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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Music You Lose

According to an editable ledger I created a few years ago, the next album to be reviewed in this series was to be Jónsi's Go...but when I visited my music shelf, the album was not there. I checked the computer I used in 2010, when I purchased the album, but saw that, though I had ripped Go to the hard drive, I had later erased it to free up space.
I have no idea where my copy of Go has ventured. I have not listened to it in four years. It is not a bad album, but it shares the curse of many a solo album: it reveals what the author adds to their parent band, in Jónsi's case, Sigur Rós, but also reveals what he does not. In this case, apparently, Jónsi is a bit of a wandering faerie in Sigur Rós' vast, majestic, alien soundscapes. However, without the vast, majestic, alien soundscapes, Go just sounded to my ears like the whimsical musings of a wandering faerie. Of course, I might have a different opinion now, but for some reason, I was so indifferent four years ago, I could not be bothered to keep track of my Go copy's location. Anyone who has visited The Nicsperiment's headquarters knows this is a great aberration. I keep all of my albums in alphabetical order, and then keep each respective album by each respective artist in chronological order within that respective section. I do not lose albums.
That last statement is now false. I lost Go, by Jonsi. As I have already mentioned, I don't hate the album. I hate Animal Collective's Meriweather Post Pavilion (and I would probably hate anything else by that band, if it sounds like Meriweather Post Pavilion), but I still have that one on my shelf.
I think the problem is indifference. I think I was more indifferent to Go than to any album I have ever owned. To my ears, Go featured a few songs that were good enough to listen to a few times, but I grew tired of them quickly. The rest resembled something I would put on in the background and never pay attention to. To make matter's worse, I liked, but did not love, Sigur Rós' most recent album at that time, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. Yes, that is really the name of the album. Icelandic is weird. Anyway, these situations created a perfect storm of disinterest by which Jonsi's Go was lost forever. Sure, I could just listen to Go on Youtube, download it from a pirate site (as I have already paid U.S. dollars to own it), or just buy it again, but why? If it meant so little to me that I couldn't be bothered to keep track of it, why should I consider it my property? I didn't care enough to keep it. I do not own it. On to the next review. So is life.
Sorry, Jónsi...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Johnny Q Public -- Welcome to Earth

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7/10 (with "Body Be" and "Preacher's Kid" included), but
8/10 (if they are skipped)


After five years of no new Johnny Q Public output, my first thought during the first twenty seconds of their second and final release, Welcome to Earth, was *sigh* it's good to hear Dan Fritz's voice again. Well, I guess a sigh isn't a thought. Can you think a sigh? Technically, I am not talking out loud while I type this, and I am thinking it, and I thought *sigh*, so that means yes, I can think a *sigh.* Stop bothering me about it already. Anyway, long time between albums, nice to hear Dan Fritz's distinct voice...and this opening track, "Sliver," feels darker and more driving than anything on their debut. It appears that this album is going to take on an identity all its own...and then track two starts. *Sigh* I think, am I on drugs? This is the second track from their first CD. Why is it also the second track on their second CD? This offense is so egregious, my four-year old noticed when I recently re-listened to these two JQP albums to review them. I had to show him the two separate CD cases to prove to him the CD's are not the same. The bummer of it is, when track three, "Already Gone" kicks off with a dark, grinding guitar, it is quite clear it would have perfectly followed "Sliver." The song expertly flows from a quiet spy-guitar sound in the verses to that heavier sound of the intro for the choruses. "Already Gone" is a great exercise in dynamics, and continues the darker sound of the opening track. This is followed by "What Am I," a much brighter song, but one which lyrically and emotionally continues the themes of opposition and conflict of the two opening tracks. Also, it includes the biggest hook of Johnny Q Public's career, and a lively string section that makes the song sound huge. This is followed by "Move" a classic jam more in line with the band's older material soundwise (it was written by JQP's original lineup), but more in line with Welcome to Earth's themes lyrically, as the chorus repeats I won't move, you won't move. This then leads into the most ambitious and epic song Johnny Q Public ever recorded. "Violin Song" kicks off with a dirty, mean-sounding bass line before diving into what Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" would sound like if it were written and recorded by a modern band at twice the original speed. Very rarely are strings put to use behind a song like this one. "Violin Song" is relentless, features no bridge, leaps from verse, chorus, verse, chorus, to outro in three and a half minutes. It is, in my (sometimes)humble opinion, Johnny Q Public's greatest achievement.

