Sight Reading Academy

SightReadingAcademy.com is a new service, going live very soon, that aims to fill the gaping hole in music education around the practice of sight reading.

Sight reading music should be a part of traditional music lessons, as this skill is one of the most fundamental and practical for any musician to learn. Too often, however, it is either entirely or mostly ignored by the teacher, causing much more difficulty if the student decides to pursue music in college or on a professional level.

Also, be sure to check out the page of useful online sight reading resources, as well as the frequently updated sight reading blog.

Sign up for the mailing list to stay up to date! This service will be available very soon, and you don't want to miss it!

-Colin

Colin the Composer

Hello everyone! So sorry I have been remiss about writing any new reviews for a long time. I have actually been very busy focusing on my own compositions, and am pleased to be able to unveil my brand new site, www.colinpthomson.com!

Please feel free to peruse it, take a listen and a watch, let me know what you think. Of course, if you have an compositional needs, let me know as well. Someday I hope to get back into the reviews, but for the moment this is what is occupying me, and I wanted you to know.


Colin Thomson
www.colinpthomson.com

From the editor of Soundtracks Reviewed...

Comes a brand new blog about all things music. Colin will continue to post movie score reviews here, but other random thoughts about numerous aspects of music, from creation to production to enjoyment, will be explored on this new blog. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to "A Sound Perspective"!

Defiance




James Newton Howard


Rating: 5.5


Rarely have the influences been so obvious in a score as they are in Defiance. What John Williams, Itzhak Perlman, and the solo violin were to Schindler's List, James Newton Howard, Joshua Bell and, once again, the solo violin are to Defiance. Just as Williams employed somber and over-bearing textures with sometimes beautiful and sometimes harsh solo violin passages, Howard neatly follows right in step. But why break a tried and true formula? The score for Schindler's List has aged marvelously with the critics, and the main theme has even somehow managed to gain a slight footing with the classical community, something that, in this day, is hardly ever accomplished in a movie score.

Unfortunately, this score is a very rare miss on the otherwise nearly perfect track record of composer James Newton Howard. It appears that early in the film making process there were discussions on which solo instrument should be used to embody the sound of Defiance. Among others, the clarinet came up, but, like the rest, was ultimately ditched for the ever popular solo violin.

Perhaps this decision was what started the Defiance score down the slippery path of Schindler's List copy-catting. With Howard writing the score, there would be some very interesting possibilities in a solo clarinet, and perhaps some aspects that would have set it apart more. Of course, I have no idea who is ultimately to blame for this problem. It seems very likely that the director specifically wanted a Schindler's List sound, and Howard, working in an industry, had to comply.

I usually consider James Newton Howard to be one of, or perhaps the most competent composer working in today's movie industry, especially with the semi-retirement that it seems John Williams is enjoying. Giving this score an unfavorable review is a hard thing for me to do, but, to be honest, I just was expecting more from him in this opportunity to do a very serious score.

Still, there are moments of classic Howard-esque action music, such as the two highlights of the score, "The Bielski Otriad" and "Nothing Is Impossible". The score does well when Howard's musical touch is most evident, usually in moments of action, or other full orchestral outbursts. But the music written for Joshua Bell is just missing direction, wondering aimlessly through somber textures, but never really saying much musically. It is not that Howard cannot write a slow, gripping melody. In fact, he has proven an incredible ability to do just that on numerous occasions. But not this time. Whereas Schindler's List showed Williams talent in writing long melody lines, employing somber textures, and through this setting forth more than a mood, but a musical statement, Howard has succeeded in creating the mood, but lacks the statement.

-Colin Thomson

Track List:
Defiance Main Titles
Survivors
Make Them Count
Your Wife
The Bielski Otriad
Bella And Zus
Exodus
Camp Montage
The Wedding
Winter
Escaping The Ghetto
Police Station
Tuvia Kisses Lilka
Nothing is Impossible
The Bielski Brothers/Ikh Bin A Mame

Bolt




John Powell


Rating: 7.7


With each release, John Powell seems to distance himself farther from his roots as a composer working inside of Remote Control Productions, and to gain and develop his own voice. Already perhaps the most in-demand composer for animated movies, he has established himself well in the genre, for which his fast paced, frenetic style can work nicely. Bolt is only one in many assignments he had in the year 2008, but, though his schedule has been full, the quality of his work seems to stay consistent, and Bolt is an excellent effort, surpassing even the highly enjoyable Horton Hears A Who from earlier in the year.

If there is one serious complaint against Powell (besides the fact that some, undoubtedly, do not like his style), it would probably be that his scores for similar genres can sometimes seem interchangeable, and lack identities of their own. While Bolt maintains many similar techniques used in his other efforts in the genre, such as Horton Hears A Who, Powell seems to have created something a little more unique this time around. The story called for an over-the-top romp through super-hero music, and Powell delivered, without falling into the obvious pit-hole of copying The Incredibles and the, well, incredible work Michael Giacchino did for that movie. Like The Incredibles, Bolt has style. But the style is different, less jazzy (though we do here a bit of what Powell's jazz work might sound like in the beginning of "New York" and "Meet Mittens"), more modern. Edgy yet still interesting, a combination which, oddly enough, is rarely achieved.

Since I am obligated to report on the album, and not just the score, I suppose a word or two must be said here about the two pop songs at the beginning of the album, "I Thought I Lost You" performed by John Travolta and Miley Cyrus, and "Barking At The Moon" performed by Jenny Lewis. The first is..well...it's Miley Cyrus, so it's fine...I guess. Actually, it might be one of her better efforts (not that I would know...), though still, of course, nothing special. The second is a mix of pop with some wannabe blues/country thrown in. There you have it. Neither atrocious, but neither good, either.

The score, on the other hand, hits almost all the right notes. "Meet Bolt" begins the score a little quieter, introducing the main theme, and features some good piano work. Actually, the piano usage throughout the score is very nice, and almost frequent, which is a bit of a departure from the tried and true Powell sound, and adds an excellent touch. Immediately following, we have the very impressive "Bolt Transforms" and "Scooter Chase", a tour de force of Powell at his super-hero, action-packed, frenetic best. Probably the best 3:30 minutes on the album. "Meet Mittens" shows some of the more stylistic side of Powell, and takes the music in an almost Ratatouille-like direction, which Powell pulls off very well.

Something that sets this album apart from many other acceptable entries in the modern animated music genre is the way the quiet, slow moments maintain musical interest. Many times it is the main theme holding them together, and often the piano is used very nicely in these moments. The resulting listening experience is consistently engaging with only a couple minor exceptions. As the music becomes more story-oriented, however, there seems to be a dip in quality. Nothing major, but the places where the score really soars are in the musical setup, and less in development. Still, the later tracks are certainly enjoyable, just not quite on par with the beginning.

If you are any fan of John Powell, or the fast paced animation style of music now popular, Bolt should most definitely find its way into your collection. This release seals Powell's position as number 3 for me in the animated movie genre, with only Thomas Newman and Michael Giacchino still ahead. While staying within the animation genre, Powell has found new ways to stylistically set this effort apart from others, and has created an enjoyable and worth while listen from beginning to end.

-Colin Thomson

Track Listing:
I Thought I Lost You
Barking At The Moon
Meet Bolt
Bolt Transforms
Scooter Chase
New York
Meet Mittens
The TV Park
A Fast Train
Where Were You On St. Rhino's Day
Sing-Aling Rhino
Saving Mittens
House On Wheels
Las Vegas
A Friend In Need
Rescuing Penny
A Real Live Superbark
Unbelievable TV
Home At Last/Barking At The Moon (Reprise)

Wall-E




Thomas Newman


Rating: 8.4


Until it was nominated for an oscar at the end of the year, it looked like the score for the critically acclaimed Wall-E would be one of the only aspects of the movie nearly unrecognized. Most film score critics shared the opinion that Thomas Newman, as always, had wonderful ideas, but failed completely to develop them into a confluent whole. What they seem to have missed is that this is, in a large part, the charm of the score: its quirkiness, aided by its fragmentation.

In fact, the score for Wall-E is one of the most interestingly quirky in a while. Combining two songs from Hello, Dolly!, "La Vie En Rose" by Louis Armstrong, a new song by Peter Gabriel, and a meaningful underscore would have the tendency to turn into a mix-mash of styles and genres, and lose all sense of complete meaning. Somehow, though, Thomas Newman pulled it off.

Beginning with "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" from Hello, Dolly!, the score sounds like more of a period work than anything, until the song fades, increasing reverb as it does so. This one artistic decision, in my opinion, is what keeps the album from getting off to a bad start. Already, we see that time period fading, as we get glimpses of a ruined world. The almost eerie "2815 A.D." follows, setting the stage for, as director Andrew Stanton calls it, the "space opera' aspect of the film.

To write a track-by-track analysis of the album would be useless. There are 38 tracks on the album which lasts 61 minutes and 47 seconds. Being a helpful sort of reviewer, I'll do the math for you. That averages tracks to 97.55263158 seconds, or a little over a minute and a half. But this is the way Thomas Newman works, and the tracks do not, as sometimes happens, have uselessly long 'dead space' at the beginning or end, so the over-all listening experience is not hurt from this excess of tracks.

The score is, like the other musical choices, a curiosity. Replete with sound effects from the movie, and full of odd instrumental combinations, it is a wonder that it is able to hold together any type of symmetry. But it does, and also manages to tell a story. The sound effects, for perhaps the first time in history, are actually used pleasingly, and add to the generally odd ambience of the score. The instrumentation also goes a long way in creating this score's certain 'sound'. The album liner notes list soloists, giving us a glimpse into what it took to create the textures Newman uses to great effect throughout the score. The list is ridiculously long, and includes many instruments which I do not even recognize, but are used in ways which add to the score, instead of being merely curiosities.

