his absolute peak, back when he was doing scores like Glory, Braveheart and Field of Dreams, when each one used to be fresh and thrilling, and, in the case with Legends of the Fall, sweepingly epic and dramatic. Scores like this were rare even back in the day, and today, well they are frankly non-existent. No-one scores films like this anymore, probably because nobody at the Studios asks them to. Listening to this album will be great, but also a little sad. 1995 and all that. Where has all the time gone?

(I plan on blasting this out while working at home tomorrow, should make those ten hours at the veritable desktop workface a little more bearable).

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.

 

 

 

37 Years From Home

etWell, here’s a twist. I’ve finally succumbed and ordered La La Land’s two-disc edition of the E.T. soundtrack. Released back in 2017 to celebrate the film’s 35th anniversary (as if I needed reminding I’m getting old) in an edition of 5,000 copies, La La Land revealed last week that the last batch of 500 copies have arrived from their manufacturer. So it seemed that the time was nigh to finally pull the trigger. Considering I’ve brought most of the other John Williams expansions of the last few years (really a quite remarkable run of discs/scores) buying this one was inevitable, but I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with this little critter in particular. The music is fine I guess (I had the original soundtrack release on cassette, eventually, once it dropped into a bargain bin) but it’s the damn movie, and the fact that it was such a flip-side of Blade Runner, both in style and in popular and critical response. Well, I guess I have to admit I bore a grudge for all these years, but I really struggled to even watch the film over those years since, considering it full of  Spielberg’s worst traits and excesses. I have a Blu-ray steelbook that I bought for some strange reason years ago that I have never watched.

But it does seem weird and rather silly on my part that the  music has always been lumped in with my general apathy for the film. Maybe this edition will make me warm to its charms. I will say this- listening to John William’s great scores again over this past few years of expansions, what has perhaps impressed me most is how well they have aged, and how well they stand up to the current crop of what passes for film scores these days. Jaws 1 & 2, The Fury, CE3K, 1941, Dracula, Superman: The Movie, The Empire of the Sun, and to a lesser extent Hook, are superb works that really shine brightly now that their style of film scoring has apparently become so redundant of late.

If only Vangelis’ Blade Runner score had received such care and attention for its own 35th anniversary. Well, I guess there’s always the fortieth anniversary (if we’re still buying music on CD by then)….

Superman Again!

supestmJust when you thought it was safe to swear off expensive soundtrack purchases (the expanded Thin Red Line arrived on Thursday -yay!) La La Land land the sucker punch that is a 3-disc Superman: The Movie set.  Remastered from the original 2-inch, 24-track music masters no less, the leap in sound quality is said to be extraordinary (well, they would say that, naturally, but..) and the 3-disc set includes the original album assembly that I had on vinyl for my birthday back in (whispers) February 1979…

So here we are again, Superman: The Movie, some forty years later. Oh man, me and this music. While the Star Wars soundtrack, that I had on tape for my birthday the year before, probably launched me on my love of soundtrack music, it was without doubt the Superman score that cemented it- I must have played that album so many more times than I ever played Star Wars. Superman was just incredible, so soulful and romantic and exciting – I used to play the Fortress of Solitude track over and over in the evenings, just letting its mystical, almost-ambience wash over me. Curiously enough, I hadn’t actually seen the film either ( I had a choice between a cinema visit and a skateboard, and my only defense is the peer pressure of all my mates having skateboards) so when I listened to the score, it was my own images and daydreams rushing through my head, so I have pretty intense memories of listening to it.

Oh well. Here we go again…

Thin Red Expanded

thinredost1This may prove to be the soundtrack release of the year. La La Land Records have confirmed a 4-disc set of Hans Zimmer’s gorgeous score for The Thin Red Line is going to be released next week. The film is one of my favourites and so is the soundtrack, so this is great news. Its also, I believe, the last project from the late Nick Redman, and is surely a marvelous way to celebrate him and remember his contributions to film music ( I believe a dedication to him has been added to the inside inlay of covers being reprinted to fix a typo that slipped through, which is a lovely gesture by the label).

