Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Top 10 Scores Turning 20 in 2017

And now for another ride on the musical time machine!  Looking back, it is so hard to believe that these scores from 1997 are 20 years old!  So let's take a look back at 1997 with my list of the 10 Best Scores Turning 20!

Let's start the ranking!

10. Air Force One (Jerry Goldsmith)
Written as a replacement for Randy Newman's score (in two weeks!) this bombastic score isn't the best Goldsmith can offer, but it's full of Americana, a shamelessly patriotic sounding main theme and extended action material.

9. Contact (Alan Silvestri)
Silvestri's score is hopeful, and sentimental. Parts of the score sound close to the introspective style of Forrest Gump, with the occasional action cue. Music really goes for the emotion than the science elements in most scenes and especially the climax. Silvestri would touch some of the same aspects to on the series Cosmos.

8. Men in Black (Danny Elfman)
Fitting in the niche of quirky comedy and sci-fi lands Elfman's score. Most of the score has a spy groove that becomes the identity of the MIB and its sequels. It has plenty of past and future Elfman elements with a lovely emotional guitar theme that often gets forgotten.

7. Seven Years in Tibet (John Williams)
The dramatic and personal tale is told with an almost reflective mood. There are moments of sweeping orchestral writing, and plenty more subtle and introspective moments with hints of the Tibetan locale. The score shines with haunting cello solos melodies performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

6. Anastasia (David Newman)
I do love song scores - especially in an animated film. In this case, Newman rarely interpolates the song melodies into the score and lets it become something on its own. The one exception would be the music box theme which ties both songs and score together. The Russian musical influences work well. I'd love to hear an expanded score album, with the original album featuring far more songs.

5. Tomorrow Never Dies (David Arnold)
The Bond franchise got a big jumpstart musically with Arnold's first score. For those worried about the future of these scores, Arnold was able to keep the mold of the Barry-era scores, while adding in new motifs and themes while piling on more blaring brass, jazz and techno.

4. Starship Troopers (Basil Poledouris)
Straddling the aggressive action and the military satire, Poledouris gave the large orchestra a strong workout of bombastic themes, brilliant action cues, creative orchestral techniques and the humorous propaganda bits.

3. L.A. Confidential (Jerry Goldsmith)
Source songs are featured heavily in the film with Goldsmith's score there to bind the rest of the film together. This dark noir features some fantastic instrumental writing and suspense cues. The trumpet variations of the main title are a particular standout.

2. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (John Williams)
Returning to the dinosaur blockbuster gave Williams a chance to take the score in a different direction. Matching the darker tone, the score went much darker with hardly any references to the majestic themes of the original. Instead a new theme conveyed a lot of the island travel and how scary the dinos can be with brutual action rhythms overlayed with lots of jungle-themed percussion. The score fares better in the film or in the expanded soundtrack.

1. Titanic (1997)
1997 was dominated by Titanic. Easily one of the most influential aspects is the score. Horner's grand and romantic score is dominated by Celtic influences, stunning vocal solos, lush orchestral and synth techniques. Even with all its flaws, this score's staying power 20 years later is astonishing. The radio play of the song, award winds and album sales is still rare for a film score.

Honorable Mentions:
Amistad (John Williams), Batman & Robin (Elliot Goldenthal), Con Air (Mark Mancina/Trevor Rabin), Face Off (John Powell), Good Will Hunting (Danny Elfman) My Best Friends Wedding (James Newton Howard).

Any favorites of yours from 1997 that I didn't include?  Comment below!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Quick Review: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
Music composed by Alan Menken
Songs by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice
Music conducted by Michael Kosarin
Music orchestrated by James Shearman, Kevin Kliesch, Michael Barry
Songs orchestrated by Doug Besterman, Michael Starobin, Danny Troob, Jonathan Tunick
Additional music and arrangements by Christopher Benstead, Michael Kosarin
Music recorded at Abbey Road Studios, AIR Lyndhurst Studios
Album running time: Regular (53 minutes), Deluxe (131 minutes)
Available on Walt Disney Records

The next film to receive the Disney live-action remake is Beauty and the Beast.  In the past films, they've mainly shied away from the full musicals or incorporating much of the musical past into the new film.  (The recent The Jungle Book is the exception with songs, and with mixed results).  This new film, however, takes the original musical film and adds more songs.  None of the songs written for the Broadway version have ported over (with one exception that I'll mention later).

For this film, we get 2 albums, with the deluxe edition adding in a full disc of newly written/arranged/orchestrated score by Alan Menken and the new songs presented in demo format.  Unfortunately, as Disney's habit of separating songs from score, you'll have to make your own film order arrangement by combining discs.  It is worth noting that the complete 1991 score has never been released, with only a few original tracks released. 