It's clear Dan Fritz is working out some intense personal conflict or emotions with these new songs, and this cohesive feeling is continued...
Just kidding, track seven is another song from the band's first album. I don't know who had "Body Be" and "Preacher's Kid" forced onto Welcome to Earth, but they do not at all fit. They don't blend in, they stick out like two sore thumbs, and they completely destroy Welcome to Earth's flow. I don't know if this was a label executive's decision so the album would sell more copies (which means this would be Toby Mac's fault), if the band was nervous their new material wouldn't connect as well with the old fans and landmarks were needed, or both. Whatever the cause, Welcome to Earth could have been a very unique album, but it gets caught in its tracks by the positioning of these two old tracks that have no business hanging out here. Tracks. I'm not saying "Body Be" and "Preacher's Kid" are bad songs. I love those two songs. They are good friends, but they just don't belong at this party. Thankfully, we live in a modern age where one can easily make an MP3 playlist for this album without including them. I have included that version of this album in the score above.
That's not to say even a re-edited Welcome to Earth would be perfect. Latter track, "Talk Show," goes for a sort of throwback 50's doo-wop chorus, and it doesn't quite pull off the sound. Pen-ultimate track, "Today," though opening with the awesome lines, "I don't like you me/why what did I do to you, or should I say me?" is a little generic. But the tracks around those two, "Hey Johnny," a delightfully weird ode to the band's continued (at that point!) existence, and "Beautiful Face," a lovely love song (eesh, that alliteration was gross), are solid. Album-closing title-track, "Welcome to Earth" fits the weirder, darker vibe of the album, but the real closer, secret track "Feeling Good" is far better. "Feeling Good" is only ambient noise, Fritz's voice, an acoustic guitar, and some electric guitar sound effects. It is an extremely emotional song, and it actually made me cry the first time I heard it (I was having one of those French moments where you should be really happy, but then you just start crying, and the tears aren't tears of joy, but tears of inexplicable sadness. Dang.)
Anyway, I just got interrupted for ten hours, and I lost my train of thought. Welcome to Earth is a darker, more polished work than Johnny Q Public's sunnier, more raw debut. The addition of two songs from their debut completely throws off the tone and flow of the album, but in this modern age, one can make their own version of Welcome to Earth that excludes them. I suggest you do that and also pick up this band's debut, Extra Ordinary, as well, because in this day and age, that's less work than waiting for some new band to actually write and record a decent rock record. Plus, you will get to hear "Body Be" and "Preacher's Kid" in context.

2000 Goatee/Roadrunner Records
1. Sliver 3:13
2.. Body Be 3:48
3. Already Gone 3:48
4. What Am I 3:32
5. Move 4:12
6. Violin Song 3:33
7. P. K. 3:48
8. Hey Johnny 5:25
9. Talk Show 3:31
10. Beautiful Face 4:05
11. Today 2:53
12. Welcome to Earth 9:46

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Johnny Q Public -- Extra Ordinary

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8/10

Rock music has not been the primary form of musical communication for quite some time. Even if one can pick up a rock station signal on their radio, that station is most likely playing the lowest common denominator inbred descendants of grunge music. Ironically, the only decent rock band that can even get a song on the charts is (the great) Foo Fighters.
What happened?
Rock music used to be cool. If some corporation wanted to make their product appear cool, they would back up its commercial up with a rock band, and put that rock band on the can. Those days are long gone.
Personally, I have to admit, I took those days for granted. So much good rock music existed in the mid-90's, I never would have guessed the genre would go out of style. Lame.
Johnny Q Public's 1995 debut, Extra Ordinary, is most definitely one of those albums I took for granted.  This debut essentially shows this band could do anything. Need some catchy, but hard-rocking singles? "Preacher's Kid" and "Body Be." Need to slow it down a bit, without losing any of your cool factor? "As I Pray," "Know," or "Big Top" will do the trick. By the way, nice strings, "Big Top." Need to show you can keep up with the punk rock kids? "Why." Zydeco? Just cover Larry Norman's "Reader's Digest." Piano jazz? Wait, piano jazz? Yes, an album closing Bob Dylan cover that makes you think Johnny Q Public actually wrote it. Need a laugh? "Women of Zion" (aka "Bald Women") That kind of diversity is hard to find these days, but over thirteen tracks, Johnny Q Public made it sound easy. AND THEY ROCKED OUT THE WHOLE TIME!
The crazy thing is, and this really hurts...
there were more awesome rock bands in just the Christian rock scene Johnny Q Public was involved in than there are in any scene today. Everyone either broke up like Johnny Q Public did after their second (and soon to be reviewed here album)...or they started making folk or bluegrass music.
I'd rather they just broke up.
Thanks for the music, Johnny.
Oh, and a final note: MTV actually played this video. They played videos. Rock videos.

