Monday, August 26

Elfman’s soundtrack collection enjoys a case of blissful terminal eccentricity


Monday, January 13, 1997

MUSIC:

Composer’s second film compilation moves toward gothic
romanticismBy Kristin Fiore

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

Though many die-hard Oingo Boingo fans may regret Danny Elfman’s
decision to disband the group in 1995, they will find it hard to
argue with him after hearing the follow-up to his first collection
of film scores. This time around, the guy’s got so much talent that
it flows onto a second disc.

Nonetheless, "Music for a Darkened Theatre, Vol.2" (MCA)
slithered onto the shelves during the pre-Christmas rush without
even a nod from local record chains or music mags (like too many
Oingo Boingo albums). But those keen enough to find it anyway were
surely rewarded with their finest gift of the season.

Elfman has never ceased to amaze and delight his fans ­
from his yodeling and somersaulting at Boingo shows to his
incredible four-hour performance that final Halloween night. But
his latest stunts have proven even more impressive and
enduring.

From humble theatrical beginnings and no real musical training,
he has emerged as one of the greatest film composers of this
century. Though some of us had our suspicions upon the release of
his first film compilation, it is with his latest group of works
that Elfman proves us right.

The first volume was a brilliant departure from the band’s work,
but it had strong ties to their final album and exhibited a more
limited scope of musical styles. The whimsical cacophony of the
"Simpsons" and "Pee Wee’s Big Adventure" themes recalled the band’s
early ’80s pseudo-punk dementia, albeit wrapped in a more
sophisticated and light-weight arrangement. The brooding "Batman"
and "Beetlejuice" scores, arguably the best on the disc, echoed
Boingo’s last two albums, "Dark at the End of the Tunnel" and,
especially, the self-titled "Boingo."

The second collection, however, is amazingly diverse and shows
substantial development. Elfman takes the tenderness seen only
briefly on its predecessor and mixes it with his unique brand of
dark romanticism to paint a truly gothic soundscape suitable for
the finest fairy tales.

He puts his best foot forward, beginning with the five finest
segments from Tim Burton’s "Edward Scissorhands." In the liner
notes, he mentions that these are his favorite, and with good
reason. They are by far the most beautiful ­ at once delicate
and haunting, playful and dramatic.

Elfman deftly toys with a single theme throughout, employing
music boxes and angelic voices that are childlike, yet wistful. But
the next moment he’s monkeying with tubas and frantic violins. He
chose to leave out the surreal beginning of "Edward the Barber,"
which is a shame, but he jumps into the piece at the violin solo
­ the coolest part of the two-disc set. Eddie Van Halen on
some different strings?

Elfman and Burton ­ who has also worked with Elfman on
"Batman," "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Pee Wee’s Big
Adventure" ­ should be chained at the hip. Burton’s eccentric
fantasies seem to bring out the best in Elfman no matter what the
storyline or style of music.

Though not quite as worthy, the next two film scores, "Dolores
Claiborne" and "To Die For," are also allotted five tracks each.
"Claiborne" is heavy and slow until the last few minutes of fury
­ definitely background material. The aching melodies of its
"Sad Room" say much more in only 50 seconds than some of the
score’s other, longer selections. In a patient mood, however, their
mysteries unveil themselves and lead you into the dark mind of a
madwoman.

"To Die For" follows in the mood of madness (imagine that), but
lightens it with some sparks and spooks ­ even an electric
guitar. "Suzie’s Theme" is as nimble as a mouse after two espressos
and acts as comic relief in this otherwise emotionally draining
portion of the disc.

"Black Beauty’s" wild mood swings finish the first disc without
loosening the reins. A few of its pieces are lightened with a quick
pace, an Irish sounding flute and titles like "Frolick" and "Jump
for Joy." But all are tinged with the sadness that pervades this
disc.

The opening of the second disc is a whack to the cranium ­
something different is coming. High school marching band drums shoo
in an explosion of foreboding horns. Elfman immediately builds an
air of excitement and danger. A glance at the track listing reveals
the obvious ­ "Trouble" from "Mission Impossible." The movie
may have been panned as nothing but a "special effects show," but
pinning that phrase to its score is anything but a stigma.

Elfman matches Cruise’s antics with musical pyrotechnics. Some
sections lag as the energy rebuilds, but it always does. Only
Elfman could casually fling a name like "Looking for Job" onto
music like this. The final segment, "Betrayal," is again more like
background music and doesn’t sustain melodies for too long.

The uplifting and tender "Sommersby" follows, with liner notes
so perfect that any further description of the music is
superfluous. Elfman quips with his usual cynicism, "Muy Romantico
… but the kind of romance I love so dearly … slow and dark,
with a hero hung by the neck at the end … joy!" Boingo’s frontman
has returned. But only briefly ­ listening to the music, it’s
impossible to believe Elfman’s two careers were hatched from the
same brain.

In "Dead Presidents," Elfman shifts gears yet again, this time
for the worse. The concept of its "Main Titles" is unusual ­ a
percussion-based score with wild electric guitar and keyboards
thrown on top, but it gets a bit murky and confusing. "Montage" is
at first funky and retro, as though you put your ear to a lava
lamp. From there it ­ and the rest of the score – descends
into blissful, terminal weirdness.

Speaking of, Burton’s "Nightmare Before Christmas" picks up
where "Dead Presidents" left off. Sort of. More traditional and
"old-school Danny," this score is as whimsical as they get. Bart
Simpson would feel right at home. The overture is a splendid medley
of all of the film’s most memorable themes, with a few bars of the
curiously missing "What’s This?" ­ most likely axed due to the
album’s "no vocals" rule.

The final full-length film score is "The Freeway" ­ and a
sick one it is. According to Elfman, he improvised it on a
"shoe-string" budget for an old pal and a "sick, sick movie." In a
way it is a combination of all that preceded it ­ crackling
electric guitars, eerie vocals and instruments no one in all the
sound studios of L.A. could recognize.

Elfman ends the film section with a short score from "Shrunken
Heads," a film directed by his brother, Richard. It’s even weirder
than his score for "Forbidden Zone" (on his first film score
compilation), which his brother also directed.

Its more independent feel is a good segue into the final lap of
the two-disc set, titled "television odds and ends." This includes
pieces for Spielberg’s "Amazing Stories" TV show of the mid- ’80s,
sure to spark nostalgia in all but the youngest freshmen. A piece
written for "Pee Wee’s Playhouse" is priceless and completely
insane, and one for the animated TV series, "Beetlejuice," not far
behind.

This disc closes with a tongue-in-cheek glimpse into a "work in
progress" from "Nightmare Before Christmas." "This is Halloween" is
a rough demo of the song, forced onto the album by Elfman’s agent.
It’s the only track with Elfman’s demonic, then silly voice, and
it’s a welcome sound. Just don’t crawl into bed with it in your CD
player. Elfman insists the tune is something anyone can do with a
keyboard and their own vocal chords. That just goes to prove how he
can create magic from nothing but a few microchips, a pad of staved
paper and whatever’s going on in that strawberry-colored head of
his.

What a way to start the year. This compilation is worth every
penny you have and a few you don’t. One can’t even insult it by
giving it an "A." Grade: #*@!

MCA Soundtracks

Danny Elfman on the CD cover of his latest Album, "Music for a
Darkened Theatre ­ Film and Television Music, Volume 2."

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