In the area of packaging and design, Wall-E soars. The cardboard-like material and color of which the digipack is made is a nice touch, and the over all design of both this and the liner notes is very interesting and well done. The notes themselves, however, should be the standard to which the rest of the industry should try to attain. Not only are the soloists and their many instruments mentioned, but so is the rest of the orchestra, name of player and instrument. I only wish more albums would follow suite.

Perhaps Wall-E can seem random at times. There can be no doubt that it sometimes appears a little fragmented. But the end result is meaningful and impressive. Though there are themes for characters in it, the score concerns itself more with exploring the character of the movie, and, in this case, there is plenty of exploring to be done. Right now, in the genre of animation, Wall-E has put Thomas Newman at a tie with Michael Giacchino as the number one composer. It is both delicate and exciting, restrained and impressive, quirky but confluent. It is, in a word, impressive.

-Colin Thomson

Track Listing:

Put On Your Sunday Clothes
2815 A.D.
Wall-E
The Spaceship
EVE
Thrust
Bubble Wrap
La Vie En Rose
Eye Surgery
Worry Wait
First Date
EVE Retrieve
The Axiom
BNL
Foreign Contaminant
Repair Ward
72 Degrees And Sunny
Typing Bot
Septuacentennial
Gopher (GO-4)
Wall-E's Pod Adventure
Define Dancing
No Splashing No Diving
All That Love's About
M-O
Directive A-113
Mutiny!
Fixing Wall-E
Rogue Robots
March Of The Gels
Tilt
The Holo-Detector
Hyperjump
Desperate EVE
Static
It Only Takes A Moment
Down To Earth
Horizon 12.2

Quantum of Solace




David Arnold


Rating: 8.2


After both the Bond movies and music were given a revamp in Casino Royale, which was met with much eagerness, it became apparent that it would be the new musical face of James Bond. David Arnold's Bond scores prior to Casino Royale met with mixed reviews, while Casino Royale was almost unanimously applauded as a much needed change of pace from what some thought had become hardly more than a jumble of musical cliches trying to hark back to John Barry's glory days as the franchise's composer. For Casino Royale, Arnold would take a much more modern, Bourne-esque approach, and while some have accused both it and Quantum of Solace as being nothing more than spin-offs of Powell's work for that series, the merging of the modern gritty with the classic Bond 'cool' is certainly a musical landscape worth exploring.

On any Bond score, the song is very important, and often also somewhat controversial. Such was the case with "You Know My Name", from Casino Royale. As was the case with the score, Arnold took the song in a new direction. Less soulful and more rock, the song met with mixed opinions. The way in which it was used throughout the score, however, is usually considered exemplary, and establishes a strong identity for that score. But if some listeners were cautious about the new song approach taken then, they can now be outraged. "Another Way To Die", the first ever duet used as a Bond title song, has tried its hardest to break new ground and explore new territory. Jack White joins his somewhat dark, gritty guitars and vocals to the much more soulful style of Alicia Keys, and the result is certainly....interesting. While I do not dislike this song with the passion that many do, I think the greatest problem is that David Arnold was not allowed to help in its production. Because of this, the song's almost promising musical aspects are left un-explored, and the score lacks a certain identifiability because of it.

Besides this problem, the score itself performs magnificently. Arnold has begun to use the Bond theme a little more freely, and, while still always restrained, it is given much more space to breath in this installment. "Time To Get Out" opens the album with a bang, and showcases some impressively frantic combinations of orchestral and electronic textures. "Pursuit At Port Au Prince" is probably my favorite track on the album. Energetic and often loud, it never loses interest or reverts to cliche musical 'chase' elements. Toward the end we are also treated to an excellent rendition of the Bond theme. "Night At The Opera" does a wonderful job of making suspense music listen-able, something that I rarely hear accomplished. Both "The Palio" and "Target Terminated" showcase excellent chase or fight music, and "Perla De Las Dunes" is an impressive culmination of action music.

The quiet moments are much more meaningful compared with Casino Royale, keeping the listener's interest throughout the entire album. Vesper's theme is again used, featured most prominently on "What's Keeping You Awake", "Camille's Story", and the second half of "Forgive Yourself". This falling piano melody is understated and subtle, but can also be quite gripping in its simplicity. For some reason, I like it far more the way it is used on Quantum of Solace than Casino Royale, and it gives the quiet cues musical purpose and focus. Perhaps the reverb on the piano sometimes goes overboard on the side of sentimentality, but that doesn't alter the effect, which is one of gripping tragedy, reconciled to itself.

Arnold has done it again, producing, in my opinion, a work superior even to Casino Royale. While the lack of a song identity for this score is inexcusable, given the fact that Arnold worked on "You Know My Name" and succeeded wonderfully, he has still been able to rise above this handicap and create a consistently engaging listening experience. The musical future is bright for Bond if Quantum of Solace is any indicator, and I eagerly await anything else Arnold may have in store for this franchise.

-Colin Thomson

Track List:

Time To Get Out
The Palio
Inside Man
Bond In Haiti
Somebody Wants To Kill You
Greene & Camille
Pursuit At Port Au Prince
No Interest In Dominic Greene
Night At The Opera
Restrict Bond's Movements
Talamone
What's Keeping You Awake
Bolivian Taxi Ride
Field Trip
DC3
Target Terminated
Camille's Story
Oil Fields
Have You Ever Killed Someone?
Perla De Las Dunas
The Dead Don't Care About Vengeance
I Never Left
Another Way To Die

Casino Royale




David Arnold


Rating: 7.8


It seems the world was tiring of the same Bond that had sufficed for decades. Obviously, a revamp was in order. Casino Royale took a stylistic turn towards the modern and the gritty. No longer was Bond invincible. In fact, Casino Royale went back to the beginning of the story to explore the beginnings of 007. While many changes were made to the cast and production team, including the actor for Bond himself, the choice was made to give David Arnold the composing duties once again, and trust his ability to adapt to the new style of the movie.

As it turns out, their belief was not unfounded, and Arnold produced a score which is fittingly gritty and only loosely tries to connect with previous Bond musical ideas. Gone is the inescapable Barry-esque soaring strings and the big-band brass-heavy sense of 'cool' found in the earlier scores, with the popular Bond theme barely appearing at all. Instead, we are given a score which is subdued at times and frantic at others. A score which follows more closely the Jason Bourne vein of scoring and only makes infrequent nods toward the Bond music of the past.

In keeping with the decision to change the template of the music, the song "You Know My Name", music written by David Arnold and sung by Chris Cornell, leans farther toward rock than is usually the case. This change, though a little controversial, works very well in the complete score context. Since Arnold composed the music for the song, he was able to incorporate it into his score, and does so liberally. The melody holds up well in an orchestral setting, and is flexible enough that Arnold is able to hint at it frequently while doing so differently each time. The unfortunate part is that, for legal reasons, the song did not get put on the soundtrack CD. The remedy for this, however, is only an iTunes download away, and the problem should not count seriously against the product.

"African Rundown" starts off the album on the right track, and is my personal favorite. Energized and exciting, it sets the tone for the rest of the action music on the album. The tone used is one that is certainly orchestral at its foundation, yet in no way shies away from electronic elements. Thus an edge is developed, and fits well the grittier tone that was obviously the goal of the music. What is refreshing is that Arnold is able to employ these modern percussive elements in a frantic and fast-paced way, without relying on the mindless repetition that has been the downfall of so many scores that had good ideas, yet relegated themselves to sub-par efforts because of their lack of creativity. "Miami International" is in the same frantic chase-music style, and, though very long, manages to hold suspense in an impressive way.

The one place where the score loses some points is in the quiet pieces. Instead of infusing them with subtle meaning and restrained style, Arnold spends far too much time drifting through ideas without focus. There are many short quiet tracks which fail to hold interest because of this problem. The exceptions to this are when the title song is providing the musical idea, which works very nicely in a quiet setting. Vesper Lynd is given a musical identity, and even a nice quiet piano rendition in "Vesper". Unfortunately, while the theme is nice, it doesn't really rise above nice, and instead usually only adds to the meandering background music.

Casino Royale, while in no why a stylistic ground-breaker, is still a change in direction for the Bond franchise, and almost seems to have an experimental element in it. As it tries new things and also tries to make them loosely fit the Bond sound there are times when it succeeds wonderfully, but also times when it fails. But the good certainly far outweighs the bad, and makes for an enjoyable, if somewhat long, listening experience.

-Colin Thomson

Track List:

African Rundown
Nothing Sinister
Unauthorised Access
Blunt Instrument
CCTV
Solange
Trip Aces
Miami International
I'm The Money
Aston Montenegro
Dinner Jackets
The Tell
Stairwell Fight
Vesper
Bond Loses It All
Dirt Martini
Bond Wins It All
The End Of An Aston Martin
The Bad Die Young
City Of Lovers
The Switch
Fall Of A House In Venice
Death Of A Vesper
The ***** Is Dead
The Name's Bond...James Bond

Ratatouille




Michael Giacchino


Rating: 8.2


Michael Giacchino is probably the fastest rising star in the film music scene. Beginning with his very popular Medal of Honor game scores, each successive release has been greeted well by fans and critics alike. When the production team for Ratatouille ran into complications during production and brought in director Brad Bird, with whom they had previously had great success in the popular The Incredibles, it came as no surprise that his composer of choice would be Michael Giacchino, whose score for The Incredibles had been met with as much enthusiasm within film music circles as the movie had with the general public.