1995 Gotee Records
1. Preacher's Kid 3:59
2. Body Be 3:54
3. Black Ice 3:52
4. As I Pray 3:23
5. Know 4:54
6. Women of Zion 2:50
7. Reader's Digest 4:48
8. Secret Trees 3:40
9. Violet 2:57
10. Big Top 2:50
11. Why 3:06
12. Scream 5:50
13. Serve Somebody 6:51

Monday, May 19, 2014

Johnny Cash -- American VI: Ain't No Grave

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9/10

From Uncut Magazine
When June Carter Cash died unexpectedly on May 15, 2003, there were fears that Cash would quickly follow her. (Producer Rick) Rubin spoke to him at the hospital soon after June’s death. 
“He said he’d been in a tremendous amount of pain his whole life, and he’d never felt anything like this. He seemed inconsolable. And I’m listening to him speaking, but I didn’t feel like there was anything I could offer, because the hole he was in was so deep and so dark. He sounded terribly weak and terribly old – the worst I’d ever heard him sound – and I don’t know where it came from, but I felt like it was given to me to ask him about his faith. Which is something we’d never really discussed. I said to him, ‘Do you think you could find the faith to get through this?’ When I said that, something about that word ‘faith’ triggered a very strong reaction. His answer was, ‘My faith is unshakeable.’ And when he said that, he became a whole different person. He re-formed into strong Johnny. As soon as I heard that I knew everything was going to be OK.” 
Cash was back in the studio days after June’s death, and told Rubin he wanted to have something to work on every day. The last studio recordings – on the unreleased American VI album – include the final song he wrote, “1st Corinthians (15:55)”, in which Cash addresses death directly. “Oh death,” he sings. “Where is thy sting? Oh death, where is thy victory?”
 On September 12, less than four months after June’s passing, Johnny Cash followed her to the grave. 
“That was the end of it,” says Marshall Grant, “the end of a long, gracious career. He was one of a kind and believe me when I tell you, there will never be another Johnny Cash. Never.

Seven years after Johnny Cash's death comes one final batch of new recordings, American VI: Ain't No Grave. Ain't No Grave literally comes from death's doorstep, as Cash prepares to meet his maker. It is a starkly beautiful final statement, featuring even more minimal arrangements than its predecessor--often only guitar, a little keyboard or piano, and Cash's deep, sweet, weathered voice. Cash at Heaven's Gate infuses more character into these songs than any person with miles to go, and his unshakeable faith and lack of fear in the face of death are as comforting an old friend as any music I've ever heard. He may have passed on, but his voice is one click away for those of us still here.


2010 American Recordings/Lost Highway
1. Ain't No Grave 2:53
2. Redemption Day 4:22
3. For the Good Times 3:22
4. I Corinthians 15:55 3:38
5. Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound 3:26
6. Satisfied Mind 2:48
7. I Don't Hurt Anymore 2:45
8. Cool Water 2:53
9. Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream 3:14
10. Aloha Oe 3:00

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Johnny Cash -- American V: A Hundred Highways

