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Friday, January 30, 2015

Various Artists -- The X-Files: The Album

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8/10

And this is it. The great divide. When something is at the height of its popularity, it can go in only one direction. In June of 1998, a film based upon The X-Files franchise was the highest grossing of its opening weekend, and made almost $200 million worldwide. A soundtrack released for the film debuted at #26 on the Billboard charts, despite not featuring a single hit song. When I listen to that album, I can hear the zeitgeist slipping away. When the show premiered its sixth season that fall, the ratings were 26% lower than the previous season premiere. The X-Files continued for another four years, but it just wasn't the same. Let me be clear, though. I enjoyed the sixth season of the show. I enjoyed the seventh. I enjoyed the majority of the eighth. Season nine had a couple good episodes. That last movie...er, not so much. But lets back up.
In June of 1998, The X-Files' place in popular culture was at its peak. That summer, The X-Files literally "went Hollywood," becoming a major motion picture, and also changing the filming location of the show from Vancouver to Los Angeles (and altering the look of the show forever...or at least for the next four seasons it ran...way more desert stories than forest ones from that point out). The X-Files important place in 90's culture was already set in stone as much as pop culture history can be. There wasn't much left for it to do.
After the summer of 1998, those who just watched The X-Files because it was the popular, new cool thing, or those who wanted concrete answers to every mystery, started to file out. Only the true fans (like yours truly) remained. But the moment before that happened, The X-Files film produced the #26 best selling album in America for the week of June 2-9, 1996.
The album itself is more polished, and on the whole contains less weird songs than 1996's Songs in the Key of X (the soundtrack for The X-Files, the TV show). Strangely enough, I already own albums by eight of the 14 artists presented here. X-Files and I were on the same wavelength...weird how that works out. In fact, Björk, The Cardigans and Dust Brothers were three of my absolute favorite artists of the time. Crazy. With that said, I will again do a track by track review of The X-Files: The Album, which is remarkably composed of 13 songs that are exclusive to it, and only one that is available elsewhere.
1. One by Filter: Filter, who also appear on Songs in the Key of X, kick off The X-Files: The Album. While Filter's contribution to the previous album was quiet and brooding, this cover of Three Dog Night's "One" for The X-Files: The Album explores the quiet-to-loud dynamics that dominated the following year's Filter full-length, Title of Record. It's nifty.
2. Flower Man by Tonic:Now what is this doing here? Tonic are responsible for a late 90's alt-rock song that was so ubiquitous and annoying, I don't want to talk about it. I like this "Flower Man" song a lot better. It's fun and crunchy, but doesn't sound like anything that has anything to do with The X-Files.
3. Walking After You by Foo Fighters:Like Filter, Foo Fighters also previously appeared on Songs in the Key of X, but here the bands' roles are reversed. Foo Fighters provided aggression before, but "Walking After You" a re-recorded song from The Colour and the Shape, is The X-Files: The Album's quiet moment. This sparklier, more condensed version of the song is a nice companion to the deep (but not yet romantic) love between Agents Mulder and Scully.
4. Beacon Light by Ween:Man, this song is so damn cool. It doesn't really remind one of The X-Files at all, except for the fact that they are both so damn cool. This was the worst individual song review ever. Also, the dude from Ween sounds like Dave Grohl, which is a little confusing This would make for a cool blooper-reel track.
5. Invisible Sun by Sting and Aswad:Ironically, the dark, searching tone of the Police's original version of this Sting-written song would have fit The X-Files nicely. Instead, we get an enjoyable, yet bafflingly sunny reggae version by Sting and Aswad. I don't envision aliens and government conspiracies when I hear this song, but I do envision Sting and Aswad holding their hands up in the air and waving them all around while they record their vocal takes. This is probably because on The Making of The X-Files Movie special the Fox Network aired to promote the movie, Sting and Aswad are shown holding their hands up in the air and waving them all around while they record their vocal takes. Also, its hard to take a band named Ass-wad seriously. Just kidding, Ass-wad fans.
6. Deuce by The Cardigans:Now here we go. The Cardigans' late 90's work is imbued with a certain inimitable fin-de-siecle, as if Nina Persson is sitting in a wall-papered room with the lights off, sitting by the window in dimming sunlight, waiting for the world to end. "Duece" is emblematic of that sound, a quiet, despairing rock song that suits The X-Files perfectly.
7. One More Murder by Better Than Ezra: Let me preface this: while Better Than Ezra are considered a local band here in South Louisiana, I've never been a fan. With that said, I like this song quite a bit. It's got the whole dark keyboard and lyrics thing going on while still existing as a fun, well-performed rock song. It sounds like it was written to play over the film's end credits, but unfortunately for it, the two best songs on this album are there instead.
8. More Than This by The Cure:Another drearily excellent song by Robert Smith and company. I can hear it playing over Mulder looking through the X on his apartment window, pining for Scully and acting all emo about his missing sister.
9. Hunter by Björk: This is the only song on this album that was originally released elsewhere. "Hunter" is taken from Björk's Homogenic, one of the best albums of all time. Its dark, questing tone fits X-Files like a glove.
10. 16 Horses by Soul Coughing:I mentioned how ridiculously 90's Soul Coughing's M. Doughty's vocals sounded in the Songs in the Key of X review. His singing is less affected here, but the song is still weird enough, and actually really good.
11. Crystal Ship by X: The only song on the soundtrack to actually appear in the film (playing on a bar jukebox while Mulder is getting sloshed). You would think a legendary punk band named "X" would mix well with The X-Files...and they do! This cover of The Doors ancient "Crystal Ship" melds marvelously with the atmosphere of the movie...and like many of the songs listed above, it's fun to listen to.
12. Black by Sarah McLachlan: Even this dark, atmospheric Sarah McLachlan song reminds me of a three-legged, one-eyed puppy.
13. Teotihuacan by Noel Gallagher: You might know Noel Gallagher from Oasis, aka, the brothers who hate each other. The Gallagher brothers have gone their separate ways, but even before that, Noel was not afraid to strike out on his own, as he did with the instrumental"Teotihuacan." "Teotihuacan" takes a page from the house music of the time, adding in a big beat, and some nice ambient textures. This was my favorite track from the soundtrack back then, and even two years later, I was putting it on my summer mixtape...I have a shoebox full of summer mixtapes...cassettes are cool. This song shared the end credits of the film with the aforementioned Foo Fighters song.
14. The X-Files Theme by Dust Brothers:Another instrumental, and this time by one of my favorite artists. These two brothers don't hate each other, but they also aren't actually brothers. Dust Brothers form their cover around their signature, detritus of the 20th Century sound (I actually think they somehow still live in the 20th Century, as they've been relatively quiet in this one...I wish they would take me with them). The classic, whistle-theme melody is played by a cool old spy guitar, with some ancient woodwinds echoing, and a retro beat pulling the whole thing together, along with a ton of samples and other cool Dust Brothers' sounds. I miss those guys.