With the release of Ratatouille, it is safe to say that Giacchino has established himself as one of the, or perhaps the preeminent animated movie composer working today. He has also become well known for his incredible ability to write within any musical style, and create a unique listening experience. In Ratatouille he pulls both of these attributes together to create fun, stylistic score.

A word of warning: If you cannot abide the sound of the accordion, stay far away from this score. Giacchino makes extensive use of it, employing it as if it were a normal part of a jazz ensemble, and this is the trick to Giacchino's combining of French textures with playfully animated music. Much of this score sounds more like band music than full-blown orchestral textures. Acoustic guitars and bass guitars are around for much of the score, combining with a drum kit, as well as many orchestral instruments, such as strings and woodwinds, while the brass gives it all the band flare. While this may seem like a broad range of instruments, it is orchestrated well, so that it never becomes overbearing, but instead uses its differing groups to create a playful effect, jumping back and forth constantly between instruments.

"Colette Shows Him Le Ropes" is probably the best example of the above outlined style which Giacchino chose for this project, and is definitely a standout track on the album. "The Paper Chase" is in a more traditionally orchestral vein, and uses the main theme to great effect. Which brings us to "Le Festin", the one song on this album. It is well known that I usually disapprove of the pop songs which often get thrown on to a movie. This time, however, we are given a taste of how a song could fit and improve a score wonderfully, and it would do movie producers good to take notice. The melody for "Le Festin" was originally written by Giacchino as a theme for the movie, and only later did the idea of turning it into a song and having French singer Camille sing it come about. Because of this, the song and score keep continuity with each other, and each compliments the other. The theme makes frequent appearances in the score, and works wonderfully in every context.

The general opinion of this score seems to be that it is fun, but not as good as The Incredibles. While The Incredibles may be the more impressive of the two, just because of the precision with which Giacchino succeeded in imitating a genre, I confess that, as a listening experience, I prefer Ratatouille. Giacchino has yet to let down his fans, and, having been given the scoring duties for the coming Pixar release Up!, great things are on the horizon. Until then, however, I will be perfectly happy to keep listening to Ratatouille.

-Colin Thomson

Track List:

Le Festin
Welcome To Gusteau's
This Is Me
Granny Get Your Gun
100 Rat Dash
Wall Rat
Cast Of Cooks
A Real Gourmet Kitchen
Souped Up
Is It Soup Yet?
A New Deal
Remy Drives A Linguini
Colette Shows Him Le Ropes
Special Order
Kiss & Vinegar
Losing Control
Heist To See You
The Paper Chase
Remy's Revenge
Abandoning Ship
Dinner Rush
Anyone Can Cook
End Creditouilles
Ratatouille Main Theme

Mulan




Jerry Goldsmith


Rating: 8.8


The musical disaster that was Hercules signaled a change in Disney animated movies. Menken was no longer the go-to composer, and Zimmer had proven a popular choice for Lion King; perhaps he would become the composer of choice for Disney animation. While this did indeed end up being the case, there was a brief venture into the possibilities of famed composer Jerry Goldsmith, and what he could bring to the table in the animated genre. The result is rather stunning and intriguing. The maturity of Mulan's score is perhaps unrivaled in children's animation, and yet still fits its genre like a glove. I would love to have seen more of this style from Disney.

The album begins with five songs from the movie, which, it is commonly agreed, are nothing great, but serve their purpose. Goldsmith did not write the music for these (though he did incorporate some of the melodies into the suite), and so the album does suffer somewhat from lack of congruity between songs and score. "Suite from Mulan" starts off the score, and weaves the "Reflection" melody nicely through the orchestra, before moving to a playful rendition of "Honor To Us All", employing string pizzicato and muted brass staccato to great effect. From here the suite uses more of Goldsmith's own themes, doing as good a job as could be hoped for of trying to tie the two together.

"Attack at the Wall" follows, and the action beginning immediately. Rhythmically charged and powerfully brassy, it then turns to some playful banter between orchestral choirs. Goldsmith infuses oriental elements into his scores in a very convincing manner, while retaining a very approachable feel the whole way through. "Mulan's Decision" begins right away with perhaps the most instantly recognizable motif in the score. Seven notes, a triplet up and a triplet back down, ending on the note below, serves very well in reflective moments, but is perhaps best used in action sequences.

For me, "Blossoms" is the highlight of the commercial release. Some of the best percussion ever written for an animated movie is to be found here. A low timpani or bass drum keeps a quiet, slow but steady rhythm which is accentuated by three strikes, two high one lower, on higher register percussion instruments. The effect is brooding and powerful. Anything but over-the-top, it shows the power in tasteful restraint, even in a children's movie.

While the score is excellent, it is sadly under-presented on the album, with only thirty-two minutes appearing, seven of which are the suite. Thankfully, there was a promo score which featured fifty-four minutes and is a much better presentation of the epic scope and sweeping yet understated quality of this Goldsmith work. After, of course, the regular release has been bought, sending the money to those who work to make movie scores available to us, the promo is definitely worth looking into for those who enjoyed the score.

As a score, Mulan is far above most any other score for an animated movie. While comparisons with Beauty and the Beast are useless because of their differing styles, Mulan employs a method all its own for its effect. Not as innocent as Menken, not as over-the-top 'big' as Zimmer, the Goldsmith animation style is something which I certainly wish we could have had more of. 

-Colin Thomson 

Track List

Honor to Us All
Reflection
I'll Make A Man Out of You
A Girl Worth Fighting For
True to Your Heart
Suite from Mulan
Attack on the Wall
Mulan's Decision
Blossoms
The Hun's Attack
The Burned out Village
Reflection

The Dark Knight




Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard


Rating: 3.4


The hype surrounding the release of The Dark Knight was enormous. Long before any reviews of the movie, people were already in anticipation. With the tragic death of Heath Ledger, the anticipation built. Then, the early screenings came. Rarely, if ever, have I seen critics come together in such swarms to praise a movie. Nearly everyone praised Ledger's performance as the Joker, many hailed its dark twist on the comic series as brilliance, and not a few called it a masterpiece. In fact, the anticipation built to such fever pitched intensity, it seemed impossible for the movie not to be a letdown in comparison. What is interesting and unusual is that the music, as well, was hyped before its release. Zimmer's constant affirmation that the music for Christopher Nolan's Batman would differ greatly from the famous "jolly" theme written by Danny Elfman, as well as Howard's praise for Zimmer's "one note theme" which he wrote for the Joker, all had film music fans wondering if this time around, the duo really would put out something original and groundbreaking.

The answer to this question comes with a resounding "No". Unfortunately, the music is neither original nor groundbreaking. As was the case with Batman Begins, Zimmer was given the action/adventure music, and Howard was left with the subtle aspects of the score. Perfect match, right? Howard is a master of the delicate, and few people can repeat one motif as many times in a row as Zimmer can. Perfect. Thus the quiet moments are trademark Howard, and the loud moments are trademark Zimmer. The result, once again, is very unbalanced.

OK, so what exactly is this famous "one note theme"? Well, um, how can I say this? It is not one note. In fact, it is hundreds of notes, because it is a glissando. But then, if we really wanted to get technical, each note played on an acoustic instrument will have very minor fluctuations of pitch, thus becoming more than one note as well. So, sure, we can call the Joker's theme one note if we want to. The fact is, it is a glissando. It is, in fact, a musical devise, separated from anything that gave the devise any meaning. So, what is next? Perhaps we will get a two note theme: the trill. There would be a good theme devoid, in and of itself, of any musical meaning. This is why the Joker's theme stretches the limits of the definition of music. In fact, I would call it sound design. Which technically, I suppose, music is. But enough circular definitions. No doubt the Joker's theme works well in the movie, creating tensity and alarm (it bears a striking resemblance to a siren) and, most important of all, chaos. Chaos defines the Joker, and as such, it could be argued, his music should be chaos to the musical world. Fair enough. Like I said, his theme works very well in the movie, it just stretches the definition of music.

The biggest problem I have with this album is the action music. Churning bass, repeating strings, orchestral hit, repeating strings, repeating strings, churning bass, repeating strings, orchestral hit, orchestral hit, orchestral hit, repeating strings... So it goes. Many say that this type of action music just works better on-screen than it does on-album. Certainly. If you are not listening, many things sound much better. But that is not the point. Certainly repeating strings can add drive. But be careful when watching the movie not to listen to carefully; it will spoil it. The fact is, music that does not work on cd will NEVER work better on movie than music which does work on cd. And this has absolutely nothing to do with style. Even minimalistic or atonal music is better on-screen if it is actually interesting music. Only if a movie is purposefully boring will boring music ever work better for it. Unfortunately, the action music in The Dark Knight is too often mind-numbingly repetitive.

The real strength on the album comes with Howard's music for Harvey "two-face" Dent. Noble and heroic, yet subdued and classy, the music represents well the character, as well as changing to fit with the way he changes. The difference between what Zimmer wrote and what Howard wrote is glaringly obvious. The trademark Howard piano moments, though too few, are here, as well as his delicate orchestrations and melodies. Unfortunately, his music definitely takes a back-seat, and only rarely shows up between Zimmer's.

