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Soundtrack CD - Lyre Lyre Hearts on Fire

Reviewed by Neil Ross

Varese Sarabande Records
May 2000

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I always thought I had a pretty good idea about my "taste" in music, if you can call it that, what sort of niche I fitted in to, what I liked and didn`t like.

Imagine then, my surprise when one day I discovered I was a fan of a Beatles song. And a Eurythmics one. And a Grass Roots one (who?)....and even a *Burt Bacharach* one for crying out loud!

Where did this sudden burst of liking "proper" songs come from? Fortunately, not from my parents, but from "Lyre, Lyre Hearts On Fire", wonderful Season 5 musical freakshow extravaganza.

This is not the first "Xena" musical, and I must say before I begin, I have no intention in judging this CD in comparison with "The Bitter Suite" - either the episode itself, or the resultant soundtrack. It`s pointless to do so. That was a highly imaginative, soaring, lyrical opera, full of classical instruments and highly emotional lyrics. And while LLHOF can never compare in terms of raw emotion and vision, it is far, far funnier, funkier and just so damn catchy!

And if you`re wondering whether they had electric guitars, synthesisers, speakers and rap in "ancient Greece" -- no, they didn`t.

The song order is completely different from the televised version, and for no particular reason the disk opens with "Sisters Are Doin` It", originally sung as a duet with Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin, and actually my least favourite of the episodes` songs and set-pieces. It`s better here, the hugely-increased CD-quality of the sound means a wider range of instruments and voices can be heard, and we`re spared the sight of a million gratuitously semi-clad Amazons, but it`s still too monotonously mechanical and repetitive for me. I suppose Lucy does a good job though....

Next up is "Dancin` In The Moonlight" a vaguely Latin-disco-type tune -- I just love the artificial cheesy 70`s style synthesised accompaniment, Ted does a great job, and it`s one of a number of infectiously catchy feel-good pieces. Definitely one of the best.

A version of the Beatles` "We Can Work It Out" is the third track. This one wasn`t in the TV version, a real shame, as it`s a romantic duet between Xena and Gabrielle, and would have made a great (slightly late) post-rift song. I`m not in love with the lyrics (blame John Lennon and Paul McCartney) - they repeat too often and the variations just aren`t varied enough. It`s like hearing the same 20 seconds 4 or so times. The music is slightly bland soft-rock, but Lucy does well enough, and Renee`s voice double sounds a lot more like her than she did in TBS. I guess it was left out of the episode as it wouldn`t really make sense in that context...why would X+G be singing about repairing their relationship at this point?

I just love the fourth song, oh yes...it`s my favourite one of them all. I`ve been humming this on the train to work since I first heard it several months ago. It`s "Gettin` Ready" (what`s with all the apostrophes?) It`s the one that sounds like a 50`s musical, with the "duelling vocals" groups of villagers. It starts off with one group singing, then another, then another, and by the end they`re all singing together and the whole thing builds to a satisfyingly loud and complex finish. I find it to just so incredibly catchy, from the laid-back finger-clicking jazz-style opening, the easy-to-remember blocks of lyrics, and the undiluted *stupidity* of the whole thing!Special mention to Renee here -- she doesn`t sing, but her little exasperated speech near the end "But you`ve got it all wrong....there`s no talent to find....if this concert`s too big....I`ll go out of my mind!" is just sooo adorable.

Oddity time next. Remember the abysmal band Gabrielle auditions? And their tuneless cacophony of home-made instruments? They get a track. It`s a mercifully short 53 seconds long. Gah, I know how the poor girl felt...more tequila!

The first (proper) non-vocal tune is number six. It`s a moody, stabbing, almost subterranean piece of guitar that accompanies Draco`s psychotic decision towards the end of the episode....

....Which leads neatly onto "Kick Out The Jams" -- a totally over the top heavy metal rendering, bellowed by Jay Laga`aia. I have trouble understanding what he`s saying at times, his distorted screaming combined with the billion decibel musical accompaniment makes coherent thought a little tricky, but as a piece of pure sound and fury this cannot be beaten. Many listeners will appreciate being able to fully concentrate on the music on the CD incarnation, as opposed to the televised version, in which this song marks the unveiling of the caged Gabrielle...in *that* outfit. Damned if I was listening to the music...

At times I wish the songs were in order, as number eight "People Got To Be Free" is such an uplifting idiot-grin maker, it was just the perfect finale to the episode, but feels kind of premature a third of the way through the CD. More tacky synth and female choruses, plus Ted doing double duty as Jace *and* Joxer. Lucy and (Renee`s double) do adequately, but they only have a small part. It`s undoubtedly the ultimate "feel-good" track of the selection, longer than the TV edit - with a mysterious man singing a piece, (a piece which includes the great quote at the top of this page) at the end.

Another vocal-less short - "Throwing Kisses" follows -- which I believe plays while the Amazons are rehearsing their dance steps. It`s very laid back at the start, but as it progresses, it becomes subtly threatening, until the very end when it suddenly becomes *very* threatening, almost scary.

After that, we get another one of my favourites "Always Something There To Remind Me"...I just love the alternation between whispered words punctuated by twanging steel guitar chords and crazy shouting and loud loud rock music. This song begins differently to the TV version, with a second rhythm overpowering the original TV one. I have to say I kind of miss the "punch" sound effects that featured heavily in this song on television. I don`t know...they just worked really well.