As far as material: “Prologue”, “Belle”, “Gaston”, “Be Our Guest”, “Something There”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Mob Song” all appear in full, with melodies used in the score again.  New material also appears in song and score: “Aria”, “How Does a Moment Last Forever”, “Days in the Sun”, and “Evermore”.  For new songs, Menken again collaborated with lyricist Tim Rice, who also was lyricist for the Broadway adaptation. 

I don’t feel particularly needed to review the songs –not much has changed from the originals.  There are obvious lyrical changes (some original cut lyrics from “Gaston” make an appearance) and the arrangements and larger orchestration are noticeable.  The newer songs have a bit of longing to them, and dig deeper into the minds and thoughts of our main characters.  The vocals are another matter, which are divisive amongst listeners.  Disc One ends with the end credit version of the new songs, and includes a handful of piano demos sung by Alan Menken. 

My focus is the new score featured on Disc Two of the Deluxe Edition.  Used heavily are the various thematic material – a Menken staple.  Melodies of “Beauty and the Beast”, “Belle”, “Be Our Guest” and the Prologue’s magic theme appear regularly while “Evermore”, “How Does a Moment Last Forever” and “Days in the Sun” make some important appearances.  Themes are woven into practically every track with some featuring alternate orchestrations/arrangements.

The score album opens with the full Main Title: Prologue sequence sans narrator.  Belle Meets Gaston is some light underscoring featuring both moments from Belle and Gaston's pompous motif.  Your Mother is a semi-continuation of “How Does a Moment Last Forever”, revealing a tender cello solo.  The Laverie incorporates bits of the “Belle” melody while giving a bit of French accordion feel.  The action cue Wolf Chase has a sense of menace using snarling brass and a hint at the melody from "Belle".  The magic theme melody is given a full reprise with chorus as the Beast's castle is revealed.  

Entering the Castle is a bit mysterious and hesitant and ends with a musical cameo of harpsichord-led “Be Our Guest”.  The White Rose continues the same style, before becoming larger with magic theme statements in the strings as the brass shine.  The Beast contains some of brooding, darker moments of the score.  The magic theme is often quoted, with a reprise of “How Does a Moment Last Forever” in a touching cello solo, using the theme as a connection between Belle and her father.

Meet the Staff begins the more lighthearted sections with the transformed objects, with accordions introducing Lumiere as the “Be Our Guest” theme is used.  If the bulk of Home sounds familiar, the twinkling melody is from the Broadway song of the same name.  The earlier song “Aria” makes a reprise as it introduces Madame de Garderobe with a playful waltz.

There's A Beast and A Petal Drops alternate between the sweet and brooding sounds, with a few magic theme quotes, giving the Beast a more sorrowful backstory.  A Bracing Cup of Tea contains some lovely featured solos melodies of “Days in the Sun” and “How Does a Moment Last Forever”.  The West Wing gives hints to “Be Our Guest” again, this time in an interesting arrangement, and later features a dramatic quote of “Days in the Sun” before building upon the magic theme.  Wolves Attack Belle is larger than the earlier wolf sequence, with jabbing strings, strong choir and pounding percussion.  Slower and minor-key arrangements of “Belle”, magical rose theme and “Something There” make appearances.

The Library features a warm string sound and woodwind solos, all while giving the first hint of the melody from “Beauty and the Beast”.  Colonnade Chat features lovely statements of “Evermore” and “Beauty and the Beast” with a sweeping orchestral crescendo at the end.  The Plague is a short cue, featuring another snippet of “Evermore”.  Maurice Accuses Gaston is a bit darker keeping the strings on their opposite ranges for an eerie effect.  

Beast Takes a Bath begins with lighthearted accordion reprise of “Evermore”, “Beauty and the Beast” and another frilly waltz reprise of “Aria” for comic effect.  The Dress builds upon the 'little town' melody from “Belle” before the celeste and orchestra lead into a reprise of “Home” and serves as a delightfully syrupy introduction to their first dance.  You Must Go to Him reprises “Beauty and the Beast” on harp and “Evermore” returns as his chance for love might be gone.

Belle Stops the Wagon balances between drama and action, giving a few action arrangements of past themes among fast string runs and brass and suspenseful writing.  Castle Under Attack begins with an air of spookiness as the magic theme is reprised before the orchestra (and castle objects) attack into a frenzy.  There are humorous nods to several past themes (including a funny moment for Maestro Cadenza the harpsichord) and the themes shine as their characters interact on screen culminating in a frenzied finale of “Be Our Guest”.  Turret Pursuit continues the large orchestral sound, again with the magic theme, “Evermore” and “Beauty and the Beast” making appearances amongst the action as the action rotates around the Beast and Gaston.