What is so interesting to me is Howard's constant praise for the "groundbreaking" work Zimmer has done with the Batman series, when his own music is of such higher quality. The way that he let's his music take back-stage and continues to promote Zimmer's work really is admirable. What is even more interesting is that Christopher Nolan, who obviously knows how to make movies, seems to consider the music for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to be incredible. Consider some of the liner notes in The Dark Knight: "I have admitted to both Hans and James separately that one reason I was inspired to revisit the world of Batman Begins was the extraordinary music they created for that film. Music that perfectly captured the tone I was seeking - energetic, but with grandeur - action, but with emotion. Their music was more innovative than people realized, and in the years since I haven't seen a trailer for a big action move that didn't reference their work." This is just incredible to me. I assume that he must have chosen Zimmer as his main composer by his previous works. But if he has heard anything Zimmer has done, he must know that his Batman music is just more of the same. Repeating string motifs, churning bass, orchestral hit. Sure, action movies reference the style, but the style became overused long before Batman Begins reused the overused techniques.

Nolan begins his last paragraph by saying, "Whether it was James's relentless pursuit of perfect pitch or Hans's lifelong quest for the ultimate drum hit,". I am sorry, but I just don't really know what to make of either of these qualities. Is he saying that James is always working with the orchestra to make them play in tune? Is he saying that James always wanted to be able to hear a doorbell and say which notes are involved? Has orchestration really been Zimmer's lifelong quest? If so, why did he recruit eight, count 'em, EIGHT orchestrators to work on The Dark Knight, and still churn out the exact same textures he always has?

Maybe I just don't get it. All of Howard's comments on how good the music is have been very hard on me, since I usually consider him to be possibly the second best film composer working today. The whole album just strikes me as more of the same. The Joker's theme is fitting, Howard's music is pleasing though not especially inspired, but there is far too much repetitive action music treading heavily upon everything else. The movie deserved far better than this. It deserved something innovative and original. Instead, all we got was more of the same.

-Colin Thomson


Track List:

Why So Serious?
I'm Not A Hero
Harvey Two-Face
Aggressive Expansion
Always A Catch
Blood On My Hands
A Little Push
Like A Dog Chasing A Car
I Am The Batman
And I Thought My Jokes Were Bad
Agent of Chaos
Introduce A Little Anarchy
Watch The World Burn
A Dark Knight

Horton Hears A Who



John Powell


Rating: 7.5


The first serious attempt to turn a Dr. Suess story into a completely computer animated full length feature comes in the form of Horton Hears A Who, and, though the genre seems made for the story, the task of making this type of book a movie is not an easy one. Dr. Suess' books have wit, rhyme, charm, fun, innocence, and a bit of randomness. The genius that comes out of this combination is one that is hardly ever disputed, and Dr. Suess stands as a towering figure in the history of children's stories. The music in this type of film plays a very important part. That sort of tongue-in-cheek, wink wink, charm has to come, in a large part, from the music. John Powell, widely recognized as one of the most creative composers working in film music today, was chosen and brought his considerable skill and experience in the combination of orchestral and synthetic textures to the plate. It certainly looked like the perfect fit.

When it comes to the already mentioned randomness of a story like this, there is no better composer than Powell. The mood and textures constantly rotate, from sweepingly heroic MV/RCP (but better) textures to quiet, tender moments, to almost arcade-ish synths, to jazzy, big-band brass, to heavily percussive, beat-box dance moments, to (in "Horton Suite") the combination of all of these elements. How any composer could hold together such a mishmash of styles, and create anything like a confluent listening experience must be practically impossible, and Powell comes as close as one could. Some have said that enjoyment of this score requires a soft spot for Powell's quirky musical ways. I think it is safe to say that I have that soft spot.

This is not an album to listen to and expect to flow in a musical and thought-out way. Instead, it almost feels as if it has an element of improvisation in it, and this is part of what makes it work so well as a Dr. Suess score. His books, well certainly thought-through, sometimes seems as if he is making it up as he goes, especially with his use of made-up words. Powell's score has captured that mood very well, and randomly playful textures dominate the writing. String pizzicato, staccatos all around, and tinkling percussion are only some of the orchestral textures he employs. But what is even more impressive is the way in which Powell can combine orchestral and synthetic textures, and put real emotion into it. Whereas many composers view these elements as modern and 'edgy' aspects, Powell is so completely at home with his creativity that he can write movingly creative emotional synth parts. A rarity, to be sure.

The album is split into thirty-four tracks, few of which ever meet the three minute mark. Thus, any sort of track-by-track discussion would be tedious to say the least. Suffice to say that the musical interest, especially orchestrationally, rarely if ever lets up. There are also a few themes which get nice treatments and development, the highlight of which would be a quirky little minor bassoon melody, which finds its way into the parts of many woodwinds, but is most impressive and pronounced when played on the bassoon, for which it works perfectly.

While certainly not ground-breaking, this score is still creative and continually interesting. Powell cranks out scores at such a break-neck pace, one would think that they must suffer for it. But Horton Hears A Who is Powell at the top of his animation game, and a Dr. Suess story fits Powell's talents like a glove.

-Colin Thomson


Track List:

Fall From Tree
Cave Of Destiny
Jungle Of Nool
Horton Takes A Luxurious Bath
Enter the Kangaroo
Banana Wars
Saved
Into Whoville / Breaking With The Mayor
Club Nool
The Town Council
Hello
Dr. Larue
The Quest
The Bridge Work
Horton Dance!
Handle With Care
Bedtime
Snow Day
Horton Tells of the Kangaroo's Duplicity
Vlad Attack
Power Grab
Kite Flying Day
Mountain Chase
Clover Field Search
Memory Game
For the Children!!!
Angry Mob
Roping and Caging
We Are Here
Symphonophone
Jojo Save the Day
Hall of the Mayors
Horton Suite
A Big Ending

The Lion King



Hans Zimmer


Rating: 7.2


The release of The Lion King in 1994 signaled a change in the way Disney animated movies were made. Alan Menken, while still having a certain amount of success ahead of him in the form of the controversial yet popular The Hunchback of Notre Dame, had, with the death of Howard Ashman, became the composer of the past, and Hans Zimmer was the new big thing. I would also add, however, that The Lion King was the very beginning of a major slide in quality for Disney. Elton John, pop music legend, was the composer of choice for the songs. Without exception, the songs credit Elton John for the music and Tim Rice for the lyrics. This marked the beginning of a new (and shameful) era in which pop songs were the main musical draw of movies. The Lion King, while not a complete pop-fest by any means, is still aimed more in that direction, and marks a turning point. One which did not turn for the better. So, apart from its historical significance, is The Lion King really that bad? Well, get ready to find out.

The album version separates songs and score, clumping all of the songs which appear in the movie at the beginning, followed by the score, ending with the Elton John performances of each of the songs in the movie besides "Be Prepared" and "Hakuna Matata". To say that I am unfairly biased against pop-ish songs would be an understatement. Thus "Circle of Life", "I Just Can't Wait to be King", "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" all rub me completely wrong, even in the movie versions. "Circle of Life", while containing some excellent background vocals (did Elton John actually write that? Somehow, I doubt it...), just has too much of a dumbed-down feel to it. I don't care for "I Just Can't Wait to be King". But, that song was not written for me, it was written to appeal to children around the age of 1-10 or so, and it seems to have done that effectively.

The one song I have been curiously silent about up until now is the evil and menacing "Be Prepared". I really consider this to be the highest point the songs ever reach in the movie. Again, some very nice background chanting, but this time the music is not trying be "accessible" (read: soft pop), as it was in "Circle of Life", and so there is more freedom of instruments and sung melodies, amounting to a more interesting listen. "Hukana Matata" again is appealing to the 1-10 year-olds, and while I enjoy this one more than "I Just Can't Wait to be King", it still does not quite cut it for me. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight", the movie version, is mostly interesting for the acting talents of the two characters who get dialogue and some singing through the first verse, as well as more good background vocals. But, let me step completely out of character and say that I actually enjoy Elton John's pop version recording of this one more. That is not because it is more musically interesting. It is, in fact, much less. Extremely boring, to be exact, and it even uses a few synth techniques which usually set me against a song. I in no way try to defend the song musically. I just happen to like it a tiny bit.

But, for the real interest, the score. This is Zimmer at his animated best. While the songs in The Prince of Egypt completely obliterate the sung content in The Lion King, the score for The Lion King is where it really starts to soar. Unfortunately, we are given a grand total of four tracks worth of score, compared to the 8 tracks worth of song material. Obviously, this is a disaster. The score is itself excellent. Soaring and unbound, Zimmer really put a lot of himself into this one. "Under the Stars" contains some of the best Zimmer woodwind work to be found, while "...To Die For" is an intense ride the whole way through, first excitingly and then emotionally. The African chanting is incorporated into the texture of much of the score in an excellent way, and, though often more homophonic than I would desire, Zimmer's style fits what he tries to convey through this score very nicely. It is just a shame we don't get any more...

Historically, The Lion King is very important, in an almost sobering way. Gone is the traditional and innocent beauty of Beauty and the Beast. Disney is crumbling to the mighty kingdom of watered-down pop. While not the end product by any stretch of the imagination, The Lion King still stands out to me as a turning point, and a sobering one at that. While a bright moment or two was still on the way for Disney, from this point on it was a downhill slide, and one from which Disney has only ever made half-heated attempts to climb. The score is excellent. The songs are not all bad. The historical implications are, to be blunt, sad.

