CD Review: Goldsmith Times Four

By • November 2, 2009

Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
Labels: Varese Sarabande / Intrada / La La Land
Suggested Retail Price: Various
Grade: A

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I don’t know if Jerry Goldsmith ever complained about his soundtracks becoming “bottle caps” in the hands of eager collectors, as fan legend would have it. So whether or not he’d be happy with a plethora of his awesome soft drinks that have now hit is anyone’s guess, though I’m very happy to get my musical carbonation on with a stylistically diverse bunch of Goldsmith goodies that include ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, RENT-A-COP, I.Q. and SECONDS.

First off the with the funkiest of the batch, as Goldsmith’s sequel score for ESCAPE marked a return to the primitive, percussive world that he’d so brilliantly pioneered with PLANET. When Goldsmith became too busy to score its follow-up, Leonard Rosenman did the composing duties for BENEATH, which had the Earth go Alpha and Omega at Chuck Heston’s hands. But never say Armageddon to a profitable series, as ESCAPE saw its most lovable apes Cornelius and Zira (along with their short-lived scientist friend Milo) escape our planet’s destruction via a time warp- throwing them into an ultra-groovy world they never made. It’s an early 70’s electric guitar funk that Goldsmith uses straight off the bat, upending his famous APES theme as a speedy, suspenseful groove for steel drums, guitar and orchestra. It’s a playful tug between the first score’s primitivism and period pop that goes through much of the score, adding an organ, Indian Sitar and even the sound of a rolling pinball to his pioneering APES sound.

But there’s a deceptive silliness to the only sequel score that Goldsmith would do for the APES series. For like this shockingly depressing film, the composer follows the plot’s segue from mod goofiness to dark tragedy, as the ape lovers’ revelation of mankind’s fate turns them from celebrities into humanimals marked for death. Sunny wah-wah romance and tenderness give way to eerie percussion, and surreal, nightmarish music as Zira is drugged into revealing her origins, rubbed metal sounding like chimp cries. And when Cornelius accidentally kills a guard, Goldsmith’s music howls in outrage as his Shagadelia is expertly used for the composer’s trademarked, military-like action sound, piano, orchestra and drums jamming together for a suspenseful, syncopated beat- its final yells of orchestral outrage giving way to darkly meditative music, telling us that mankind will be getting some massive payback for its treatment of our lovable heroes.

There are come cool additional action runs on this ESCAPE CD, which marks its first solo release on the Varese Club after being included as a “suite” on their PLANET OF THE APES release. Though there’s an archival quality to some of the cues, Goldsmith diehards should be more than eager for the twelve new minutes that are added to the original seventeen. Just consider this music APES-lite if you will. It’s more of a dark romp than anything, but one where Goldsmith reveals a powerful bite.

Though it might not exactly be science fiction (unless you’re thinking of the raw attraction between Liza Minnelli’s hyper hooker and Burt Reynolds’ hard-bitten flatfoot), Goldsmith’s score for 1988’s RENT-A-COP has a fun, synth-orchestral sound that’s right in tune with his electronically-driven genre scores around the time like LEVIATHAN, WARLOCK and CRIMINAL LAW. As an old-school composer who glommed onto synthesizers faster than many of his peers, Goldsmith probably got as close to techno as you could call it back then. And RENT-A-COP luxuriates in the kind of 80’s synth sound that’s as out-of-date now as it is cooler than ever. COP’s thematic, heart-pumping action also packs lush suspense for strings, trumpet and piano, embodying the kind of film noir vibe that would get Goldsmith his second Oscar nomination a few years down the road for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. However, RENT-A-COP is frothier suspense stuff, full of alternately eerie and romantic melody. Like Varese’s ESCAPE, this COP marks the second-time out with the score for Intrada Records, who’ve added eight minutes onto the original 41 minute album (a length mandated by Goldsmith himself), along with an alternate main title and two Christmas carols for good measure.

As the first label that was able to break into the Paramount soundtrack mountain with their release of Elmer Bernstein’s AIRPLANE!, La La Land Records has now gone mining for Jerry with their combined soundtrack of I.Q. and SECONDS. It’s an altogether great album that fans will soon be digging on Ebay for, a two-fer that begins with one of Goldsmith’s rare forays into light comedy. Perhaps it was because the natural weight of Jerry’s music was better suited for drama that he rarely indulged in froth like MR. BASEBALL, THE LONELY GUY and FIERCE CREATURES. Perhaps his best effort in this arena was for director Fred Schepisi’s SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION, a poseur dramedy that Goldsmith contributed an elegant classical-jazz score for.

Though I.Q. wasn’t exactly in DEGREE’s league, this pleasant comedy cast Walter Matthau’s as Albert Einstein via Cyrano De Bergerac. And the affable brainiac’s affection for playing the violin allowed Goldsmith to use this instrument as I.Q’s sly voice, crossing its classical flavor with 1950’s doo-wop pop (complete with female voices and sax). With its pleasant melody and light use of electronics, I.Q.’s frequent referencing of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” gives this the flavor akin to Goldsmith’s more romantic fantasy scores like EXPLORERS and SUPERGIRL. Perhaps it’s because I.Q. often feels like the composer getting back in touch with his younger, lightly rocking self that I.Q. remains a charmer. While it’s hard to imagine Jerry as a hot rodding greaser, I.Q. beautifully casts him as a kid looking at the poetic stars, with greatness quickly lying around the corner.

But Goldsmith’s talent for psychological terror is undoubtedly the biggest selling point of La La’s album, as his majestically twisted score for 1966’s SECONDS stands as one of the most striking scores in a cannon that included such spine-tinglers as THE OMEN, POLTERGEIST and ALIEN. However, the fear here doesn’t come from Satan, ghosts or an angry E.T., but rather a blown second chance at life that results in one of the most nerve-jarring body repos in cinema history. SECONDS marked Goldsmith’s second teaming for master suspense director John Frankenheimer after his relatively brief score for the coup d’etat drama SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. But it’s the under-rated SECONDS that still stands Frankenheimer’s most unnerving exercise in paranoia, with a grand sense of musical doom ticking away as an older man gets a “second” chance at youth (personified by his convincing transformation from John Randolph into Rock Hudson).

Goldsmith immediately sets an imposing tone with a rousing organ theme that would spook even J.S. Bach. And it’s a Baroque style that Goldsmith varies with both intensity, and subtlety throughout, always telling us the horrible fate that lays ahead for its protagonist. Darkly suspenseful, always-melodic strings and percolating electronics let us see the just-out-of-camera range members of the mysterious organization who are waiting to take back their gift. Yet such cues as “Quiet Isolation” and “Begin Again / Peaceful Aftermath” also provide introspective beauty, a tender guitar and piano lying on top of a light, melancholy orchestra. The electronic shimmering and rapidly panicking strings of “Nightmare” bring to mind the frenzied musical psychology of Goldsmith’s FREUD– a score most familiar to fans for director Ridley Scott’s tracking of it into ALIEN. And just as that music worked brilliantly for Dallas following the creature through the Nostromo ducts, SECONDS has a similarly florid, skin-crawling effect of evil gradually closing in on its hero. For inheriting a new life is far more of a curse than a blessing in Goldsmith’s hands, one where all-consuming fear has a lyricism all its own.

Bottle caps. I don’t know if Jerry really said it about collecting his work, or would approve as labels continue to unearth such long-awaited treasures. But with releases like these, I’m one happy Goldsmith drunk.

Groove with Cornelius and Zira here, then continue on to, and for RENT-A-COP and I.Q. / SECONDS

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