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Lost Issue: Ancient, Dead Reviews

Here's another installment of reviews of older albums (from circa 1999). For various reasons most or all of these never ran in FSM or even here on FSD. Many famed FSM writers, including Jeff Bond, poured a lot of time and effort in to these critiques, only to see them languish on a hard drive for years and years. But now, thanks to modern technology and enormous patience, here they are, rescued and restored for all to enjoy. And if it's any incentive to read on, most of them are short and painless, like our pocket reviews.

By the way, we're not sure who wrote all of these -- if you happen to see an old review that you wrote and it's now credited to FSM, don't be angry. If you want, write us and we'll credit you on Film Score Friday.


OLD PROMO CDS REVIEWED!

A Collection of Chris Young Scores

Tales from the Hood, CD96001 (7 tracks-53:25)
Species, CD96002 (12 tracks-43:25)
Virtuosity, CD96003 (17 tracks-44:06)
Unforgettable, CD96004 (15 tracks-52:23)
Head Above Water, CD96005 (13 tracks-38:03)

Recently released as "impossible to get/for promotional use only" CDs were the Christopher Young scores to Species, Tales From the Hood, Virtuosity, Unforgettable, and the yet to be released Head Above Water. Released as a 5CD set, these scores are a good showcase of Young's abilities and show us that he is not just limited to the sometimes standard sounding horror genre. Throughout the five scores represented, Young shows several completely different styles, from techno (Virtuosity) to science fiction orchestral/synth mix (Species) to quirky, darker 20th Century orchestration (Tales From the Hood, in which he does a good impression of Goldsmith's The Omen in some parts) to dark tango-oriented music (Head Above Water) to more conventional orchestral suspense music (Unforgettable). Whatever the style, Young gives each score his own unique feel, which some might consider to be quasi-minimalist. He also, as always, shows his ability to come up with clever orchestrations, sometimes using sound effects or synths, to create very interesting and effective music. He's also not afraid to throw in some atonality in order to "mix it up." Young seems to have become type-cast as a horror/thriller composer, probably because he's darn good at it. But his ability to vary his music, even though many times he deals with the same genre(s), leads one to believe he would fair well scoring other types of films (see Murder in the First). Hopefully, this 5CD set, which was put together with the help of Intrada's Doug Fake, will allow more people "in the biz" to see this, as I'm sure is part of the reason it was made. It may have already worked, as he is set to score the action/thriller Murder at 1600 and the disaster drama The Flood. At a boy, Chris!    -- Jason Foster





Sphinx (1981) ****

MICHAEL J. LEWIS

Promo

19 tracks - 59:58

As soundtrack fans are well aware, great scores to bad movies are legion, and this promo CD from Michael J. Lewis is a good case in point. Director Franklin J. Schaffner's Sphinx was an uninspired archaeology/mystery film that starred Lesley-Anne Down, Frank Langella (at his most wooden), Sir John Gielgud and John Rhys-Davies. The acting was uniformly dull, the scenes sleep-inducing, and the storyline too silly for words. But the music was another matter, because Schaffner had the good sense to hire British composer Michael J. Lewis to score his cinematic atrocity. Lewis was a rather unusual choice, since nothing in his canon indicated a penchant for Middle Eastern material, but the talented composer buckled down and delivered a beautiful and adventurous score nonetheless. His music imbues the film with a sweep and sense of grandeur it hardly deserves, highlighted by a lovely main theme that vaguely recalls Jarre's Lawrence of Arabia, and diverse, exotic instrumentation that adds a prickly, expectant edge to many scenes. Xylophone, celesta, marimba, hammered dulcimer and various kinds of drums, lutes and reeds are just some of the instruments Lewis uses to create and maintain this edge. There are no individual highlights on the CD -- all of the tracks are a delight from start to finish -- but several cues deserve a closer examination, including the delicately-scored "Romance on the Nile at Luxor," the moodily atmospheric "Menephta's Cave of Treasures," the dynamic, propulsive eight-minute "Luxor Chase," and the gorgeous "End Title." (Two versions of the latter are included, the film version and an alternate take.)