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9/10

When an album's virtues are as simple as A Hundred Highways, it is silly to ramble on too long. Johnny Cash recorded most of these songs when he was only months from death. Those used to the voice of the young and virile Cash (I include myself in this group) may feel a bit of a shock upon hearing it first come out the speakers here (I sure did). This near death Cash sounds so worn and weary. Against all reason, though, this near death Cash also sings with more strength and conviction than ever before. Cash sounds so thankful for the life he has lived, so free, and like a closest friend and confidant. Producer, Rick Rubin, wisely places Cash's weathered voice at the forefront, atop elegantly minimal arrangements. He hired some excellent acoustic guitar players to back up Johnny, and living legend, Benmont Tench, to fill out the album's sound on piano, keyboard, and organ. Other than that, some foot-stomping and hand-clapping on "God's Gonna Cut You Down," a little percussional thumping on Cash original, "Like the 309" (the last song he wrote on Earth), and a spare amount of fiddle to go around are all the backing necessary for one of the greatest musical storytellers of our modern age. Cash's inspiring faith, about which he sings with unwavering fervor, lights these twelve songs more brightly than any mortal instrument could.


2006 American/Lost Highway
1. Help Me 2:51
2. God's Gonna Cut You Down 2:38
3. Like the 309 4:35
4. If You Could Read My Mind 4:30
5. Further on Up the Road 3:24
6. On the Evening Train 4:17
7. I Came to Believe 3:44
8. Love's Been Good to Me 3:18
9. A Legend in My Time 2:37
10. Rose of My Heart 3:18
11. Four Strong Winds 4:34
12. I'm Free from the Chain Gang Now 3:00

Monday, May 12, 2014

Johnny Cash -- The Legend of Johnny Cash

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7/10

Any time my parents' wanted to get away for a week or two, they knew they could count on my grandparents to fill in. This meant a change in nightly entertainment. This meant I was in for a televised nightmare:
The Grand Ole Opry.
While I loved my grandparents, and I loved spending time with them, I did not love the Grand Ole Opry. I did not think it was "Grand," nor did I understand why the one apt description, "Ole," was spelled incorrectly. Thanks a lot, Nashville Network (AND THEY'VE BROUGHT IT BACK). However, when you are stuck in this type of situation, you generally find things to like. I found two performers I enjoyed for two very different reasons:
Johnny Cash, because he seemed like the coolest human being on Earth.
Dolly Parton, because of her enormous knockers (I also thought she was hilarious).
Only one of these artists' favorable characteristics carried over to their music(though it would be awesome if Dolly Parton sang a bunch of comedic songs about boobs), so thirty years later, I only find myself listening to Johnny Cash. With a reasonable knowledge of his musical history, I can say that this posthumously released greatest hits collection, "The Legend of Johnny Cash," could be re-titled without the word "Johnny," and still be aptly named.
This 2005 collection was obviously thrown together to hook the nostalgic viewers of the recent hit film, Walk the Line. Well, they caught and reeled me in because after two Walk the Line viewings and a lot of goodwill to my memories of Johnny, I picked up The Legend of Johnny Cash. I was disappointed to find that this group of songs neither represents Cash's best work, nor nearly all the facets of his musical career. The Legend of Johnny Cash is more a summation of Cash's popular side, a chronological offering of some of his most well songs, and most famous collaborations. His more raw, fiery side is completely ignored, along with his eclecticism. His well-documented sense of humor is only nodded at in a recording of Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue." So on a literal basis, the title of this album is a lie.
The Legend of Johnny Cash is not told.
However, there is a significant level on which this album works. It works as a voyage through time, and a journey through advancing recording techniques. It's (I hate the word "fascinating," so much. Just think of a word equitable to fascinating, and put that word here) to hear recording techniques improve over time through the fifty-year lens of Cash's music. "Cry! Cry! Cry!," recorded in 1955, sounds like it is coming from another room. The drums are non-existent, as they were not in fashion in country music. A few years later, they were still out of style (Cash had to place a sheet of paper beneath his guitar strings to create a snare sound for "Walk the Line."). Drums eventually come into fashion, just as Cash comes from the kitchen into your living room. By the end, as the album closes with some of Cash's late 90's and early 00's work with Rick Rubin, Cash sounds old as leather and clean as a whistle. Speaking of Rick Rubin, this collection does end perfectly with perhaps the greatest recording of Johnny Cash's career. The song is "Hurt," originally written and recorded flawlessly by Trent Reznor for the landmark The Downward Spiral, but somehow, miraculously, improved by Rubin and Cash. It astonishingly sums up everything Cash was about and believed in at the end of his life, just as Reznor's recording summed up his fears and failures as a much younger man, though the two men are singing about distinctly different things. As a career capper (This was recorded for the last collection of new material by Cash before his death, though several albums were released posthumously, and they are quite good, and I am going to review them, and I love run-on parentheticals), you can't do much better than this.
Break out the Kleenex.