-Colin Thomson


Track List:

Circle of Life
I Just Can't Wait to be King
Be Prepared
Hakuna Matata
Can You Feel the Love Tonight
This Land
....To Die For
Under the Stars
King of Pride Rock
Circle of Life
I Just Can't Wait to be King
Can You Feel the Love Tonight

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian



Harry Gregson-Williams


Rating: 6.5


Number two of the Chronicles of Narnia series is, stylistically, more of the same. Director Andrew Adamson knows how to create a fantasy, eye candy atmosphere, and Prince Caspian has even more of that feel. The computer generated animation in this film is used in the same near half-and half ratio with the live action, and in such a clean, non-gritty way, that a definite fantasy feel is attained. Many people disliked this aspect of the first film, and the Lord of the Rings comparisons were frequent and irrelevant. The fact that these were completely different films, just as the books were completely different books, didn't seem to matter. Folks wanted another Lord of the Rings, and it is a mercy that those in charge of the Narnia production had a different vision.

The original Narnia score received much the same useless comparisons with Lord of the Rings that the movie did. There can be no doubt that Howard Shore produced an impressively coherent score for The Lord of the Rings, but I am afraid that anyone who thinks that his scores would have fit the Narnia movies is, well, how can I say this? Wrong. Because of the comparisons, the first Narnia score did not receive especially high ratings, with many reviewers complaining about the odd mixture of orchestral and synthetic elements. For some, the soft pop-ish "Evacuating London" track was the problem, for others, the electric violin was like fingernails on a chalkboard, while still other turned their noses up at the epic, Media Ventures sounding "The Battle". For many it was a combination of all of these elements, adding up to a collective snobbery towards the soundtrack.


Trying not to, of course, pat myself on the back too much, I would like to say that my original review, while in no way raving, did not look down on the score stylistically. My main complaint was the lack of interest and thematic development in many of the middle tracks. In fact I ended the review by saying "It is not because Gregson-Williams didn't know that syncopation and the use of the synth are modern techniques, but because he chose to use them anyway. I think it was a good choice.". It seems many other listeners and reviewers have come to this opinion, and the reviews this time around are much more favorable.

Many themes find reprisals in this installment, and there is actually a general lack of new themes in the film. There is an excellent motif for Reepicheep (or the mice in generel, I am not sure which), which, very unfortunately, does not find its way into the album presentation at all until the last score track, "The Door in the Air", at 1:19 - 1:30, set against an end-of-the-story-ish backing. The non-inclusion of this theme really is a shame, as I think it might be the very best in the Narnia series to date, with its creative representation of mice. It gets its best presentation during the raid on the castle, but the track "Raid on the Castle" I believe, begins after this presentation.

"Prince Caspian Flees" really sets the tone for the entire elbum, with racing strings, and somewhat Media Ventures-ish textures. The entire album, in fact, is closest to the track "The Battle" from the previus installment stylistically, and Gregson-Williams has really started to perfect the style. "Raid on the Castle", despite the disappointing lack of Reepicheep's theme, also showcases some excellent battle music. "Miraz Crowned" shows Gregson-Williams' heretofore unused in this series talent for drawn out orchestral crescendos, and is actually quite impressive to listen to.

The White Witch music, most obviously shown on the track "The Stone Table" in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, gets a reprise on the track "Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance", and it is as disturbing as ever. One of the better tracks is "The Duel", and it contains my favorite moment on the album. At 2:18 - 2:24 Gregson-Williams turns a theme which had previously been used as a type of Wonder of Narnia theme into a rhythm-oriented march piece, underscoring Peter's duel with king Miraz. It really is a great musical representation of a line from the movie, used in at least one of the previews, where the dwarf Trumpkin tells the four children from London, "You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember". The track which ends the score, "The Door in the Air", is very similar to "Only the Beginning of the Adventure", which ended The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. While many loved that track, neither it nor this one especially impressed me. But if you liked the ending of the first one, you are likely to enjoy this ending as well.

The inclusion of the four pop songs which end the album and play through the credits was inevitable, but I really do not understand how starting "The Call" while the movie is still playing can be termed in any way acceptable. For me, this is doing a major disservice to Gregson-Williams, by taking away what could be some of the most musically important moments of the movie. Instead of getting a chance to do something subtle, hinting at some theme or memory from Narnia, or who knows what he might do, we instead get an obvious "Ok, this is the wrap, the movie is over (even though it isn't yet) and we are prematurely ripping you from the story and placing you back in your theater seats. Also, you might as well leave now, because there is no musical reason to sit through the credits. Just more of the same". I know I am harsh on pop songs in movies, but the placement here really upset me. Other than these major gripes, "The Call" is actually not a bad a song, if one can separate it from the way it was used in the movie. The rest are nothing special.

As the series progresses, I must say that I am glad to see that both director Adamson and composer Gregson-Williams will not be returning for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, even though I have enjoyed their work for both Narnia films. It just seems that Prince Caspian was far to similar artistically to the first one, and, while it worked here, I think one more would be too much. Still, Prince Caspian is a very nice listen, and an improvement on the first score. Gregson-Williams, while using many of the same themes, seems to do much more with them this time, and they are more meaningful. There is less filler music, and most serves a purpose, working for the artistic whole. While it is good to have fresh writing on the way, Gregson-Williams really stepped up to the plate and delivered.

-Colin Thomson


Track list:

Prince Caspian Flees
The Kings and Queens of Narnia
Journey to the How
Arrival at Aslan's How
Raid on the Castle
Miraz Crowned
Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance
The Duel
The Armies Assemble
Battle at Aslan's How
Return of the Lion
The Door in the Air
The Call
A Dance 'Round the Memory Tree
This is Home
Lucy

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull



John Williams


Rating: 8.7


It's The Phantom Menace all over again. It's every film music fan's dream (or nightmare) come true. It's anything but under-anticipated. It is, in fact, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Hype seems like too tame a word for the recently released addition to the beloved Indiana Jones series. The themes which the general public can recognize and whistle 18 years after the fact (the most recent fact, that is) are few and far, far between. Of course, John Williams scores seem to be some of the only ones with that type of longevity (Jaws, E. T., Star Wars), and we have already seen old themes reprised in a new series, with great box office success, in the form of the prequel Star Wars movies.

The similarities between The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Phantom Menace are obvious and comparisons have been going on for quite some time on the internet. For The Phantom Menace, Williams composed an amazingly epic, fun, adventurous, fascinating and meaningful score, which was subsequently ripped to shreds and pasted back in wherever Lucas felt it would be right. This is a very sore-spot for film music fans. The material quality vs. presentation quality difference has rarely been more pronounced, and Lucas' habit of jumping between battle scenes resulted in snippets of "Duel of the Fates" being stuck in with Gungan, semi-slapstick battle music. The result is a disaster that film music fans have worked extremely hard to unravel and turn into something similar to what Williams must have envisioned. It would have not been as bad had Lucas made all of the cuts before Williams composed the music. But, because of the order, the cuts mean very little musically. I think this might have been the downfall of Attack of the Clones as well. When Williams saw the type of musical artistic compromise that was Lucas' editing, he had a much harder time putting as much effort into the second installment. Of course, this is nothing but conjecture on my part, and I have yet to form a complete opinion on why, after this, Revenge of the Sith was such a complete musical triumph.

But enough on Star Wars. Why is this relevant to an Indian Jones review? The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had a very similar anticipation level going in. Expectations were at fever pitch, just like they were for The Phantom Menace, and Williams had the almost impossible task of living up to those expectations. But he put everything he had into it, and, as opposed to The Phantom Menace, it paid off. This time 'round Spielberg was in the director's chair, and, as a result, the film is beautifully shot, the dialogue is impressive, and the music, thankfully, seems to be relatively intact.

So, then, what of the music? First of all, of course, we are treated to the first really good quality recording of the "Raiders March". After 18 years and endless overplaying it has lost none of its effect, and remains one of the best adventure themes ever. Part way through the track it segues into Marion's theme, which, I always thought, far outdid the character and was far more than she deserved. Beautiful and soaring, it, too, remains one of the most effective love themes. Nothing of great interest is done with these two themes presentation, but they serve to create a "Here we go again" sense of excitement.

Williams composed three new major themes for this installment, and each one is impressive and deserves a close look. First of all, the Crystal Skull theme gets a complete concert arrangement on the track "Call of the Crystal". The theme really is an interesting combination of theme and motif. There is a three note motif that is used as the Crystal Skull motif throughout, and is very effective inverted as well, but there is also a more drawn out melody that is usually played on top of the motif. The result is that there really are two different musical representations of the Crystal Skull, and while they work wonderfully together, they can both function excellently on their own.

Next in the line-up of new themes is Mutt's treatment. Mutt, as Williams put it, is more of a Robin Hood character. He is flamboyant, he swings on vines and he sword fights. What more could you ask for in musical material? Williams, of course, does not disappoint, and while this is perhaps the weakest in a very strong line-up of new themes, it is still a fun ride. The scherzo-type piece is both fast-paced and thematic, a combination that some consider to be sadly lacking in much of Williams new music. The music is used effectively throughout the soundtrack, and gets a very good concert treatment on the track "The Adventures of Mutt".

Irina's theme is my personal favorite of the new themes. While the Crystal Skull theme fits its material perfectly and Mutt's theme is a blast to listen to, Irina's theme is an amazing combination of the two. Though the concert arrangement on the track "Irina's Theme" is short and a little disappointing for the obvious potential of the theme, it is used on many other tracks very effectively. Seductive and dangerous, Williams chromatic melody outlines a musical identity of a level of completeness rarely found in the modern film score scene. Though the most commonly used role for the theme is a seductive one, some of the greatest moments in the score are the march treatments. The versatility of the theme is a tribute to the genius of Williams.