The sound quality is excellent, with clear stereo separation and plenty of rich detail. (The original sessions were recorded at Wembley, England's impressive Music Centre, and this undoubtedly contributed to a fine mix.) If there is a downside to this release, however, it is the no-frills packaging, which features just a single, plainly printed inlay card and no liner notes or photographs. But don't let that minor point stop you from unearthing one of the brightest and most exotic scores of the early 1980s, a find worthy of any music-loving archaeologist. Now if we can just get Mr. Lewis to release his complete scores to Theatre of Blood and The Medusa Touch, we can all float blissfully down the Nile.    -- Bill Powell





Doctor Who ** 1/2

JOHN DEBNEY

Additional Music by John Sponsler & Louis Febre

Promo CD (JDCD 005)

26 tracks - 50:38

In Doctor Who, you can get away with a lot of things. You can change the lead actor whenever necessary, and you can screw with continuity to your heart's content, because the fans will find some silly way of making it all work. But one thing you absolutely CANNOT do is fiddle with the theme music. For 26 seasons, the show's theme song had been virtually unchanged -- a melody which sent children scrambling behind the sofa and became a top ten dance hit for Gary Glitter and the Timelords back in '88. And then last year John Debney decided to mess around with it. The nerve of this guy.

Last year, I commented on the unoriginality of Debney's score for the Fox telefilm, though it worked well in context with the rest of the visuals, which I suppose is the point. The music obviously suffers as a 50 minute CD because so much of it was filler -- ominous surges of dissonant chords whenever the Master showed up and what-not. Surprisingly, however, there are several fun cues -- mostly underscoring chases and escapes -- and that love theme isn't so bad either. It's a pity Debney felt he had to include the whole score, because I think this would have made a listenable 25-30 minute album. In the end, it makes me scratch my head and wonder about this whole "promo" business. I highly doubt some studio executive is going to listen to this and go, "Wow, great dark meaningless chords. Let's hire him!"

This, of course, raises another question...who actually wrote the bulk of this score? John Sponsler and Louis Febre each wrote a number of cues by themselves, in addition to co-scoring with Debney, and yet they are only credited for writing "additional music." Debney, from what the packaging states, only co-composed those aforementioned cuts with Sponsler and Febre. So now the big question is, who are those executives going to hire?! In the end, it's all a bit of a pity, because Doctor Who used to have the best and creepiest music, featuring composers like Dudley Simpson, Carey Blyton, Geoffrey Burgon, Stanley Myers and Tristram Cary. All to end up with a movie nobody saw and a temp track of a score. Sigh.    -- Jeff Szpirglas





Tin Cup ** 1/2

WILLIAM ROSS

WRCD 02

11 tracks - 29:57

Long time orchestrator and occasional composer William Ross continues to try and get his name out there as a "solo" artist with the release of his second promo CD, this one for his score to the 1996 golf comedy Tin Cup.

The music here covers a variety of styles: from western guitar licks, to blues, to tango, to straight-forward Copland-esque orchestral "the hero is about to win the big game" music. While it could be said that this shows Ross' versatility, the music, as presented on CD, lacks any real continuity -- sounding unlike a film score, but more like a compilation of un-related material. Though there are a couple of themes that reoccur in these various styles, it's still hard to find much common ground in the music.

The orchestral tracks (found mostly toward the end of the disc) are by far the highlight of the score. The cue "Master of the Game" will likely forever be the stand- alone cue that this score is known for, as it presents the themes in their full form and as heroic as ever. The same cue can be found on Varèse's Hollywood '96 album, which is actually a better performance than the one found here, most likely the result of a larger orchestra. Nevertheless, the cue is admittedly exciting.

As for the rest of the score, again, lots of variety, but little substance. I'm sure it all works in the film, but as a listening experience, it falls short. I guess if you're in the mood for bluesy or cowboy music, this CD could better serve you. Otherwise, the Hollywood '96 disc has all you'll need, as far as Tin Cup goes.    -- Jason Foster





In Cold Blood *** 1/2

HUMMIE MANN

HMCD-002

19 tracks - 54:52

Hummie Mann's talents have always seemed underused to me. He seems to agree, the evidence being his recent release of promo CDs. The latest in his batch of scores released as promos is In Cold Blood, a TV remake of the 1960s film based on the Truman Capote novel. Mann's music, as you might expect, is mostly of the southern twang variety (utilizing mandolin, dobro and bottleneck blues guitar), which is quite appropriate as the story takes place in the south. But Mann also uses a lot of synth effects to give the music a dark, cold feel, which captures the tone of the story and its characters quite appropriately. Interestingly enough, Mann used lyrics actually written by one of the killers, who was an amateur songwriter, and set them to music. It is these songs that comprise the heart of the score. In addition to the cold, twangy music, there's a quieter, resolution-like theme for guitar and synth that comes up in a few tracks, most notibly "The Last Goodbye." Overall, the score is appropriately haunting and, if nothing else, shows off a bit of Mann's versatility. It also seems as if more thought went into this score than do most TV efforts and the end result is almost an hour of interesting and effective music. The packaging of the disc features notes from John Burlingame, who mentions director Jonathan Kaplan's praise for Mann's music. There is also a rather detailed bio of Mann, which is pretty rare for most promos, or even commercial releases for that matter.    -- Jason Foster