There does seem to be a little bit of a backlash though from the film music community. Of the four discs two have been previously released – the soundtrack album and a later compilation of Melanesian chants, of which I think just three are from the film (I have the soundtrack album, naturally, but never bothered with the other). The main draw of course is the full score on the first two discs, hugely expanded from the original album and featuring some alternates. As a souvenir/record of the music this set is fantastic, but some music fans have balked at the high price ($59.98) considering two of the discs are nothing new (albeit they have been remastered). I suppose this is the problem with some releases, especially as there is a tradition of including original album assemblies for completists’ sake (this may be a legal requirement, too, I’m not sure). Most of the time it’s fine, the new material heavily outweighing the old (I’m thinking of the 3-disc Star Trek:TMP set, which included the original 1979 album but that was lost in all the new goodies) but two discs of old/two discs of new, considering the price point of the set,  seems to be annoying some. I think they just need reminding how sublime this score is- its some of the finest music ever written for a film.

thinredost2Foolishly, perhaps, as I have always adored this film and its music I’m pretty much at the ‘whatever the price, I’m in’ set, but it does mean I’ll have to reign in purchasing other stuff (and indeed just cancelled two pre-orders on Amazon). I’d rate this set as one of the biggest, most important and unlikeliest releases ever- up there with the aforementioned 3-disc Star Trek: TMP and 3-disc Conan the Barbarian. These are all releases that, when the actual films came out, you would not have dreamed were possible. I suppose what may be troubling fans is all the rumours of six hours of music cooked up by Zimmer that some had hoped we’d hear something of, and initial word of a 4-disc set for TRL had some -hell, me too- wildly speculating about contents. Well, the final tracklist has brought us back to the real world, but it’s not too shabby at all and really, an expansion of this was so unlikely I still have to pinch myself. There is some utterly gorgeous, beautiful music on this set for the first time.

Unfortunately, I will likely have to wait until March for it to arrive over on these shores- expect a review then!

John William’s Dracula

jwdraculaWell, as if that expanded Alien 3 soundtrack wasn’t enough to boggle the mind- Varese Sarabande have announced a deluxe edition of John William’s Dracula score, a soundtrack album widely considered impossible as the masters had been thought lost for decades. I suppose the discovery of how it eventually came to pass will be revealed shortly – producer Mike Matessino, whose hands and ears have been behind most if not all the expansions of John Williams score over the past several years, has always been quite candid about the work behind these releases. But what a surprise this is.

Dracula dates from 1979, just when Williams was at his creative peak. Star Wars, Close Encounters, Superman and The Fury were just behind him, and The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders were just ahead. TESB is my very favourite Williams score and its wonderful when listening to material I’m not familiar with, like his score for  The Fury, and hearing hints of Empire’s beating heart in the melodies and orchestrations. Dracula is not a score I am particularly familiar with, so like with 1941 and The Fury, I am looking forward to it as if it were a new Williams score.

Another Christmas treat, as was La La Land’s Close Encounters expansion last year. Mind, a bittersweet one- inevitably as the boutique labels work their way through John William’s filmscores with these expansions and remasters, there won’t be all that many remaining. Each of these projects are special, particularly these from my favourite period of his work.

Mind, I have noticed Varese seem to have applied a little bit of judicious digital paint/editing on the racier aspects of the original poster art that they have used for the cover. Sign of the times, no doubt, but quite ridiculous.

Close Encounters soundtrack- new edition

CloseEncounters-HDThere is something captivating about that poster for CE3K, of the road at night leading to a mysterious glow on the horizon. I remember it on the paperback cover, the original vinyl album, the collectors edition magazine etc. It always seemed so arresting, so…. I don’t know… it just evokes the same feelings in me now, all these years later, holding this new La La Records edition of the John Williams soundtrack. I think this cover is actually a rework from either new elements or original elements remastered but in any case, it is effective as it ever was.

It feels rather fitting, also, to be writing about this new edition of the CE3K soundtrack album immediately after writing my post about Baby Driver. Music is an integral part of both films, just in a different way- in the case of Baby Driver, its source music, but in Close Encounters its the score that is woven so tightly into the fabric of the film. Indeed, one of the pleasures of this edition of the score is the track Advance Scout Greeting, which is functions as sound design in the film but is actually score music, when the scientists first attempt communication through music with ufos prior to the arrival of the mothership. Its utterly sublime and a wonderful reminder of one of my favourite moments of the film- this track alone worth the price of buying this soundtrack yet again.

In all honesty, Close Encounters is not my favourite John Williams score (Empire Strikes Back, if you’re wondering); it always seemed, even back in 1978, music to admire rather than love or adore. It’s a complex, sometimes atonal score, very much of the 1970s when film music could indeed function as a fundamental part of a films success, full of themes and motifs, without being designed as easy-listening or full of tunes to whistle afterwards. While it lacks tunes like Darth Vader’s theme or the Superman march, it does have one of the most identifiable musical motifs of any film, period; the five-note musical signal transmitted by the aliens and the centerpiece of the human/alien communication.

