CD Review: Battlestar Galactica: Season 4

By • August 10, 2009

Composer: Bear McCreary
Label: La La Land Records
Suggested Retail Price: $21.98
Grade: A


If you were lucky enough to be at Bear McCreary’s live GALACTICA concert in San Diego (put on to coincide with Comicon), then you definitely felt the love in the room- or in this case a cavernous stage at the House of Blues. It was filled at halftime with what seemed to be most of the cast members the cult Sci-Fi Channel show. And they were still outnumbered by the percussionists, sting players, bagpipe handlers and Kobol-knows what other kind of instrumentalists that McCreary had employed to give full voice to his music for the three-gig event.

Where most actors on a given show would barely raise an earlobe as to the “incidental” music playing over them, you could tell how much McCreary’s work meant to these people- how his themes became their characters in action, as well as sound. And at this moment, they were on a cosmic Zen high of hearing McCreary’s best bits of ethnic music, symphonic stylings and thrumming beats that had now reached the end of their four season voyage (or at least before the McCreary’s regular run on the GALACTICA prequel CAPRICA starts, or we hear the score for the one-shot Cylon-centric THE PLAN). Yet whether you were on GALACTICA, working behind its scenes, an ardent watcher, or someone who’d wandered in from the restaurant upstairs, everyone at the HOB was sharing the epiphany of what a long, strange, and wondrous trip it’s been for McCreary’s astoundingly thematic body of work, one that will likely stand as some of the best music ever written for genre television (and frack the Emmys for not recognizing that).

Even if you may not have felt the calling to brave the Comicon zoo to attend GALACTICA’s version of Devil’s Tower, listening to the final, two-disc collection of Bear’s music in BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: SEASON 4 is the next best thing to being there. As the 100th release from La La Land Records, this spectacular album wraps up the numerous musical threads that McCreary’s been developing since working with Richard Gibbs on the original TV movie pilot. And where there have been more than a few incoherent and pretentious bumps on the show’s overall enthralling voyage to the “real” Earth, the same can’t be said for McCreary’s consistently excellent music, which probably reached its zenith this season.

Not content to merely wrap things up, McCreary used the opportunity to really dig into the stylistic course he’d set out, expanding on a wealth of themes that are all standing and accounted for here- among them the noble Gaelic militarism for Adama and his son Apollo, the somber romance between Galactica’s commander and Roslin, as well as the beautifully swirling strings that linked the destiny of humans and Cylon. But where GALACTICA would be filled with these familiar motifs, there never seemed to be any real boundaries as to where McCreary’s music would go next as it helped to embody the “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” religiosity that producer Ron Moore ultimately used to wrap the series up.

Though watchers of the original ABC show may have thought it madness to throw Japanese, Middle Eastern and Scottish instruments into outer space, McCreary’s conceit of using them to represent the diversity of the thrown-together colonies turned out to be brilliant, “world” music. Here it fills such cues as “Resurrection Hub,” “Farewell Apollo” and “Blood on the Scales.” Vocals by Raya Yarbrough, Kandyse McClure and Alessandro “Gaeta” Juliani in such tunes as “The Cult of Baltar,” “Funeral Pyre” and ”Gaeta’s Lament” beautifully add to this folk-as-space opera approach, songs that are as integral to GALACTICA’s musical fabric as its score. And if there was no sound in space, then damned if McCreary was going to unleash a John Williams-esque orchestra to play the battles in it. Here, the technique was pure balls-out percussion, feeling the rhythm of the heat, and developing it into an ultimate fever pitch for pieces like “Roslin Escapes” and “Cally Descends,” an instrumental version of “Gaeta’s Lament” hammering in the Led Zeppelin vibe that informs so many pieces here.

Music became literally important to GALACTICA as “All Along the Watchtower” fingered a bunch of unsuspecting Cylons and showed the colonists the way home (though don’t ask me where the hell the song came from if this takes place a couple of millennia before Bob Dylan wrote it). And in this season, a solo piano played the ultimate key to earth. Talk about plot weight on a musician’s shoulder. Yet McCreary rose to the challenge with his beautiful pieces for “Elegy” and “Dreilide Thrace Sonata No. 1.” But for all of the show’s in-your-face slaps to genre convention, McCreary could also break out the orchestral warhorse with “Laura Runs” and “The Alliance,” cues that show there’s really no substitute for a bunch of strings when your producer’s trying to say something important.

The second CD of the SEASON 4 album is devoted to GALACTICA’s final episode “Daybreak,” for which McCreary provided an astonishing musical capper, beginning with the soulful theme of “Caprica City, Before the Fall,” music that conveyed a tone as ancient as it was futuristic. And when it came to the finale’s balls-out percussion / action cue, it’s a near wonder how McCreary keeps the fifteen minutes of beat for the ultimate “Assault on the Colony” as varying, interesting and energetic as it is, even topping it off with a wondrous revelation for stings. And where he doesn’t go into “All Along the Watchtower here” (you’ll have to pick up the SEASON 3 album for that). McCreary’s came up with an accompanying theme for “Kara’s Coordinates” that captures the vibe of this eternally famous rock tune.

When it comes to saluting the past, McCreary ended up sending the Galactica into “The Heart of the Sun” with an affectionately stirring quote of Stu Phillip’s legendary theme from the first show- whose kitsch memory has pretty much been wiped away by this infinitely superior redo. In the end, this GALACTICA revamp was a show that few thought would succeed, and has ultimately become a measuring stick of great sci-fi TV, along with STAR TREK, THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE OUTER LIMITS (I’ll personally dare to throw the first season of SPACE: 1999 in there as well). Sure there might not seem to be a commonality between them like these at first. But dig deeper, and you’ll hear a continuing, never-ending, emotional story about humanity banding together to face the great unknown, with the knowledge that it will somehow come out in one piece with its soul intact.

You could say that McCreary destroyed the sound of traditional sci-fi TV scoring in order to save it. And hearing this album sum up how amazingly different, mesmerizing and melodically did it, and what an integral part of the ship it was. Doubtless everyone on that House of Blues stage felt it was part of the creative souls. But where this particular voyage has stopped for them (at least until the inevitable reboot), listening to the wealth of themes shows that Bear McCreary’s creativity has just begun with whatever path, or genre he chooses to follow. So say we all.

Find Earth here

Comments

By Chris on August 11th, 2009 at 11:02 am

Bear McCreary is SCARY GOOD! Bravo to his excellent work and to your spot on review. And shame on the emmy’s…If a guy doing work as great as Bear can’t get nominated you know there’s something more than a little fishy in the land of emmy (no slight on any of this years nominees intended).

By John on August 13th, 2009 at 7:59 am

Nice review. I only wish Bear had maintained this kind of musical verve with the Caprica score. And the Emmys and Academy Awards, when do they ever get the soundtrack award right. I thought you might get a kick out of this interview w/Bear, especially the audio version: http://tinyurl.com/mfvrjb

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