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Varese Sarabande Records
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Soundtrack CD - Volume 6
Reviewed by Neil Ross
Boasting a mix of the best of season five and six music, plus a lot of 'specials' and 'fan favourites' - the two-disc set that comprises volume six can be seen as a sort of 'send off' tribute CD. The little "ah Joe'll fix it" message from Lucy and Rob in the little booklet is a nice touch too.
Anyway, the first CD opens with music from Fallen Angel - the first track being "With The Angels" -- which accompanies the scene near the start of the episode, starting as the camera pans up from the crosses and opens into the sky and up, into the heavens. With plenty of choirs chanting and joyful-sounding 'bursts' of noise and 'ascending' pieces from the orchestra, it is marvellously appropriate for the sense of awe and wonder both we the fans down on earth, and Xena and Gabrielle felt as they meet with their heavenly guides.
Things take a more threatening, urgent tone for the second track "Battling Archangels" - the moody choir chanting giving it an aptly warlike theme. This track has some wonderfully "imposing" parts, and on the whole is rather 'The Omen'-like, which I guess is sort of appropriate really - though it does nicen up at the very end.
The following six tracks follow the narrative of Fallen Angel, culminating with "Back From The Dead" - which is appropriately reverent and "miraculous"-sounding.
The five in-between - well, here is the first instance of my biggest problem with this CD set. Those five tracks are all just pretty non-descript. I mean, they're well made and fit the context fine, it's just they sound very generic. Chanting, crashes of instruments etc. Maybe it's because I haven't seen Fallen Angel enough to recognise every single cue and when it happens, but if you mixed up the order of tracks 3-7; I honestly wouldn't be able to tell.
The next music is from Ides of March (the main tracks are sorted by episode, like Volume 4.) The first of the selection is "She'll Be Here" - a really aggressive, doom-laden piece, that rounds off with a creepy little chant. Then onto "Callisto in Hell" - which begins fantastically with the screams and moans of hell's inhabitants, before tailing off into a rather pedestrian-sounding rhythmic beat ... reminded me of the score to countless bad horror films.
The final two Ides of March tracks deal with the tragic ending of the episode, and are suitably impressive, with lots of angry, destructive sounds as well as military-sounding drum rolls, bells and high-tension strings, which do a great job of conjuring up the relevant horrific mood.
We then skip forward to God Fearing Child - another (excessively long) big 'event' piece, which I believe accompanied the climax of the episode. Yes, it's got loud shouty moments, gothic-style choirs, loud percussion and quiet, thoughtful-sounding parts. In short it sounds very much like every other track we've heard so far. Yes, this is a criticism - I have do feel a lot of the music on the first CD sounds rather similar. Fortunately from hereon, things diversify a lot more.
Starting with eight tracks from the "Ring" saga. The first one is one of my favourites on the CDs as well as being among my all-time favourite XWP music pieces. It starts off very low-key and slowly builds up .. It really gives the impression of something 'legendary' happening, it then segues into the theme that plays during the scene where (Evil) Xena is forging the ring from the Rheingold - again, very 'mighty' and important sounding, and instantly recognisable (considering we see this scene played back about four hundred times.) This track also incorporates the first fight with Grinhilda, hence the 'action movie' style last third, not up to the first two parts, but still impressive.
The second is another instantly recognisable piece. Weighing in at just 53 seconds long, it's called "Valhalla" and is another cue that gets repeated several times through out the three-episode arc. Whatever it symbolises (Odin's theme? Valhalla's theme?) - I love the exotic instruments, yet simplistic sound, which is appropriately "Norsey" (but nice)
Next up is "On A Cow" ... which starts off sounding very medieval-feast-like, before taking a turn for the serious, then melancholy then just plain weird.
The next one, "Up the Rhein" sounds similar to the first in places, but the soaring and plunging string instruments give it a very Danny Elfman sort of feel - and I believe accompanies the flying horse battle between Xena and the Valkyries. There's also a moment that sounds distinctly like a bit of Joe LoDuca's earlier music from the film Army of Darkness - which is a good thing.
A playful one follows - which matches nicely with the scene where (Evil) Xena plays and flirts with the (stupid) Rhein Maidens. Oh how I laughed.
Three more Ring tracks round off the section. I loved the sweet rendition of the first 'Ring' track that plays during the track named "The Kiss" ... and the last one is suitably final, in a happy sort of way.
The next two are listed on the back as "Dance Cues." The first is from Heart of Darkness - specifically Xena and Gabrielle's short-but-sweet dance. The track is extended from the TV version, but maintains the same Arabic-sounding, slightly tacky aura of sensuality, with the typical XWP foreign female vocals. The second dance cue is Xena's dance from Who's Gurkhan? Another piece with a definite Arabic sound, though there are hints of the more classic "Xena" instruments. No sign of Gabrielle's dance music. Boo.
Moving onto the second CD - the last 'episode' selection is S6 finale A Friend In Need.
I was instantly impressed upon hearing these - LoDuca has resisted the temptation to use The Debt music and effects as a generic all-encompassing "oriental" theme and given the A Friend In Need music a unique flavour all of it's own. It's all such powerful, stirring stuff, fitting really considering what it's the soundtrack to.