2005 Hip-O Records
1. Cry! Cry! Cry! 2:24
2. Hey, Porter 2:13
3. Folsom Prison Blues 2:49
4. I Walk the Line 2:45
5. Get Rhythm 2:14
6. Big River 2:32
7. Guess Things Happen That Way 1:51
8. Ring of Fire 2:37
9. Jackson 2:46
10. A Boy Named Sue 3:46
11. Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down 4:07
12. Man in Black 2:52
13. One Piece at a Time 4:02
14. Highwayman (With Willie Nelson/Waylon Jennings/Kris Kristofferson) 3:03
15. The Wanderer (With U2) 4:45
16. Delia's Gone 2:19
17. Rusty Cage 2:49
18. I've Been Everywhere 3:16
19. Give My Love to Rose 3:27
20. The Man Comes Around (Early Take) 3:50
21. Hurt 3:38

Friday, May 09, 2014

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Johnny Cash -- At Folsom Prison

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10/10

The hardest reviews to write are reviews for albums people have been lauding for 45 years that you want to laud. People have already said what you want to say, and probably better. But hey, I got that dreaded first sentence out of the way, so I'll just talk about why I think Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison is perfect. Shoot, I'll just make a list of three things, even though I haven't thought of all three things yet.
1. There is so much goodwill and there are so many good vibes flowing out of this album, it is ridiculous. Cash's compassion, empathy, and identification with his audience here is impossible to fake. He sings plenty of songs about prisoners throughout this set list, and he sings each song with such conviction, it seems as if he himself is incarcerated in Folsom. His repartee with the inmates is also excellent without, as he cracks up at every audible inappropriate inmate comment loud enough for him to hear, and he often has the perfect companion to go along with it.
2. Every facet of Cash's pre-70's music career is well-represented on this album. His fast-paced rowdier performances shine trough on "25 Minutes to Go," "Orange Blossom Special," "I Got Stripes," and "Cocaine Blues," the latter of which drains Cash's voice to the point that he has to demand a glass of prison water. His more thoughtful side shines through on performances of "Dark as a Dungeon," "The Long Black Veil," "Green, Green Grass of Home," and "The Wall."  His crass, yet delightful sense of humor shines through on "Dirty Old Egg-Suckin' Dog," "Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart," and "Joe Bean." He gets to duet with his wife, June Carter Cash, on "Jackson." Finally, he gets to express his spiritual side on the set-closer, "Greystone Chapel." No greatest hits album could cover every side of Cash's persona like At Folsom Prison does. I realize that was an absolute statement, and I have no way to back it up, but I'm reviewing a greatest hits compilation of Cash's work tomorrow that definitely does.
3. Wait, let me think for a second...
I want to stop at three, so let's just do a combination here. First, let's talk about the quality of the songs themselves. Cash shows off his thoughtful nature and storytelling skills throughout At Folsom Prison, whether its one of his originals, or a song written by someone else. When Cash sings "I was in the arm's of my best friend's wife" during the tale of the classic country ballad, "The Long Black Veil," he makes the listener (or this listener) believe that The Man in Black is as well-acquainted with shame as the original author of the song, and the song's protagonist. This is the Cash I remember most fondly as a child. Singing a story. More about that tomorrow. Let's end this review with a big bubbly statement:
At Folsom Prison's greatest quality is its transformative transcendance. I don't even know if that made sense. I just know that I definitely feel better during the final notes of At Folsom Prison than I did before I put the album in my player. Maybe that's because, after listening to 18 songs about lowlifes and lowlife (that word combination makes me want to eat some Life cereal), when I myself am feeling low, the final lines feel like redemption.
Inside the walls of prison, my body may be
But my Lord has set my spirit free


