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CD Reviews: Mulholland Drive and Il Conte di Melissa

Mulholland Drive *** 1/2


Milan 73138-35971-2

17 tracks - 74:04

Williams and Spielberg, Silvestri and Zemeckis, Badalamenti and Lynch. Certain composers and directors are almost cosmically intertwined, not unlike some of the unsavory characters in a David Lynch film. Mulholland Drive, the latest collaboration from the team that brought you Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart, is an atmospheric effort that will, like most of the aforementioned films themselves, thrill Lynch fans and leave innocent onlookers scratching their heads.

Badalamenti primarily employs layered, swirling electronic undertones and effects with a somber accompaniment on strings (performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic) and the occasional electric guitar. It's a familiar sound, similar to that used in other Lynch films, but with the added warmth and depth that real strings provide.

The album progresses much like a typical Lynch film, opening with a quick, pleasant Jitterbug and then slowly delving into darker string passages, the twangy guitar sounds of 50's diner music and, finally, the layered, disturbing, often confusing underbelly of the score. Like the opening moments of Blue Velvet, what appears pretty on the surface is a roiling torrent underneath, and the music here has the same feel. The compositions by Lynch and John Neff sound very "Twin Peaks-y" ("Pretty '50s" and "Go Get Some" in particular) while Badalamenti's tracks offer some of his more sumptuous melodies to date: "Betty's Theme" and "Love Theme." Although I say melodies, they're really more like extended riffs. Nevertheless, they're exquisite and perfectly capture the tone of the film.

While this CD is not as varied as Wild at Heart or as consistent as the original Twin Peaks television soundtrack, it's a coherent and listenable effort, much more so than, say, the Fire Walk With Me soundtrack. For Lynch and Badalamenti fans, it's a must-have. Others, sample with care.  -- Neil Shurley

Il Conte di Melissa (The Count of Melissa) ***


Hexacord HCD-05

27 tracks - 62:05 minutes

Written to support M. Ananaia's period tale of high tragedy and romance in Italy, Marco Werba's Il Conte di Melissa score is a fine example of hybrid composition -- a mixture of traditional 17th century sounds and contemporary minimalist bass tones. For while the delicate plucks of the harpsichord and harp take us back to a historical Europe, the presence of modern Glass-esque riffs pulls the listener back to the present. This is by no means a unique approach (witness Michael Nyman's The Draughtsman's Contract or the techno classicism of Craig Armstrong's Plunkett and Macleane) and will certainly alienate the purists who are looking for a traditional score a la Newton Howard's Purcell-themed Restoration. In addition to the Glass and Nyman comparisons, there's a sense of mid- '70s Morricone or even Preisner (La Double vie de Veronique). But while all this might suggest a mixed bag of styles, the disc holds together as a coherent whole.

Structured around two main motifs, the soundtrack is basically variations on these themes. The first theme is introduced briefly in "The Guards Arrive" as a heraldic fanfare on brass, and is developed further in "Melissa's Castle." It then weaves its way through the remaining tracks, either as a full orchestral piece, or regressed into a chamber arrangement. The second theme makes its entrance in "The Village," albeit as an ethnic folky variant, and is fully expanded in "Eleonora's Portrait (Love Theme)" and "Eleonora's Despair." It makes its presence known again in "The Delivery" and "Requiem in G Minor" before evolving into the inevitable finale vocal track by Antonella Neri, "Love was Fatal to me," which is sung in English. Not as bad as you might fear, this coda boasts bizarre lyrics, no doubt a result of the Italian to English translation.

As with most discs, the success lies with the buyer's acceptance of the main theme, and this is doubly important on The Count of Melissa, because if you take away its duo of themes, there's scant little else developed across the hour-plus running time. (Note: The liner notes and track listing are all in Italian. For ease of understanding, I've crudely translated the track titles in this review.)  -- Nick Joy

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