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AMAZING STORIES: ANTHOLOGY TWO
Another enjoyable set of fine tv music
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Universal Studios; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
"Roll on the second volume!" I said at the end of my review of the first Amazing Stories anthology - and, a short while later, here it is, another 3,000-copy release in Intrada's Special Collection, bringing us more music from the series by Georges Delerue, Bruce Broughton, David Shire and Billy Goldenberg, and adding the formidable A-list talents of Jerry Goldsmith, David and Thomas Newman to the mix (along with Craig Safan, Johnny Mandel, Arthur B. Rubinstein, John Addison and Leonard Rosenman). This one's longer than the first anthology and features music from more different episodes, but despite the high-profile additions to the roster of composers, is less satisfying overall.
For starters, there's Goldsmith's contribution, the twelve-minute score to Joe Dante's comic horror episode Boo! - it's maybe the only one of the scores which by itself would draw many people in to buy the set, but is one of the composer's slightest and most forgettable works. It's a bit like some of the gentler synth passages in Gremlins, with weird noises combining with a very small orchestra in a series of miniature passages which don't do a fat lot - the sweet theme which crops up a couple of times is the highlight, and the action music of "Zombie Attack" resembles some of his more ambitious work, but it's minor fare by anyone's standards, let alone those of a composer as great as this one.
With that disappointment out of the way comes the album's biggest positive surprise - as with the first anthology, this is provided by Billy Goldenberg, whose The Amazing Falsworth was arguably the pick of the scores on offer first time round. This time his contribution is What If..? - an extremely sweet score bolstered by tender, touching-yet-unsentimental melodies and carefully-subtle orchestrations favouring a very small string ensemble, piano and a few winds. Following that comes another highlight, Georges Delerue's outstanding Dorothy and Ben, previously re-recorded and issued by Varese Sarabande. It's vintage Delerue, featuring one of his trademark heartmelting themes - it's a shame the tv format restricts him to writing such short pieces, but it's still an unmissable addition to the Delerue discography.
Craig Safan's The Main Attraction opens with an incredibly-irritating piece of (presumably deliberately badly-performed) high school marching band music, before developing into a fairly lively and good-natured - if brief - score which is enthsiastic to a fault. Next is David Newman's Such Interesting Neighbours - it opens up promisingly-enough, with the sweet "Al Driving Home", and there's some nice Goldsmithian music which follows, but it's somewhat unremarkable stuff and dogged down by the dated synths. The first disc is rounded out by Bruce Broughton's Thanksgiving, which isn't the warm score you might expect from the episode title but rather a slightly macabre piece emphasising comic horror - fortunately, it does feature some winning melodic writing from the great composer highligted by guitar, synth whistle and a small choir, but isn't too likely to go down amongst anyone's Broughton favourites. The highlight is the fine action-packed finale, "Chicken Preferred / Turkey".
The second disc opens with David Shire's Hell Toupee, which according to the liner notes is "about an evil toupee that goes on a killing spree" - the age-old story told yet again. It's a very witty and enjoyable score from Shire, deliberately going way over-the-top and parodying old-fashioned science fiction scores. This is followed by Johnny Mandel's low-key, old-fashioned One for the Road, dominated by comical "creeping-around music" which is pleasant enough. Remote Control Man is an impressive comedy score from Arthur B. Rubinstein, who was quite prolific in television at the time, and showcases a decent gift for making the most of his orchestra. He certainly manages to raise a smile or two with his amusing music.
The classy John Addison is woefully underrepresented on disc (I think Torn Curtain is the only score of his that's been released apart from the odd piece on compilations), but he is represented here by his fine music for The Greibble, an episode starring Hayley Mills and directed by Joe Dante. It's very interesting to compare his music with Goldsmith's for Dante's creatures-coming-alive movies (this episode is about a monster from a book who suddenly comes alive) - Addison eschews the approach Goldsmith would almost certainly have taken (synths, zany music) and instead provides a straight-faced dramatic score which oozes charm and class.
One of the most serious Amazing Stories episodes was No Day at the Beach, about a WWII squadron preparing to land on an Italian beach. The excellent score is by Leonard Rosenman, in a piece of perfect casting, and his unwaveringly singular style is used to good effect to create a tense score containing more than its share of thrilling action music. It's the best score on this set. There's still time for one more though, which is Thomas Newman's Santa '85, written very early during his career - but, interestingly, the young composer was already showing the flashes of brilliance that he would harvest much later. Newman combines traditional Christmas sounds (bells, glockenspiel etc) with his own distinctive creations, centred around three pianos. It's magical music.
Overall this set is probably not quite as strong as the first one - the scores by Goldenberg, Delerue, Addison, Rosenman and Thomas Newman are all fantastic and make the purchase price completely worthwile - but some of the other contributions are more disposable, and a couple downright lousy. The downside of tv music (short pieces, no time for real development) is perhaps shown up a bit more here than it was in the stronger first volume too, but that shouldn't distract from the very high quality on offer in patches, and as such this one gets another strong recommendation from me.