Sunday, 3 April 2011

Score Review: Beauty And The Beast (Alan Menken)

Rescue it from an angry French mob... If you wish to own the peak of Disney musical magic, bar none.

Leave it holed up in the west wing... Actually, just don't.

Today, I'm going to review a rather different type of score to the usual stuff found here. Beauty And The Beast by Alan Menken, will be the first Disney musical score on this site, and for very good reason. Back when I was a young, young boy, my sister owned the film on VHS and after having to watch it about a hundred times in a week, I neglected to watch it again until only a few weeks ago. It was only then that I realised how unique it is compared to other Disney works, maintaining a surprisingly dark atmosphere for the majority of the film. This is reflected flawlessly in the score, and Menken's magical musical flavour and Howard Ashman's wordplay in the songs will be often repeated, but never bettered, in a literal flood of Disney musicals to follow.

Comparing Disney musicals of the early 90's to those of the late 90's is almost exactly the same as comparing the original Star Wars trilogy to the prequels. In both scenarios, the films entirely lose their magic through selling out the integrity of the stories (and songs in Disney's case) by replacing genuinely funny lines with silly pantomime-like antics designed to appeal only to children. In fact, the Beauty And The Beast film and score can quite easily be compared to Empire Strikes Back, due to it being the middle film of a grand trilogy (betwixt Little Mermaid and Aladdin) that is not only the darkest, but also the funniest, of the three.

The songs on this release are the undoubted highlight. Disney obviously also believes this to be the case,  piling all of the songs at the front of the disc, rather than leaving them interspersed with the rest of the score. This is not to say that the score isn't very good, as it's actually one of Menken's best, but the songs are of such a high quality that they overshadow everything else.

It's almost impossible to pick highlights, whether from the songs or score, due to the constant quality on show throughout. However, for me anyway, not much can beat the musical and lyrical genius of Belle and Gaston and their respective reprises. The two greatest character pieces in Disneys canon, these tracks introduce the story and style of the film staggeringly well, showing brilliant lyrical detail and hilarity, as well as giving a sublime showcase for Menken's talents.

I don't believe much more can be said about this score, as I'm sure the majority of you are already aware of it's brilliance. Beauty And The Beast makes some of the best use of theme and lyrics in Disney's history and is a worthy addition to anyone's collection, even those who are generally turned off by anything even remotely Disney-related.

Although, I do have a small negative opinion about this CD. I hate hate HATE the single version of the title song, being as sickeningly corporate and cheesy as it is. However, this can be easily fixed by making a copy of the original one (sung by the teapot) and sticking it at the back.

Rating: 10

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Score Review: LOST - Season 3: Disc One (Michael Giacchino)

As Season 3 was released in a two-disc set, and I'm fairly sure I have OGD (Obsessive Giacchino Disorder), I have decided to split the Season 3 review into two parts. This first part shall cover the first disc, appropriately enough, which includes music from Episodes 1 to 20 of the season, whilst the second part shall review the last few episodes of the season.

At the time, Season 3 was not a particularly well received season of LOST. However, this time, it had everything to do with the quality of the show itself. Everyone, including the writers of the show, knows that the first half of Season 3 at the very least was fairly pants compared to usual LOST standards. Luckily, Giacchino's score still held strong through tattoo-flashbacks, the death of one of the show's best characters in Mr Eko, the introduction of the show's two most annoying characters in Nikki & Paulo and a couple of truly awful Kate flashbacks.

In fact, the opening of this disc is absolutely perfect, full of unrelenting action and general awesomeness. The definite highlight of these is 'Fool me Twice', one of my favourite action tracks in the entire series. Taking place during an otherwise mediocre Jin & Sun episode, this thrilling cue marks the first time on CD that the Other's themes really come into their own:

The theme for the Others, whilst having obvious merit as a terrifying action theme, has some Giacchino variation-magic thrown at it later on this disc, proving to be an even more effective theme at showing the fractured nature of Benjamin Linus' sinister, but tragic, character:

Another notable theme on this CD is Jack's main theme. It is odd that this theme was written so late into the show, considering that Jack is first amongst equals in the LOST cast. The theme itself is great,  especially in 'A Touching Moment', making one of the best uses of the Cello so far in the series:

The theme is also very unique in the show, as it is the only theme that is actually played by the character it represents within the context of the show itself. Just prior to the scene above, Jack is seen playing the exact same theme on a piano in his room. The theme makes a number of appearances in this season to make up for it's earlier absense, although none of the variations provided are markedly different from any of the other's on this release, with the main differences being shifting of the instrumentation of the melody from piano to cello and back.