So there's the fabulous "Sounds of War" - which is just really aggressive and fabulously textured, then "To the Rising Sun" - which just sounds so quintessentially Japanese - not fake, like the Chin musics have always seemed. The scope and emotional power of these particular tracks is wonderful, the heroic pieces stir like few others in the series, the softer, peaceful parts are so authentically subtle and tranquil ("Snow Falling on Cedars" is a great example of this.) This section shows such restraint and intelligence, something that has sometimes been lacking in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS music. It really is the high point of the CD - I'm always struck by how 'realistic' it sounds.
The last of the A Friend In Need tracks is "Xena vs. Yodoshi" - a super long 8 1/2 minute track, which runs the gamut of action, suspense, melancholy (a great string rendition of the XWP theme) and just plain tragedy. Hell, at the time of writing this, I still haven't seen A Friend In Need I and II (though I have read a lot about it) - and it still manages to make me feel sad/inspired/etc/ and so on at all the right places. Fabulous.
The next segments are listed under the title "Bonus Cues" - music from episodes that don't warrant their own section. The first three are from the S5 "Chin" episodes - complete with all those samples from "The Debts" -- actually that's not really fair, they do still feature plenty of new music and sounds as well as the more familiar noises, and evoke the creepy, mock-oriental feel rather well. The third one is especially good - with a range of moods - beginning with an otherworldly eeriness and long sections of just scary "noise" that I really liked, as well as an intimidating militaristic interlude, before going back to more traditional "Chin" music.
Then there's a track from Them Bones, Them Bones, which I think tries to be like music from Adventures in the Sin Trade, but just fails to pull off the sheer bleak scope and nihilism of the two Sin Trade episodes. It's not bad, but it just changes tone and stops and starts so often that without the visual accompaniment of the actual episode it's hard to get into.
There's another 'horror movie'-esque piece from Haunting of Amphipolis, then the poignant, sorrowful "It's Over", from the end of To Helicon and Back - it's simple, and doesn't really go anywhere - but that's part of its charm, it's ideal "after the battle" music. I love the female chanting in this song - excellent.
Two from Seeds of Faith follow (and aren't really worth writing about) and then, we get to the last section, the "special requests". Obviously a lot of people who submitted requests didn't own XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS CD Volume 2, because the first "request" is the "Joxer the Mighty" song. Again. Skipping it quickly brings us to the utterly fabulous "The Play's the Thing" - from the episode of the same name - a minute-long track with the following lyrics:
"Listen now and you will hear, the action-packed tale of Xena! ... Xeeena! Xeeena! Xeeena Warrior Princess! ... Ooooooh!"
Truly marvellous stuff.
The next track is something of an oddity - it's the two songs from ...Miss Amphipolis merged into one track - sung by Ted Raimi. Yes, apparently there were some 'issues' between RenPics and Robert Trebor or something - and now we have Ted doing "A Woman's a Natural Thing" and "Miss Known World" ... he does a good enough job, pretty close to the original, though he does a few too many "funny" voices throughout the song for my liking... blah.
The next one is from A Day In The Life - the 'fishing' sequence to be precise, I defy anyone who's seen the scene this comes from not to smile at the playful, silly tune - the perfect accompaniment to a classic scene. Continuing the "fish" theme (er...) is "Catching Fish" - from Fins, Femmes and Gems ... it's another "frolicky" piece, much in the vein of the A Day In The Life one. Very sweet.
Then the CD takes a decidedly 'western' turn - first a track from Animal Attraction, then four (FOUR?) from Old Ares Had A Farm. Fun, but very samey.
Coming up on the final stretch, we then have one of Joe LoDuca's masterworks, such power, such vision ... actually I'm lying: it's the Go-Go Gabrielle tune from The Quill Is Mightier. Although it loses something without the accompanying visuals (*cough*) it's still pretty funny.
Which is more than I could say for the PENULTIMATE TRACK ON THE LAST XENA CD SOUNDTRACK OF ALL TIME (probably) ... the rather horrible "Here Girl", from Punch Lines. Just waaaay too slapsticky, vaudeville-y and whatever else you want to call it. Oh the hilarity of those "wacky" sound effects ... makes me wince. I doubt Cathy will let me swear, so I'll just re-iterate as best I can ... it really isn't very good. (Agreed! Cathy)
The CD ends with the 'extended' version of the main title tune (which I maintain sounds about five thousand times better without the voiceover the TV version has.) It's always nice to hear, but it has been on CD #1 and #2 already.
As I said back in the mists of time near the top of this page, my biggest problem with these CDs is the sameyness of a lot of tracks. The Fallen Angel/Ides of March and Old Ares... content being the biggest culprits... and then there are the couple of tracks that are on previous CDs. But really they're just minor irritants, especially when you consider some of the wonderful stuff (A Friend in Need, The Ring Trilogy, some of the extras) that is here. There are still songs I would have liked to have seen on the CD that never made it, but I guess that's what MP3s are for.
Volume six, in my opinion falls short of Volumes two and four, not because it's bad, just they're so damned good. As it stands this last double-CD set is a still fitting, fabulous tribute to a fabulous TV show.
And it's worth buying just for the cover inlay...
Neil Ross - August 2001
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