Beyond its sometimes revelatory remastering (for once,  here’s music that really does sound superior than it has ever before) one of the best aspects of this particular release is that it is based on the discovery that John Williams had originally planned to release the Close Encounters soundtrack as a double-lp in similar fashion to the previous double-lp edition of the hugely successful Star Wars soundtrack (and as he would the Superman soundtrack album). For some reason this intention was nixed in favour of releasing a standard single-album of highlights, but this release has allowed the first compact disc to roughly correspond with what Williams had originally intended. .So, rather than be a complete and chronological release as is usual these days for these expanded releases, instead, the first disc functions as a satisfying musical listening experience. Considering the sore is so atonal in places and the original highlights album full of edits and compromises, it works brilliantly well here.

The second disc in this set functions in much the same way, but chiefly with unreleased music, album versions, alternates and the like. It works as a compelling and satisfying alternative to what the first disc offers, almost a director’s cut of the original soundtrack. Its a novel approach but works so well it’s a shame no-one has tried something like this before. As it is, it makes all previous editions of the soundtrack irrelevant and this edition definitive. You may have heard this music before, but whether you have the original vinyl or the 1998 expansion on CD, you haven’t heard it like this. Essential for fans of the composer’s work or this score in particular. My apologies to your wallet, as if you’re here in the UK these things aren’t getting any cheaper – I’d direct you to the music box website as the best deal to avoid customs charges etc. Delivery is quick as its just popped across the channel and the discs well packaged.

Horner’s Titanic Returns

TitanicI’ve been spending the last few days listening to James Horner’s Titanic score, recently released in a definitive (and exhaustive) four-disc edition by La La Land Records. It isn’t my favourite Horner score by some margin, he did much better stuff earlier in his career, and the film’s huge success (and that Oscar) became rather a turning-point for Horner, in just the same way as Vangelis’ Oscar for Chariots of Fire changed his career too. Maybe that’s a bit contentious, but I just think all that fame and wealth (both soundtracks sold in the millions and both projects raised their composers profiles immeasurably) sometimes does more harm than good, no matter how gratifying it might be personally.

But I will say that, despite that, it has been a considerable pleasure listening to this complete and remastered edition, the first time I have heard the music outside of the movie in many years. It’s been a reminder of all that was lost by Horner’s passing a few years ago in a tragic flying accident. Its funny how all those Hornerisms that annoyed me so much when he was alive scoring stuff (his habitual re-use of motifs and material from previous scores numerous times) is such a bittersweet thing now that you just don’t hear it anymore in new films. Its strange. Somehow I don’t mind some stuff sounding like another parade of Horner’s Greatest Hits, or being reminded of moments from Field of Dreams or Braveheart or Wrath of Khan or whatever. I listen with affection now, rather than irritation. Its weird.

 

Searching for Bobby Fischer OST by James Horner

bobby1

Life is yet full of surprises. A recent sale on La La Records swayed me into ordering a James Horner soundtrack, an expanded edition of his 1993 score for a rather obscure film, Searching For Bobby Fischer. It’s a film I have never seen or heard of other than for the fact that it had an Horner score, so I was completely unfamiliar with the music.

All I can say is- wow, what a beautiful and sensitive score, vintage Horner at his very best. Haunting and tender and sweeping, its obviously the kind of film that suited him and brought out his most heartfelt music. Many people like his big epic scores but I really prefer his quieter, more intimate scores; this is very much in the vein of Field of Dreams. Which isn’t really a surprise, I suppose, considering the film likely does for chess what Field of Dreams does for baseball. If someone were to hear the music without knowing the film it was from, or what the track titles were, it would be so easy to imagine it being the score for a Field of Dreams 2.

The score actually dates to something of a sweet spot in Horner’s career- a few years following 1989’s Field of Dreams and Glory, and just before his monumental scores for Legends of the Fall, Braveheart and Apollo 13. 1993 was the year he also composed the scores for House of Cards (one of my favourite Horner scores) and The Man Without A Face. What a career the man had- just thinking of those films and his scores for them, it just reminds me of the sadness of his untimely passing last year.

Its amazing that this score remained unknown to me for so many years, only to get my attention with this expanded release and of course even then, to my embarrassment, only eventually swayed by the sale. Guess I was lucky, these releases are always limited and as it came out last summer, I could have missed it completely (its obviously, due to the obscurity of the film, a score unknown to many). I’d urge anyone who likes Horner’s scores who is unfamiliar with this film to get a copy while they can, they won’t be disappointed.

I’m sure had I seen the film and heard its music I would have been rushing to buy a copy long before now. Oh well. I’m making up for lost time by playing this score over and over. Its that good, I think this is easily in the top ten of all the scores of his that I have ever heard (hey, there’s a subject for another post someday…). It does make me wonder though how many other scores of his are waiting for me to yet discover…