Following the first four tracks of concert arrangements, all the new themes begin to turn into something meaningful. Williams uses the Raiders March theme to great effect once again as part of action cues, such as the beginning of "The Journey to Akator". "A Whirl Through Academe" shows intelligent use of two theme-based actions music, with both the Raiders March and Mutt's theme laying the groundwork for a fast paced piece of music. "The Spell of the Skull" and "Return" are dark, brooding cues based on the Crystal Skull theme, and "Return" builds the theme through an orchestral crescendo impressively before suddenly returning to low, menacing music. Outside of the concert arrangement, "The Jungle Chase" is the first of the tracks to showcase Irina's theme. But that is not all this gem of a track contains. Williams further complicates things by turning this action cue into a three theme based piece of music, with Raider's March, Mutt's theme and Irina's theme all getting chances at center stage. The march renditions of Irina's theme presented on this track are some of the best moments in the entire soundtrack.

From this point on in the album presentation the music takes on a darker tone. The Crystal Skull theme begins to be the more dominant theme, and its brooding harmonies control a large portion of the remaining soundscape. "Orellana's Cradle" uses the Crystal Skull theme, and never builds to much of anything, wandering instead among the Skull's dark tones, before doing an interesting attempt at the the Raiders March, which drops down and fades away quickly. "Grave Robbers" is a percussion driven piece, which treads an interesting line between brooding and action. Ethnic drums and swirling string pizzicato combine to create very foreign textures. The Crystal Skull melodic theme is used in the tense "Hidden Treasure and the City of Gold". Building to a crescendo that ends in the middle of the track, the music then turns into an impressive display of continually tense action music. Instead of Williams normal fast paced and wild action music, he uses repeating string motifs to keep tension high, while signaling danger throughout the brass section.

After wondering through more brooding music based on the Crystal Skull theme, we get to Williams musical representation of ants on the track "Ants!". Though perhaps not the most original of orchestrations, the swirling string section is effective to say the least, and, living in Florida, I can tell you just how well the music represents the creepy-crawlies. "Temple Ruins and the Secret Revealed" takes the tension up a notch, and holds it there for the duration of the track, before finally being released with the Raiders March theme in "The Departure", after which Williams builds to an appropriate finale, which ends on a curiously subsided note. "Finale" is 9:20 minutes of pure Indiana Jones musical enjoyment. Beginning with a rendition of Marion's theme, it quickly goes back to the Raiders March, in all of its full-blown glory. This track, being used as the music for the credits is really nothing but a tour-de-force of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull themes, and next in line is Irina, followed closely by Mutt's spunky musical identity. Marion's theme gets reprised once again, before we get one more full blown blast of the Raiders March, which turns into a fascinating show of Williams skill in counterpoint, before taking a surprising and fascinating build-up into the last orchestral hit.

Not only is this the first Indiana Jones score in 18 years, it is the first Williams score in two years, the longest break between scores in Williams' film scoring history. But once again Williams shows he has not lost his touch, and, though it might take a little longer at his present age, his end-product is far above any competition in the modern film scoring scene. I would say what the Crystal Skull theme represents, and how it blows away all competition, but that would give away too much of the story. Once you know what Williams is representing with this theme, it is obvious that he can represent it far better than any one else today. Mutt's theme is fun, and a worthy addition to the impressive array of Indiana Jones themes. Irina's theme, as I have already said, is my favorite of the new themes, and is a perfect character representation. All in all, I don't think it is too early to start talking Academy Awards. Finally, we have another Williams score, and believe me, it has been worth the wait.

-Colin Thomson


Track Listing:

Raiders March
Call of the Crystal
The Adventures of Mutt
Irina's Theme
The Snake Pit
The Spell of the Skull
The Journey to Akator
A Whirl Through Academe
"Return"
The Jungle Chase
Orellana's Cradle
Grave Robbers
Hidden Treasure and the City of Gold
Secret Doors and Scorpions
Oxley's Dilemma
Ants!
Temple Ruins and the Secret Revealed
The Departure
Finale

Aladdin



Alan Menken


Rating: 8.2


Number one was a success, number two was a success, why not go for three? Disney has never been one to miss out on a money-making opportunity, and this one had great artistic potential as well. The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast were enough to cement the Howard Ashman - Alan Menken reputation, and Aladdin was all that was needed to turn that reputation into legend. Unfortunately, Ashman would not live to see the far reaching effects his work would have, and his death of AIDS at age 40, part way through the production of Aladdin, is the one sobering part of the otherwise lighthearted and exceptionally "fun" Aladdin. Tim Rice was brought in after Ashman's death, and there have rarely been bigger shoes to fill. While Rice's lyrics are exceptional, the whole production process changed with Ashman's death, and Rice, knowing very well the tall order of finishing a Menken/Ashman project, frequently deferred to Menken on important decisions. While this shows an excellent respect for Ashman, and perhaps is the best thing Rice could have done, it is far different than the workflow Menken was used to. As the booklet included in The Music Behind The Magic package says, "Ashman's forceful personality and dynamic vision were stamped so deeply, not only on the projects but on the people working on them, that even a writer of Rice's stature felt the need to tread a bit lightly" and "Despite his top-notch track record, Rice very much saw his role in this as being adaptable and subservient to the project-in-progress. This, in turn, meant that Menken - who more often than not deferred to Ashman in terms of choices about where songs would go in a story and what their thematic nature would be - had to assume more leadership than he had been accustomed to". While an excellent chance for Menken to step out, the over-all product suffers, albeit only slightly.

The album begins nicely with "Arabian Nights", and Bruce Adler does a very good job singing the part of the the merchant narrator. His Eastern vocal ornamentation is convincing, yet he keeps his singing firmly enough implanted in Western sensibilities, and it never sounds too foreign. Menken's music, making extensive use of the most simplistic of Eastern rhythms, also never sounds forced into that style. Though obviously far from authentic, the music does an admirable job of riding the fence between an Eastern sound, and still making sense to its Western audience. One note on the words of this song, however: The original release had the words "Where they cut off your nose if they don't like your face". These have been replaced in many versions with "Where it's flat and immense and the heat is intense" for the sake of political correctness. Though by themselves the replacement is not a problem, the following line "It's barbaric, but hey, it's home" makes no sense coming after the changed words. Though it does not detract much from the listening experience, it is worth noting for those it would concern. As a general rule, the earlier releases should have the original lyrics, but, if it does not bother you, either are fine. Robin Williams comedic introduction, presented on the track "Legend of the Lamp" is much less of a detraction than dialogue usually is on a soundtrack, and the flow is not especially interrupted by this interjection.

"One Jump Ahead" is a song written after Ashman's death, which was meant to be a song like "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim", but would fit with the drastically changed story-line. Though perhaps not on the same level with it's inspiration, it certainly is a fun and crazy song, and Menken incorporates jazz elements creatively. Brad Kane, who does an admirable job on "A Whole New World", doesn't quite seem to have what it takes to do as story-oriented a song as this. His singing style soars in that ballad style genre, but sounds a little forced here. Basically the opposite of Robin Williams, who's talking-singing combination works wonderfully for his songs, but could never have a powerful emotional impact (although we may never get a chance to find out). "A Whole New World" is the obviously radio-aimed song, but it still works better in the film than most of those type of attempts. If you would like a sampling of some of the most optimistic singing ever recorded, listen to the job Lea Salonga does on this song. Rarely has someone been able to capture so much happy, excited, optimistic character in a voice, and she and Kane seem to feed off of each other for the song. Rice's lyrics, while certainly modern sounding, fit the over-all modern feel of the film. Menken wrote a nice melody, and most of the orchestration works. The one problem is the piano. Most of what it does the whole song is play either the melody or arrpegiated chords. While certainly very common, it is uncreative, and the song suffers slightly from it.

Robin Williams has two showpieces (besides the introduction), and, though much credit should be handed over to the musical and lyrical writers, he takes full advantage of them. Full of character, animated yet never forced, exuberant and in-your-face, as well as, well, anything his character calls for (and it calls for a lot). "Friend Like Me" is by far the most jazzy song on the album, and the chromatic melody works great, even though Williams only infrequently actually makes use of it. "Prince Ali" is one of my favorites on the album. Up-tempo and lively, yet with much pomp and bravado, Williams introduction of the "prince" must go down in history as one of the most impressive ever.

The orchestral score that Menken composed, obviously to back and not usurp the songs is very good. Not on level with Beauty and the Beast, it is still excellent. There are moments of tender delicateness, as in "Street Urchins", "To Be Free" and "The Kiss", and there are moments of danger, adventure, adrenaline, and epic-ness, as in "Jafar's Hour", "The Ends of the Earth", and "The Battle". While never reaching the sort of emotional climax created in less than half that number of score tracks on the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack, the underscore is still a fun ride, and holds up under repeated listening. As for the pop rendition of "A Whole New World", I think I have made myself sufficiently clear on how I feel about these additions. Suffice to say that, no matter how unbelievable, the pop rendition is actually worse than the one in Beauty and the Beast, though it seems less sacrilegious since the quality has a little less far to drop in Aladdin in order to reach that depth.

At the beginning of the review I talked of Ashman's death, and how Rice coming in as lyricist changed things. A fascinating (but a little expensive) out-of-print optional purchase for Menken or Ashman fans is a set, already mentioned, called The Music Behind The Magic. Providing four discs with many previously unreleased tracks, it gives wonderful insight into The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and, most interestingly, Aladdin. After Ashman's death the story of Aladdin ended up changing dramatically, thus many incredible songs written by the Menken/Ashman duo were thrown out. No one will be able to say that one way would have been better, but in my opinion Aladdin could not have been any less of a hit had the original songs and story been used. The fourth disc of the set is made up entirely of unused Aladdin materiel, besides an early demo of "Friend Like Me". "Babkak, Omar Aladdin, Kassim", "Proud of Your Boy", "How Quick They Forget" and "High Adventure" easily rival the songs used on the film, and are immensely entertaining even in their demo quality.