Speaking of unique uses of the score when compared to the rest of the show, in the episode 'Tricia Tanaka Is Dead', Giacchino takes a diagetic music source in the Three Dog Night song 'Shambala', and composes an exquisite string arrangement around it to close out the episode:

This CD also has it's fair share of romance themes, including Kate and Sawyer's Love Theme in 'Romancing The Cage' and 'Ain't Talkin' 'Bout 'Nothin'', as well as a more rounded variation of Desmond and Penny's Love Theme in 'Distraught Desmond', although once again it is unfortunately preceded by more tense Giacchino strings. Because of the general tone of LOST, this is a common recurring problem throughout the scores, whereby the tone drastically (and I really mean drastically) changes within a very short timeframe. There are too many tracks on these CDs where a melancholic melody will be stirring emotions within you to the point of tear excretion, only for a cliff-hanger to require that you suddenly be attacked by a loud, raucous trombone drop-off. This isn't something that I put against Giacchino though, as what he writes obviously has to fit what is seen on screen, and is more just an unfortunate side-effect of LOST's general style that is worth commenting on.

The more mysterious themes are also given a decent representation on this release, especially including the sublimely creepy 'The Island', which makes interesting use of percussion in conjunction with Locke's Hunter Theme:

Overall, the CD is a worthy release. Although it lacks the consistency of previous albums, it reflects the season well and introduces a number of very significant themes that are ripe for exploration. For example, from this point onwards, their won't be a single release that doesn't include some kind of interesting variation on Ben's theme.

Rating: 8.6

Friday, 1 April 2011

VG Score Review - Red Dead Redemption (Bill Elm & Woody Jackson)

Lately, some of you may have been wondering why I went from many posts in a short period of time, to roughly zero posts in about a month. The answer, and something that I will hopefully be writing about in the future, is that I have got caught up in one of the greatest sci-fi TV shows for all time. Having received the second season DVD set for my Birthday, I have been obsessing non-stop over it and it's soundtrack. I won't reveal here which show it is (although not exactly new, it's also not exactly old either), but will instead write about it in the future. One other DVD present that I received for my birthday was The Social Network, which will be added to my list of films to review, and will likely to the newest DVD that will be found on this site until Christmas.

For now, I shall be reviewing yet another video-game soundtrack,  and hopefully a few more film scores in the days to come, after which I will dive yet again into the abyss of my DVD collection.

Hunt it down, skin it and feast on it's juicy goodness... if you are looking for an interesting ambient score that perfectly captures the wild heart of the west.

Leave it stranded in Monument Valley... if you are prefer a stronger thematic core for your western soundtracks, such as can be found in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly by Ennio Moricone.

Rockstar have always prided themselves on providing nigh-on revolutionary soundtracks for their games. However, in Red Dead Redemption they were unable to lean on their valuable crutch from their Grand Theft Auto series... The car radio. With this feature, Rockstar were able to pull the player even deeper into the world by staging actual in-game radio stations with a playlist of about 30 songs per station.
In Red Dead Redemption, no such thing is possible, as In-Horse radios are still yet to be invented even now. Instead, Rockstar had to take a leap of faith away from their standard fare, and hired Bill Elm and Woody Jackson of Friends of Dean Martinez quasi-fame to create an immersive and adaptable instrumental score that would reflect the qualities of some of the greatest western movies. In this sense, Elm and Jackson have created a masterpiece of videogame scoring that was not only among some of the best in-game music of the year, but a landmark for the industry in general. The music in the game captured the mood of the west perfectly and seamlessly adapted itself for any situation, whether that be slowly creeping through a guarded fortress, or dashing to rescue a poor man's wife from a lynch mob.
Elm and Jackson don't take too many risks from the already-established musical styles of such films as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and use the rather familiar template of almost-hummed vocals, electric guitar, harmonica, horns and a menagerie of whistles. This all adds to the game greatly, but is less successful when isolated on CD. Whilst it is perfect music to have in the background, it fails to sustain attention for as long as any film score might, with each track slowly trundling along (although rather still rather excellently so) in the background of your mind. In fact, it is interesting that the general pace of most of the album reminds of a tumbleweed!
Whilst the instrumental music is perfect in-game, and serviceable on record, where this album really shines is in the songs placed at the end. Each one is so shockingly perfect for the CD, for the game, and for the genre in general, that I sat open-mouthed in wonder for the first few listens of them. The way that these songs were implemented into the game is so rare and cinematic for a videogame that it is difficult to put into words what they add to the experience.

To summarise, I do not regret this purchase in any way, although I can quite easily see why some might be turned off by it's meandering qualities. However, I don't think anyone can argue about the quality of the songs at the conclusion of the album.
As a small preview of what to expect from the soundtrack, here are my two favourite musical moments from the game, the first of which is all instrumental, the second being my favourite song from this release:

Rating: 7.8