1968/1999 Columbia
1. Folsom Prison Blues 2:42
2. Busted 1:25
3. Dark as a Dungeon 3:04
4. I Still Miss Someone 1:38
5. Cocaine Blues 3:01
6. 25 Minutes to Go 3:31
7. Orange Blossom Special 3:01
8. The Long Black Veil 3:58
9. Send a Picture of Mother 2:10
10. The Wall 1:36
11. Dirty Old Egg-Suckin' Dog 1:30
12. Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart 2:17
13. Joe Bean 2:25
14. Jackson (with June Carter) 3:12
15. Give My Love to Rose (with June Carter) 2:41
16. I Got Stripes 1:57
17. The Legend of John Henry's Hammer 7:08
18. Green, Green Grass of Home 2:29
19. Greystone Chapel 6:02

Friday, May 02, 2014

So Now What Do You Think About John Williams?

Man, I'm not trying to get dirty, but that both took a lot out of me, and put a lot into me. Here's a QA about my John Williams reviewing experience, and life, the universe, and several things.


That was intense.

Yes, yes it was.I wrote the intro for this series (the one with The Shining/John Williams mash-up photo) back in 2013. It has taken nearly six months to complete this endeavor. In the meantime, I've been through some pretty hard times, at least on a mental scale. Obviously, only a crazy person would devote so much of their hard to come by free time listening, over and over again, to soundtracks of films people pretty much universally loathed. The crazy thing is, pouring energy and focus into dissecting those prequel soundtracks actually took me to a better place. And they were actually really good!

That last review you did(the one for Revenge of the Sith) was...a bit strange. What happened there?

I think I was just working out a lot of issues. I mean, issues from my life currently, but also, issues from my life nine years ago. I think that review was kind of my way of making peace with the prequels. I mean, they weren't what I or anyone wanted, not what anyone wanted in the least (too much subtext in this paragraph), but they still exist, and I and many other people have dedicated a significant portion of our time to them. I've decided I might as well allow myself to take away the good elements from them, however few they might be. These prequel scores aren't just a good element, though. They are outstanding. If I can't appreciate the films they soundtrack, I can still appreciate the memories of the times of my life that they did. Apart from that, I can appreciate them on their own, as they are outstanding.

You gave the soundtrack for Attack of Clones a 10. That seems a bit nuts.

It is so good! I think I only listened to it twice when I purchased it. It works so well as a standalone seventy-minute piece of music--you don't have to see the film to appreciate it. The flow of textures and emotions is incredible.

You only listened to it twice back in 2002?

Yes. I figured if it only had one new theme, it couldn't be any good. Dumb thinking on my part. I think I only listened to the Revenge of the Sith score once after I purchased it. I listened to it nearly a dozen times for these reviews. What's crazy is how evocative of 2005 it is, even though I barely listened to it then. There are several major soundtracks from that year that make me feel that way. James Newton Howard's (excellent) King Kong score is one, and I loved that film. I actually missed that one in my reviews. It will be reviewed when I start the redux reviews.

(SPIT TAKE) Redux reviews? What?! Are you going to subject us to more of these things?!

Since the Every Album I Own review series debuted in 2011, I've purchased a ton of new music in letters I've already reviewed. Have to review those. Also, in all the chaos of life, and in attempting to stay consistent in my publishing dates, I've overlooked certain items in my collection. Have to review those, too. If I live to finish this series, and I still have working fingers, I'll ideally begin a much shorter series called Every Album I Own Redux. The dream is to finally get up to where I've reviewed everything I have, then just review albums as I buy them. We'll see, though. I've made plans before.

That was ominous.

I'm an ominous guy.

Not really.

Yeah, I guess not.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

John Williams -- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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9/10 (A FINAL LUCID THOUGHT BEFORE YOU DIVE INTO THE INCOHERENT MADNESS BELOW: I GAVE THIS SOUNDTRACK A NINE BECAUSE, DESPITE SOME INCONSISTENCIES IN SEQUENCING, STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK) FEATURES SOME OF THE MOST MOVING WORK OF JOHN WILLIAMS' ILLUSTRIOUS CAREER. THERE, I JUST SAVED YOU TEN MINUTES.)