Aladdin is fun and clever. It is more modern sounding than Beauty and the Beast, but mostly this is done in a jazzy and entertaining way, and not a grating, repetitive pop song way. But because of the glimpse we have been afforded by The Music Behind The Magic, we can not help but wish for more from Aladdin. Very solid, there was more possible from the creators. One has to wonder if a Beauty and the Beast rival was in the works. Instead, we have an excellent and consistently entertaining effort that spends its entire time bordering on real greatness, but rarely crossing that line.

-Colin Thomson

Track List:
Arabian Nights
Legend of the Lamp
One Jump Ahead
Street Urchins
One Jump Ahead (Reprise)
Friend Like Me
To Be Free
Prince Ali
A Whole New World
Jafar's Hour
Prince Ali (Reprise)
The Ends of the Earth
The Kiss
On A Dark Night
Jasmine Runs Away
The Cave Of Wonders
Aladdin's Word
The Battle
Happy End In Agrabah
A Whole New World (Aladdin's Theme)

Beauty and the Beast



Alan Menken


Rating: 9.6


Note from the editor: We are very sorry for the overbearing length of the following article. The reviewer's enthusiasm for this particular album is unbounded, and he would permit absolutely no editorial trimming. Therefore, for a brief synopsis of the merits of the score, see the last paragraph of the article. For a long-winded, rambling and gushing thesis on why Beauty and the Beast should be owned by everyone everywhere, see the review in its entirety.



Following upon the huge success that was The Little Mermaid, Alan Menken was once again called upon to collaborate with lyricist Howard Ashman and make their magic in a film that was to be given the title Beauty and the Beast. Having set the standard high with The Little Mermaid and the way in which that movie seemed to capture the hearts of its audience, the order was a tall one. And, seeing that both movies were musicals, the score was sure to be song-oriented. This presented another problem. Sometimes the "rules" for writing good songs are much less defined than they are for writing a good purely instrumental score. Songs seem to have more power over the average movie-goer than scores, but often what makes them good is rather undefined. A score can frequently be analyzed to show its genius. But songs are usually too simple for this sort of scrutiny, and are rarely if ever aided by that type of attention. Thus it can be very hard to know for sure if an audience will deem a musical good or not. What Disney was asking Menken and Ashman to do was quite a task. Fortunately, the people at Disney (whether they knew it or not at the time) had such a combination of composer and songwriter as to bear comparison with such greats as Roger and Hammerstein and others, and the duo was more than up to the task.

As an introduction piece, "Prologue" is excellent. The underscore Menken created for this sets a perfect tone for the movie to follow. One of the more outstanding challenges facing film composers is how to create music that underscores dialogue without getting in its way. Masterful examples of how this can be accomplished abound, but I think this one certainly deserves a place in film score history as one of the most well done. The way Menken combines the high strings, xylophone and piano for the high notes is very delicate and "magical" sounding. The bass heavy textures come and go in the composition giving it all a very fantasy-like sound, and Menken also uses alternately the oboe, flute, cello, and double bass to contribute to parts of the melody in an exemplary way. David Ogden Stiers narrates the whole thing beautifully, and the script for it is written well and flows nicely.

From here throughout the rest of the songs we pretty much have nothing but some best and most loved Disney songs ever written. "Belle" is the first to show the fantastic work Paige O'Hara did as Belle throughout the movie. Full of character, yet soaring and refined, she is surely a standout on a nothing-but-standouts album. Taking place in the middle of town, Ashman had plenty of characters at his disposal, and he utilizes them well, wandering through moments of craziness and moments of strong emotion. Menken is a master of the crazy in animated music, and the way he switches between the upbeat and powerfully moving never ceases to amaze. "Belle (Reprise)" is very short, but soaring and moving.

Though both Gaston (Richard White) and his side-kick Lefou (Jesse Corti) both make appearances in the preceding track, on "Gaston" the duo rules the scene. Throughout the number, Lefou is trying to cheer Gaston up by telling him how great he is, a job Gaston gladly assists with. Richard White shows a wonderful amount of Gastons's character in his voice, and we can clearly hear the arrogance coming through the vocal chords, even apart from the clearly arrogant words. Put to triple meter, the song works as a sort of a waltz, and at parts is scored very much like the 19th century waltz, with the bass instruments accenting the one beat, and everything else taking the two and three beats. Ashman has some of his most witty and clever lines in this song, and quotables abound. "Gaston (Reprise)" has Belle's father, Maurice (Rex Everhart), coming in and telling everyone that Belle has been kidnapped. He is thrown out, and Gaston begins to concoct his scheme to have Maurice put into an asylum in order to convince Belle to marry him. The sung conversation between Gaston and Lefou is very humorous, and very classic.

Probably the second most well known song on the album (after "Beauty and the Beast"), "Be Our Guest" is a catchy and witty song in which Lumiere (Jerry Orbach) presents dinner to Belle. Jerry Orbach does a fantastic job as the French candlestick holder, and his voice is full of all the exuberance required of the character. Cleverly orchestrated and arranged accompaniment underscores well the very witty lyrics, and extravagant bravura is on display. The grandiose is presented fantastically as the whole kitchen shows off its abilities to Belle. In "Something There", Menken's competence in underscoring fantasy romance really shines through, and the innocence of this song is irresistible. Once again, O'Hara steals the show in her performance as Belle, and her mixture of confusion and joy at what she feels is shown very nicely.

The mob song shows Gaston at his full blown best. As he convinces the townspeople of the Beast's evil intent, the power behind his voice becomes very impressive. Though there is a moment (0:23) where the mixing lacks the punch that would be optimal here, most listeners will probably think nothing of it, and it does very little to detract. Menken combines underscore with dialogue in the middle of this song very impressively, and it not only adds noise, but creates an excellent bridge from one part of the song to the other. The most famous song on this very famous album, "Beauty and the Beast", as the title suggests, is the song that sums up the whole story. Though Menken's melody is appropriately simple and approachable, there are bits of orchestration that seem too pop-radio aimed. Namely, the piano chords that play relentlessly throughout pretty much the whole thing. Though perhaps a nice device, it screams soft pop to anyone who pays attention to the overused techniques of that genre. Still, there is some excellent woodwind work here, and the strings add a nice touch. However, musical preferences aside, there can be no doubt that Ashman did some of his best simple work ever on this song. His genius can be shown appropriately by merely quoting a few lines from "Beauty and the Beast": "Tale as old as time/ Tune as old as song/ Bittersweet and strange/ Finding you can change/ Learning you were wrong/ Certain as the sun/ Rising in the east/ Tale as old as time/ Song as old as rhyme/ Beauty and the Beast".

Definitely the most underrated aspect of the album is its score. Many people consider Menken to be nothing more than a tune-smith, but I am afraid that I could not disagree more. With Beauty and the Beast, Menken created a style that would prove invaluable to the many composers who need a style to work in, rather than inventing their own. As a fantasy fairy-tale, Beauty and the Beast is without peer. In The Little Mermaid Menken began to develop his fantasy musical style. Beauty and the Beast is the product. Menken's genius is in his ability to create an entire fantasy world. One that we find ourselves drawn to, and one that we would love to be a part of. Almost utopian in nature, this world is the essence of what fantasy is all about. At this point many would become uninterested in this musical world, saying that it lacks conflict and thus depth. They are completely right. This is where Menken begins his real manipulation. As the listener comes to care for this fantasy world more and more, he introduces something that seems out of place: danger. Having so masterfully built his world, the harsher types of music he presents have an even more powerful effect. We do not want this world to fall apart, and we do not want it to lose its innocence. Thus we are put directly into the mindset of the characters in the story. We feel the heartache that they feel as problems arise. We feel their fear and apprehension. Finally, we feel their jubilance at having come through the danger.

But that is only half of it. All of these things could be done, and have been done, with many types of music. But Menken works primarily in the animated musical scene, and is quite confined when it comes to style. He can never become too intense in his scoring, and must always keep everything child-like enough to fit the movie for which he is writing his music. But something that is very important to keep in mind is the difference in terms between "child-like" and "child-ish". Far too often composers resort to the child-ish to make their music appealing to children, creating moments of humor and such that lend nothing to the artistic whole. Menken avoids this trap completely in Beauty and the Beast, and every little bit of the score is a fascination to listen to.

"To the Fair" is probably the lightest of the score presented on the album. Its part is to build a fantasy world, and it does so admirably. Never straying far into either happy or sad emotion, it is stationary music, and probably the least interesting of the score on the album. Not that it is uninteresting in any form of the word. It just has less to recommend itself than any of the others. "West Wing" underscores Belles venture into the Beast's forbidden portion of his castle, his outrage upon finding her there, her flight and subsequent battle with the wolves. It is important to note that the original album did not include the wolf chase music. It seems that most all versions now for sale include it, but as a precaution it would be good to make sure that the track length is 4:25 to ensure that you get all of the score that you can. At first mysterious and curious, this track turns dark quickly. Belles flight and the wolves attack has very driving music as its background, and there are moments of strong emotion mixed in with the fast moving chase-like scoring.

