***** Star Trek: Original Series
**** Star Trek: The Motion Picture
*** Star Trek: TNG
** Star Trek: Voyager
* Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
What’s more bug-gy than science fiction movie soundtrack music? With the exception of 2001’s phenomenal Brain in a Box sci-fi music and theme song set from Rhino Records, GNP-Crescendo seems to have cornered the market on both reissues and new releases of SF themes and scores. The label has an extensive collection of SF soundtracks available in addition to the ones reviewed here. Check the web site at www.gnpcrescendo.com/ for more. This issue of Bug Music evaluates four of the label’s current releases.
Lexx: The Series
* * * *
I have a pet peeve against soundtracks that include dialogue sampled from the movie or series embedded in the music. Angry retorts like “Never let anybody on board the Lexx” may listen OK the first time around, flavoring the music and reminding you of where it comes from, but can get annoying on repeated listens. That gripe aside (and truthfully, dialogue is not overdone on this disc), the series music to Lexx is fine stuff.
There are 28 tracks on this disc, most clocking in at under three minutes and including the opening themes to seasons two and three. This doesn’t come off as a choppy series of themes, but as a cohesive sampling of moods. Despite the shortness of most of the tracks, they all seque together well, as Simon moves from techno James Bond-esque drama (“Wild, Wild Lexx”) to ethereal piano-string concoctions (“Galley”) to creepy haunted house tension (“Prince To Lexx”) to string-y, cymbal-building airiness (“The Search”).
Everything on the Lexx soundtrack sounds large – warm strings, fuzz guitars (a la the Batman Beyond soundtracks), spacey atmospheric backgrounds, sprinklings of bells – and much of it builds tension with eerie moods.
Despite most of the material being written and performed by Simon, this sounds more symphonic than some real sympony scores.
Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda
* * * 1/2
While it opens with the one-minute season one marshall drum main title from Rush’s Alex Lifeson, the rest of this 25-track disc (including the more heavily orchestrated season two theme), composed and arranged by Matthew McCauley, listens far more like movie soundtrack music than television backing.
Moving from high-bombast Star Trek-ish moments to long passages of suspense-building soundscapes (a la Star Wars), this CD offers a broad palette of sonic intensity, from stirring drama to tense understated tautness. McCauley wrote and performs the bulk of it himself, though his epic arrangements and realistic instrumental layering sounds as if he recorded with a full orchestra — the sound is wide and organic throughout.
Neil Norman and His Cosmic Orchestra
Greatest Science Fiction Hits IV
Both Neil Norman and Matthew MacCauley work with synthesizers and a small cadre of support musicians to develop their SF theme music. But the difference between the tone of their work is notable.
While MacCauley manages to create a vast feel of depth and full orchestra with his instruments, Norman’s work sounds like a guy playing strings on a synthesizer. While sometimes his arrangements do sound like he’s working with a symphony, more often than not, they sound hollow and a bit cheesy. Most notably is his medley of themes from the various Star Trek series, which are strung together with a “hooked on” sort of beat that cheapens what otherwise are moving works of symphonic grandeur. (Star Trek fans, by the way, can buy this piece as a CD single, if they so desire).
While Norman’s work may not technically be as stirring as MacCauley’s, he does offer a long list of SF themes on a single CD for background music play. Included are retreads of the theme music from “Amazing Stories,” “The Outer Limits II,” “Wild Wild West,” “Hercules,” “Stargate SG-1,” “Xena,” Reanimator, Buckaroo Banzai, Men In Black, and more.
Lost in Space: Vol. 3
* * * 1/2
I always thought of “Lost and Space” as comedic, but a listen to this collection of soundtrack material, some penned by John Williams, tells another story.
Frightened, quavering strings with zithering bells, low voiced cellos, oscillating basses – this music sounds like the background to a good whodunnit suspense thriller! It’s funny, but I just don’t remember “Lost in Space” sounding this moody back when I was a kid.
This disc includes the well-known light and twisty theme song and lots of other spooky episodic suspenseful themes from Hans J. Salter and a handful of pieces from John Williams, including the End Credit. There’s also an unused 2nd season title from Warren Barker.
The recording sounds a little dated (the orchestra sounds very flat and mono, as would be expected from ‘60s television). But overall, this music captures the feeling of bug-eyed monsters hovering over Mel’s Drive-in perfectly. Great for putting on behind the scenes.
John Everson’s “Pop Stops” music column has appeared weekly in the Chicago-area Star Newspapers for more than a decade. He also writes reviews and interviews for Illinois Entertainer magazine and his “dark music” columns have appeared in Wetbones and Midnight Hour magazines His fiction has been published in recent anthologies like Bloodtype, TransVersions and The Dead Inn and in ‘zines like Bloodsongs, The Edge, Grue, Plot, Terminal Fright, Sirius Visions and Dead of Night. His first hardcover collection of erotic horror fiction, Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions is available from Delirium Books.