I will preface this review by admitting that I am quite conflicted over my opinion of John Williams' Revenge of the Sith soundtrack--and I first heard it during a very conflicted moment of my life (this post, the first of only two I would publish that summer, features a picture of me sitting in the theater shortly before the midnight premier of Revenge of the Sith began), which clouds the matter even worse. Let's get this out of the way first, though: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith features a great score--it's the actual soundtrack album with which I'm a bit ambivalent. Just for fun, I will write the rest of this review in the style of Michael McDonald's incredible monologue from the Community episode, "Basic Story." However, I will retain my usual utilization of run-on sentences.
Why am I ambivalent?
Because John Williams has written some of the absolute best music of his fifty-year career for Revenge of the Sith, and that music is found on Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack). However, in contrast to the excellent suites Williams arranged with his recorded music for the Episode I and II soundtracks, the album suite for Episode III is less than the sum of its parts.
Why is it less than the sum of its parts?
The album is less than the sum of its parts because it is oddly sequenced, and because it burns nearly a fifth of its run time on an overlong closing concert suite featuring music from the entire trilogy--marginalizing Williams' work for Episode III, the film the soundtrack is meant to represent. It is easy to see why Williams did this, though. After putting so much work into Star Wars over a thirty year period and knowing this could be the final Star Wars soundtrack album he ever produced, Williams likely felt that he had to pay tribute to the entire saga. This would be all well and good, but the other two prequel films' scores were allowed room to breathe over nearly eighty minutes run time, while Revenge of the Sith's actual score is given less than an hour.
What's an hour?
An hour is defined as 60 complete minutes, and in the 59 before this soundtrack's ending suite begins, the listener gets to hear some pretty incredible music.
What's so incredible about it?
Williams' has never before composed music like this for a Star Wars film. The pervading mood for the film, Revenge of the Sith, is (supposed to be) tragedy, and Williams composed some of the most moving and powerful music of his career to achieve this tone. "The Immolation Scene," in which a character is forced to decapitate someone close to him, then hear that someone say "I hate you," then leave that someone to burn to death, doesn't quite earn the emotions it evokes on a film-making level, but John Williams makes up for all of George Lucas' shortcomings. These may be the most tragic, tear-invoking 2:42 John Williams has ever composed, perhaps even better than his work on Schindler's List (though I am by no means placing Schindler's List the film anywhere near Revenge of the Sith the film in terms of quality). He uses a variation of the same tone from "The Immolation Scene" in "Anakin's Dark Deeds." Both cues highlight Obi-Wan Kenobi's resolve, and...mixed emotions. It's in these two passages that I truly become infuriated.
Why do I become infuriated?
Blaspheming cursewords, George Lucas, Williams' best music on this soundtrack only highlights your failures in this film all the more! Williams' work here highlights the deep, dark Star Wars future ahead, but also the hope of the good that will eventually come. Williams does the latter by including Luke and Leia's themes at the end of the film, and incorporating the original trilogies "Force Fanfare" and even "The Throne Room" throughout. There are so many moments of emotional depth throughout this soundtrack AND WITHOUT THEM THERE IS NO EMOTIONAL DEPTH IN THE FILM. WHY, LUCAS, WHY? WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME!
What did he do to me?
I already wrote a ridiculously long treatise upon the subject (the Revenge of the Sith stuff is near the end), and I'm being overdramatic, as he did it to all of us, not just to me. But moving along, there is more awesome stuff on this soundtrack that I haven't mentioned yet.
What awesome stuff?
Awesome stuff is that Williams now takes, not just a page from Wagner, but the whole book. Williams' epic choral pieces, featured more on this soundtrack than on that of the other five Star Wars films combined, evoke a battle of good and evil on an apocalyptic planet, under the crushing rocks and blazing lava of an erupting volcano just as well as Industrial Light and Magic's special effects. We're talking some seriously primal compositions here, the most epic of Williams' career ("Battle of the Heroes," "Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan," "Grievous Speaks to Lord Sidious.") Williams also adds a bit of a swashbuckling element reminiscent of his work on Episode IV, twenty-eight years before this, particularly with his themes for General Grievous, and pretty much anytime a ship comes out of hyperspace, or a character enters a scene. That's what I call continuity. This soundtrack feeds perfectly into the next (A New Hope's), but would do it even more perfectly if it was sequenced better.