You Came Back continues the action material from the last cue, before quotes of the twinkling magic theme, “Beauty and the Beast”, "Home" and moving reprises of “Evermore” take over.  It's beautifully moving as themes are brought back as we transition to Transformations.  It's almost note-for-note from the original film in some sections, with the magic theme finally taking its large moment as the Beast transforms.  The exciting finale naturally reprises all the main themes as the film focuses on all the characters individually – “Beauty and the Beast”, “Be Our Guest”, and “Days in the Sun”.  A horn reprises “How Does a Moment” before fading away, an odd ending of the album without the songs and end credits in the proper order.

This new version of Beauty and the Beast feels a bit bloated (it is around 45 minutes longer) than the original film.  Expanding upon the original work a few times since 1991, Menken’s evolution of the themes is the strongest aspect of this new score.  This does show Alan Menken’s progression as a score composer – even in 1991 he was still new to film.  We hear new arrangements and variations on the classic themes which blend easier with the score and new material.  I know director Bill Condon was going for a different atmosphere with the film, and giving Menken a temp-track to catch the right mood.  The larger expanded orchestra works nicely in some moments while the lighter and more nimble orchestration from the animation is clearly missing from this new film.  While several aspects of the new score works, there’s no matching the original’s magical touch.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Top 10 Scores Turning 30 in 2017

My newest yearly tradition - taking a ride on the musical time machine. This was a tough one: 1987 had a list of great scores that have stood the test of time, and over 30 years become fan favorites. So let's take a look back at 1987 with my list of the 10 Best Scores Turning 30!

Let's start the ranking!

10. The Princess Bride (Mark Knopfler)
Yes, the score is outdated and corny. The action bits are goofy, but the romantic acoustic guitar make this score still likable and unmistakable after all these years.
9. Hellraiser (Christopher Young)
For this horror flick, Young brought the horror score to a large orchestra while expanding the orchestral textures. The gothic style would be his mainstay for many more films and a larger trend in orchestral horror scores. 
8. Harry and the Hendersons (Bruce Broughton)
For this comedy/drama/family film, Broughton uses a strong main theme and brings it through many variations - a classical Mozart style, a love theme and even fits into the cartoon-style antics for Harry. It is rare to find a charming and heartfelt score as touching as this. 
7. Lethal Weapon (Michael Kamen & Eric Clapton)
Kamen and Clapton collaborated with the BBC miniseries Edge of Darkness, and again for this film. With this quintessential 80's action blockbuster, Kamen brought the orchestral chops, themes, with Clapton adding his guitar expertise, with David Sanborn on sax solos. This trio would return for the rest of the series, and Kamen would continue his large scale orchestral action to Die Hard. 
6. Witches of Eastwick (John Williams)
In a rare comedic turn, Williams' score matches the humor and menace of this tale. The main theme is devilish scherzo which repeats through the score and the playful woodwind writing stands out as more scores went electronic. His arrangement of the main theme - retitled Devil's Dance has made frequent appareances at his film music nights for years. 
5. The Living Daylights (John Barry)
The last James Bond film scored by Barry, the music mixes the old style with the modern drum loops and synth elements. Melodies are strong and heard often, with great suspense motifs used. Easily one of the best of Barry's later Bond work. Notable also for the cameo by Barry conducting an orchestra featuring the female lead as cello soloist.
4. Empire of the Sun (John Williams)
While often a forgotten film of Steven Spielberg, the score is extremely emotional and effective. Through our main character, the score transforms from frightening/sometimes atonal to the imaginative world he created. The choir used in the second half of the film is moving and used very well. The beautiful Cadillac of the Skies and joyful Exsultate Justi have also made film concert appearances. 
3. The Untouchables (Ennio Morricone)
The match the striking Brian DePalma visuals, Morricone produced an arresting score full of tension-filled cues and strong themes. He displays bits of jazz, music box suspense, a lyrical family theme, and haunting death theme. A standout for a Hollywood score by Morricone.
2. Robocop (Basil Poledouris)
The orchestral and electronic elements work together in this dark action film.  Even while director Paul Verhoeven goes comic or satirical, Poledouris plays it straight with a full range of large orchestral themes and motifs even during the action material.     
1. Predator (Alan Silvestri)
Silvestri brought a thrilling score to the alien jungle thriller. He provides a relentless drive to the film led by the piano/snare militaristic theme. He layers on dissonant brass, high tension strings, noble trumpet moments, jungle percussion and synth material. It's like a darker minor-theme version counterpart to Back to the Future. It's a score that still stands out

Honorable Mentions:
*batteries not included (James Horner), Cherry 2000 (Basil Poledouris), Innerspace (Jerry Goldsmith), The Last Emperor (Ryuichi Sakamoto/David Byrne), Monster Squad (Bruce Broughton) 

Any favorites of yours from 1987 that I didn't include? Comment below!