A very short instrumental next - "Xena feeds back" - the wailing, crushing rendition of the XWP theme, appropriately full of screaming feedback and tearing metal. It links seamlessly into number 12, the "Xena Rap", where Xena and Draco spar verbally before their fight on the heads of the crowd. This track features an incredibly hard-core, thrusting, pulverising tune, which more than makes up for the slightly banal lyrics. It`s interesting to note there are more lyrics that the televised version, and I feel it`s an improvement. OK, I get a kick out of hearing Lucy say "Dis bitch got game"....so?

There`s another "two-parter" afterwards, "At Long Last Lyre" is the accompaniment to the opening of the episode, and it starts off with some warped, but still recognizable traditional XWP-style instruments, which are soon cut to ribbons by an arcing electric guitar interlude, before concluding with a near tuneless and primeval sequence of monstrous chords and sound effects...which sluggishly, inexorably, begin to take shape and combine to form the intro of another of the CDs` many high points, "WAR!"

I hold this one in special regard, as it`s the first song from the episode, the one that either made it or broke it for the viewer. It still makes me smile when I hear this, conjuring up the ludicrous opening sequence from the episode. It continues that unspoken rule of the music here, namely it`s made up of synthesised 70`s style instrumentation and electric guitar. I like Renee (and it actually is her...she`s almost...singing!) and Ted`s little interludes...and Lucy does an excellent job ("Good gods, y`all!") It`s a high point to end the "Lyre, Lyre" tracks on the CD.

But it`s not over yet...as a result of the much-publicised survey, there are also six non-LLHOF tracks afterwards. The first of which being "Tara`s Dance" from "A Tale Of Two Muses". I don`t know if it`s just me...but it really sounds very "Season 4"-ish. It`s those instruments that also feature in AITST, the India trilogy...oh, and ATOTM itself. It`s not one of my favourites, though I do like the exotic, Indian-sounding instruments that punctuate it. The vocals are well sung without being spectacular, and it`s got a hot and sensuous lazy summer feel to it.

Where "Chertomlik Dance Party" comes from I have no idea....it sounds quite Northern Amazon-y (if that`s an adjective)[It`s from Lifeblood or maybe Amazon High]. I like the way it builds upon itself, almost growing organically...starting up with a few sounds...then adding more and more, some fading out, some continuing or changing. The background sounds (presumably intentionally) like a scratchy gramophone playing. It`s very feral and dangerous-sounding, sometimes totally breaking down, only to repair in a different way. There are some haunting semi-chants towards the end, giving it an ethereal quality.

"Grieving Dance" comes apparently from "Endgame" - and begins with the typical rattling sounds of a Northern Amazon type song, before launching spectacularly into a soaring sorrowful chant of language unknown, backed up with a simple looping backbeat, and later accompanied by equally mournful stringed instruments. It finishes really abruptly, with no fade or sense of closure. Bit of a shame.

Then we have "Meditation" -- which starts off sounding just like a snippet from "Paradise Found", complete with tweeting birds and chanting, before gaining a metallic sounding three-beat backing, a cascade of flute-like instruments, before coming over all scary and brusque, before fading out.

"Honey and Wine" is from the (in)famous Caesar`s dream sequence at the start of "Ides Of March." Although that scene only lasted 20 seconds (suppress bad taste joke) - the track is substantially longer." It prominently features a slightly menacing female vocalist (again of unknown language, sounding slightly like the vocals that make up Callisto`s old theme tune) interweaving with more of those Indian-sounding instruments. It never really goes anywhere, or creates a discernable mood...it`s just there.

The last track is instantly recognisable - being the Amazon tribal dance from as far back as "Hooves And Harlots" -- it`s not the same as the version on the first CD...where that one ended, this one gains an extra layer of music, and then transforms into a exotic, "jungle" sounding evolution of the original song, with plenty of extra shouting and screaming thrown in.

So there you have it. Easily the best CD I`ve bought this year.In terms of content, I honestly can`t fault it. Unlike its predecessors, there are no "boring" songs that end up being skipped over after repeated listenings and no bland "filler" or generic "action" music. Even my least favourites ("Sister`s" and "Tara`s Dance") are very good, and get better with repeated listening. There are a couple of totally new and original tracks, and even the last piece, the Amazon/Gabby dance is different enough from the CD#1 incarnation to be interesting. Are you getting me? This is really good!

If I were to complain, I`d say it`s a little short - partly because it`s so enjoyable, (all the songs just go so quickly!) but also because it has a total running time of just 48 minutes. I suppose that`s the length of the episode, plus 7 extra songs, minus all the dialogue.

The inlay could have featured more (make that "any" information) and I would have preferred to hear the songs in the correct order, which incidentally, for the episode-featured songs, is 13, 14, 4, 5, 2, 9, 6, 10, 7, 11, 12 and 8 for those of you with programmable CD players.

These are all just minor whinges, so you don`t think I`m on the payroll of LoDuca Music. If you wake up one morning with a burning desire to hear the cast of "Xena" singing a medley of cheesy tracks from the 60`s, 70`s and 80`s (and let`s face it, who hasn`t?) -- you`ve come to the right place. There`s little point in rating it comparatively with any of the other CD soundtracks, because they all do different things, and do them exceedingly well.

I also suppose there are those with certain musical dislikes which may lessen enjoyment of some of the tracks, which is a shame, because I love them all for what they are. Have I praised this enough yet? OK. Go and buy it.

By the way, there`s no "Bacchae Rap" on this CD. Strange eh?

Neil Ross

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