What's sequenced better?
Sequenced better is giving this album a more logical emotional flow.
EDITOR'S NOTE: You hypocrite, this review has no logical emotional flow!
The Phantom Menace's soundtrack's sequencing did a great job of creating a new, yet familiar aural world, and making the listener feel welcome in it. The Attack of the Clones' soundtrack's sequencing also creates a complete world the listener can live in, unfolding chronologically so that the listener can experience Williams' evolutions of texture and emotion. However, every time I think I've grasped the flow of Revenge of the Sith's soundtrack, it slips through my fingers.
Why does it slip through my fingers?
The previous prequel films' major new themes always came after the first track on their respective soundtracks. Here the new theme is the third track, after the subdued and unnerving "Anakin's Dream." After the new theme ("Battle of the Heroes") is introduced, the soundtrack immediately switches gears to the film's tragedy element, with "Anakin's Betrayal." Then it jumps to the more throwback, swashbuckling element, with "General Grievous." It seems that Williams is just previewing all the tones to come, but then the next five minutes is the nearly silent, momentum killing "Palpatine's Teachings." (Yes, "Palpatine's Teachings" works great in the film, but not in the middle of this album!) Then it's fun, upbeat action music again with "Grievous and the Droids." The next, "Padme's Ruminations" is extremely idiosyncratic for Williams, beginning with creepy bee-like drones, then featuring frightening, wailing female vocals, fading out into a creepy, stair-climbing ostinato whose pattern startlingly gets commandeered by a solo pipe organ (or woodwinds mimicking a pipe organ) (perfect for the ancient evil Palpatine is meant to represent by way of classic supernatural cinema villain music). Then it's the action packed, "Imperial Theme" quoting "Anakin vs Obi-Wan," a thrilling piece of music...bah, enough of my doing this.
What is me doing this?
Me doing this is me overstating my point, rambling, going back and forth and on an on, nonsensically. I think I've already made it clear that this soundtrack is disjointed. It's a shame the excellent music featured on this soundtrack is not given a better presentation. And yet, as I close, I feel I need to restate yet again how angering it is that so much of this music is so incredible. Instead of giving the viewer three films of awesome Clone Wars action (This saga is called "Star WARS"), George Lucas skips the entire war and just drops the viewer in at the end of them at the beginning of this, the final film in the trilogy. The snippets of themes and feelings we get here from Williams would hold even more resonance in the film if they were backing elements that had been developed throughout the course of the prequel trilogy. Instead, the viewer is simply handed a video game controller after someone has entered a cheat code to begin the game at the last stage. Sure, the last stage is pretty awesome, but it doesn't mean as much when you haven't worked your butt off to get there. Likewise, there has been no emotional work or investment in the Clone War ravaged galaxy the viewer is dropped into in this film. So much of Williams' music is incredible, but this album just sounds like snippets from something greater, and the awful thing, the real tragedy, is that that something greater was never actually made. This soundtrack exists in a sort of purgatory, (in a way all three prequel soundtracks do), like the ghost of a beautiful bride infinitely waiting for the groom who will never, ever come. Or maybe I just feel that way because at the exact moment that this soundtrack was released, my life could have gone in two different directions, and it went in this one, and I'll never know what the other path led to, and I'll always be haunted by the life I never lived (hope for a life never lived is a strange, ghostly, existentially metaphysical thing), and probably, in regard to my opinion of this soundtrack, it is both, and here is (for what is some reason the third to last track on this album), "Grievous Speaks to Lord Sidious," whose tentative final thirty seconds express everything I've just wordily attempted to convey without using any words at all, and in an achingly beautiful fashion versus an achingly difficult to read praise-rant.
What is without using any words at all?


2005 Sony Classical
1. Star Wars and the Revenge of the Sith 7:31
2. Anakin's Dream 4:46
3. Battle of the Heroes 3:42
4. Anakin's Betrayal 4:04
5. General Grievous 4:07
6. Palpatine's Teachings 5:25
7. Grievous and the Droids 3:28
8. Padmé's Ruminations 3:17
9. Anakin vs. Obi-Wan 3:57
10. Anakin's Dark Deeds 4:05
11. Enter Lord Vader 4:14
12. The Immolation Scene 2:42
13. Grievous Speaks to Lord Sidious 2:49
14. The Birth of the Twins and Padmé's Destiny 3:37
15. A New Hope and End Credits 13:06