So overall, The X-Files: The Album is actually a very well collected and put together soundtrack. There isn't a stinker in the bunch, and the songs are almost all exclusive. Though the music doesn't always fit the tone of the film, the whole and its parts make for a solid listen.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT: As stated in the previous paragraph, the 20th Century ended, and though some of us hoped it would stick around, some huge idiots flew planes into some buildings to put two giant, flaming exclamation points at the end of its sentence. The world, or at least the world through an American lens, changed forever. This was a world in which the fun, alien-centered, conspiratorial mysteries of the X-Files no longer existed. In the place of space aliens hiding among us, making arcane machinations with the government, were evil terrorists hiding among us, who flew planes into buildings and killed 3,000 people. Not fun at all. The X-Files could no longer thrive in such an environment, particularly without its lead actor, David Duchovny, who only appeared in scattered episodes during the final two seasons.
For a nostalgia-centered man like myself, watching The X-Files now is like looking into a window of better times. But whatever, time marches on. Three more X-Files CD's were released in the 21st Century.
The first is Mark Snow's score for 2008's disappointing X-Files: I Want to Believe feature film, which should have been treated as a bigger deal by the studio who created it. Maybe one day, I'll go back to Snow's score for that movie, but until then, hearing it during my one viewing of the film is going to have to be enough. A few years ago, La-La Land Records, purveyors of rare soundtracks, released two extremely limited-edition volumes of music Mark Snow composed for the television series. These volumes are four-discs apiece, and are the only place to find these particular cues by Snow. Pressing was limited to 3,000, and used copies go on Amazon for the cost of a car payment, so I am going to have to pass on those two until they are more widely released, if ever.
I don't want to end on a depressing note, though. The four music releases I own are all uniquely awesome, and most importantly, with the show and films readily available in this digital age (I have them all on DVD, but still, cool), I, my family, and anyone else can watch and listen to The X-Files anytime they want. Maybe the present isn't so bad after all.
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Illustration by Sue Coe, 1996,  taken from her online gallery.

1998 Elektra
1. One by Filter 4:40
2. Flower Man by Tonic 2:56
3. Walking After You by Foo Fighters 4:07
4. Beacon Light by Ween 4:01
5. Invisible Sun by Sting and Aswad 4:08
6. Deuce by The Cardigans 3:32
7. One More Murder by Better Than Ezra 4:38
8. More Than This by The Cure 5:10
9. Hunter by Björk 3:30
10. 16 Horses by Soul Coughing 2:37
11. Crystal Ship by X 2:19
12. Black by Sarah McLachlan 4:29
13. Teotihuacan by Noel Gallagher 7:06
14. The X-Files Theme by Dust Brothers (includes a secret track, featuring Chris Carter explaining the plot of the series) 14:13

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