"The Beast Lets Belle Go" is a tender bit of scoring that wanders through delicate orchestrations until it finds itself in an impressive crescendo before descending back into the quiet. Most of the woodwinds are used wonderfully on this track, with both the flute and oboe showing great expressiveness. For me, the highest highlight on a cd of nothing but highlights is "Battle On The Tower". It underscores the villagers attack on the Beast's castle, and the subsequent showdown between the Beast and Gaston. The first half shows what truly great child-like action scoring is. Sometimes humorous, sometimes scary, sometimes just fun, it is the best example of this type of scoring I have ever been able to find. The second half, however, is where this track really proves its worth. From 2:24 to the end is what I consider to be some of the most amazing music ever written for a film. The power in Menken's scoring is unmatched. Moving from driving rhythms to tear-jearking thematic reprisals, the track throws the listener through emotion after emotion, and doesn't let up. There is a superb and very short rendition of the Prologue theme right before going into one of the most stirring versions of Belle's longing theme to be heard on the album. Just as this reaches its climax, the music is hurled back into heavy brass scoring and snare rhythms, just before the best of the many examples of Menken falling music. Many just can't get past the songs on this cd, but I believe that this track is where Menken's genius is shown to its fullest extent.

As a wrap-up, "Transformation" ties everything up very nicely. Starting sadly, it soon becomes full of wonder as the Beast begins to transform. From there on, it is celebration. Yet the celebration music never reaches over-the-top in its attempts at jubilance, and Menken's restraint is perfect. Instead we get a kind of indescribable joy from the conclusion. The typical Menken choral climax at the ends works perfectly, and ends one of the best film music experiences you are ever going to find.

Well, unfortunately, that doesn't end it, and the inclusion of a pop version of the main song seems to be unavoidable in these type of movies. Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson both lend their pop-oriented voices to what was perfection. It probably would not seem so bad if put on an album of less artistic genius, but its inclusion here seems almost sacrilegious. The music is, of course, changed to the usual pop techniques, such as a boring as ever drum kit and synth writing that is unimaginative even for pop music. The result is, well, unfortunate. But don't despair, for the is hope! Lucky for you, the delete option exists on both Windows Media Player and iTunes, and even if you usually do your listening on a cd player, you can always burn a copy of the cd without the song. In the unfortunate event that you don't have a computer (how are you reading this, by the way?), or your computer doesn't have a cd burner, you will just have to skip it. Or maybe you will like it. Stranger things have happened. Maybe.

What more can I say? This album is groundbreaking in both its songs and score. The style was copied time and time again afterwards, but never, ever, with this kind of emotional success. Its songs are lyrically witty, and compositionally sound. The score, often considered lower quality, is also groundbreaking in its innocent and emotional style. Having stood the test of time, this work has emerged as probably the best thing Disney ever did in an animated movie. Beauty and the Beast is a masterpiece in every way.

-Colin Thomson


Track Listing:

Prologue
Belle
Belle (Reprise)
Gaston
Gaston (Reprise)
Be Our Guest
Something There
The Mob Song
Beauty and the Beast
To The Fair
West Wing
The Beast Lets Belle Go
Battle On The Tower
Transformation
Beauty and the Beast (Pop Single Duet)

The Little Mermaid



Alan Menken

Rating: 7.4


As the first in a line of enormous Disney animated musical hits, The Little Mermaid has become an intrinsic part of the culture Disney has created for itself. There is no doubt that this movie will, for all of the foreseeable future, hold a place in the hearts of Disney fans. It has all the lightheartedness of which these type of movies are made, and the story focuses around a young person who wants to leave home, which seems to be an extra point for it in many circles. Nearly two decades later, its longevity has been proven, and fans abound. Not only did The Little Mermaid begin Disney's run of animated musicals, it also began Alan Manken and Howard Ashman's collaboration and their tenure as Disney's heavy-hitting musical duo. No doubt The Little Mermaid will be remembered favorably because of its historical implications. With the release of the Two Disc Special Edition in 2006, it was high time it's music was brought under an unbiased-by-history microscope. Such I here present to you.

Much, if not all, of the credit for The Little Mermaid's timelessness can be handed unreservedly over to the songs. Besides the two tracks "Main Title - The Little Mermaid" and "Fanfare", the first ten tracks are all songs, ranging from trite to moving. "Daughters of Triton" is impossible to defend, and trite might be too generous for it. Of course, we have to assume it was written this way on purpose, and is merely a venture into the low quality side of child-ish to which Menken and Ashman rarely stoop. "Fathoms Below" is, though a step up, still a good distance below the Manken/Ashman output we can now expect, given what we later learned the pair was capable of. These are the only two songs, however, that lack the Menken/Ashman touch. Were they the standard of the album, it would have to be placed barely in the listen-able category. Fortunately, we have much of greater quality to occupy us, and, though a smudge, these songs do not overly mar the effect of the album.

So, then, we have six songs of normal Menken/Ashman worth, and, firmly at the bottom of this very selective category sits "Poor Unfortunate Souls", the song in which the arch-nemisis of the mermaid's (Ariel's) father convinces her to give up her voice in order to become a human. The song begins in a slightly lighthearted manner, almost out of place for the subject matter. Where this piece really succeeds, however, is when, having convinced Ariel to give up her voice, Ursula (Pat Carroll) tells her to sing. The melody for "Part Of Your World" is what she sings wordlessly as the orchestration turns to a simple homophonic accompaniment. The result is tragic, and fits perfectly. "Kiss the Girl" probably comes next in an order of quality among songs. Very Caribbean in its composition and orchestration, Samuel E. Wright leads the chorus admirably. Certainly the funniest song on the album is "Les Poissons", and Rene Auberjonois's performance is excellent. The chef's glee as he prepares fish for a meal is portrayed in a hilarious way.

The most soaring song on the album is "Part of Your World", and Jodi Benson does a remarkable job on this track. Moving and powerful, the combination of Benson's voice, Menken's music and Ashman's lyrics comes together in an exceptional way. The manner in which Menken combines a rather busy secondary melody for the strings as well as the arpeggiations in a xylophone-like instrument works brilliantly, as does the woodwind work later in the piece. The reprise for this song is put together nicely as well, with a very well done crescendo to a quiet resolution at the end making a fittingly longing type of ending. "Under The Sea" defines the word 'classic' when it comes to the Disney musical. Calypso in style, it is the outstanding track on the album. Menken combines calypso elements with an almost big-band sound, making for a fun, crazy and brilliant listening experience. Of course, Ashman characteristically rises to the challenge with catchy and undeniably fun lyrics. But, exceptional as the efforts from these giants of the animated musical are, it is the performance of Samuel E. Wright that really steals the show, and his almost gleeful delight in explaining to Ariel the wonder of life at home is contagious. All of these elements come together to create one of the high points in the illustrious Menken/Ashman musical history.

Some say that Menken never quite returned to the innocence of the instrumental scoring in The Little Mermaid. This may be true, and though the scoring in Mermaid seems to define the word 'innocent' and what it has come to mean, this is not necessarily a good thing. "Fireworks" is a fine celebration track, and "Jig"works adequately as a dance piece. But this illustrates the problem with much of the scoring. Though it is 'fine', it sometimes has a hard time rising above what is necessary, and is so innocent as to sound cheesy. "Tour of the Kingdom" and "Wedding Announcement" also show the same problem, with both being fine, but not much more. Perhaps it is unfair to judge Menken by the astounding effect he later showed he was capable of, and, when compared with most any other animated cartoon-like scores, The Little Mermaid looks exemplary. Unfortunately for Menken, we can never judge him by what others do, but by the high level of excellence he can often produce. However, the previously mentioned tracks notwithstanding, there certainly are some very fine examples of classic Menken scoring, with "The Storm", "Destruction of the Grotto" and "Eric to the Rescue" showing some very good intense Menken music, and "Bedtime" being an excellent example of restrained and delicate scoring. "Happy Ending" wraps it all up nicely, and, though unoriginal in the extreme, the normal Menken finale finishes off the scoring nicely.

Such a review fits equally well for either the original release, or the re-release of 1997. Unfortunately, the most recent 'Special Edition' appears to have forgotten completely reason that this music is so popular. Instead of presenting unreleased cues or instrumentals of songs, we get three very bad pop renditions of songs, and one slightly acceptable rendition of "Under the Sea", performed by Raven-Symoné. Such seems to usually happen, and it really is a shame that either the audience wants this (which is a scary option), or re-releases almost always miss the mark on what would be most desirable in a 'Special Edition'. Perhaps we can hope for more unreleased music inclusion with the admirable 'Complete Editions' released for the Lord of the Rings scores. Maybe other labels will follow suite. The folks at Disney have never been known for their soundtrack releases, though, and they show no signs of mending their ways. In the case of The Little Mermaid, there is absolutely no reason to buy the 'Special Edition' over the other releases.

In the end, The Little Mermaid is undoubtedly a must-buy for any Menken fan or Disney animated musical fan (a redundant statement, perhaps), and certainly deserves the place that it holds as 'the one that began it all'. Possibly the least worthy of the famous Menken/Ashman trilogy of successes, it is still a very enjoyable album with some excellent songs, and its historical implications certainly add to the interest.

-Colin Thomson

Track List (Special Edition):

Fathoms Below
Main Titles - The Little Mermaid
Fanfare
Daughters of Triton
Part of your World
Under the Sea
Part of Your World (Reprise)
Poor Unfortunate Souls
Les Poissons
Kiss the Girl
Fireworks
Jig
The Storm
Destruction of the Grotto
Flotsam and Jetsam
Tour of the Kingdom
Bedtime
Wedding Announcement
Eric to the Rescue
Happy Ending
Kiss the Girl (Remake)
Poor Unfortunate Souls (Remake)
Part of Your World (Remake)
Under the Sea (Remake)