Lorca *** 1/2

Mark MCKENZIE

PROMO

20 tracks - 55:15

Also releasing a promo disc in hopes of breaking out and starting a solo career is Mark McKenzie. His newest promo contains some admittedly beautiful music to the upcoming film Lorca, staring Andy Garcia and Edward James Olmos. The film is the story of 20th Century Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca and McKenzie makes an effort with his music to capture every element of the man's life (love, poetic intelligence, etc.).

As one would expect, the score is tinged with Spanish elements, though most of the music takes a straight-forward symphonic approach. McKenzie provides some nice delicate material for the strings and woodwinds, as well as some darker passages to go along with Lorca's inner struggles. Most of the latter moments are represented musically by dark mariachi music, complete with growling male voices (Hi-ya-ya-hi-ya). There's also a few action cues, which seem to be out of James Horner 's musical palet, but they take a back seat to the more melodic moments of the score. Thematically, the score is held together by one melody (Ricardo's Theme), which is bent, twisted, and passed to different instruments (flute, piano, guitar) throughout the score to fit various moods. The theme, when presented in its unrestrained form (Track 1: "Overture"), is really nice.

This is McKenzie's second promo, his first being Mark McKenzie: Orchestral Film Music Vol. 1. He seems to know how to exercise command over the orchestra and also seems to know what he's doing melodically, both of which are probably the result of his long career as an orchestrator. He shows talent and promise here, though, and it will be interesting to hear what he has to offer in the future.    -- Jason Foster





Jetsons: The Movie/Jonny's Golden Quest **

JOHN DEBNEY

JDCD 01

25 tracks - 67:37

Before he graduated to the "adult" likes of seaQuest DSV and Cutthroat Island, John Debney slaved away for Hanna-Barbera; this CD of two of his scores proves just why he couldn't replace Hoyt Curtin. MCA did issue a soundtrack album for the 1990 blandness-fest Jetsons: The Movie (which, incidentally, is still miles better than The Flintstones) but Debney's score was sacrificed in favor of Tiffany et al, and even the MIA mall queen would be preferable to the 29 minutes over 13 tracks preserved here. When he isn't filling the score with second-hand David Newman comedy riffs (the one-two one-two underlying beat, the comedy sax), he's ruining more serious cues like "The Factory Goes Haywire" and "Elroy and Judy Meet the Grungies" through the same lack of coherence that plagues the more cartoony tracks. ("George Goes to Work" even has typing sounds -- innovative or what?) In fairness, he develops a nice secondary theme out of the main one (best heard in "Spacely Sprockets"), while the introspective though dinky "Space Ace Classical" and the amusingly bad "High School Marching Band" are probably the best of a dull bunch, though the latter is in direct contrast to the rest of the score -- it deliberately misses the mark.

Debney does at least avoid Theme Overdose, unlike the 38 minutes from Jonny's Golden Quest, the boring 1992 USA Network movie version of the show that never caught on in England (where Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is repeated to this day -- go figure). His arrangement of the show's theme music is energetic enough, but sounds like it should be accompanying a float during carnival in Rio (good thing one of the cues is called "Jonny & Haji Escape in Brazil"); most of the emotional cues -- "Fond Memories of Mom," "Jonny Reflects" -- are aural sludge, the action cues rely too much on the percussion section to carry them along and less on actual musical notes, and "Ice Sailing in Japan" is a pleasant diversion which would be even more pleasant if it wasn't ripped off from Dennis McCarthy's secondary theme for MacGyver. The slim packaging is not improved by graphical errors both bio (Warner Bros.' Little Giants is listed as a Disney movie) and typo ("Hoyt Curtain?"), but it distracts attention from how less effective both scores are than your average The Adventures of Batman & Robin outing. To be fair to John Debney, the Jonny's Golden Quest score certainly wouldn't disgrace a live-action film -- that live-action film being Barb Wire.    -- Victor Field

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