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CD: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)

Review Rating:   Excellent
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La-La Land Records
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December 16, 2008

Tracks / Album Length:

24 tracks / (63:07)


Composer: Bear McCreary

Special Notes:

12-page colour booklet with liner notes
Comments :    

It’s actually kind of heart warming to read Bear McCreary’s liner notes and discover not only his admiration of Brad Fiedel’s music for the first two Terminator films, but for Fiedel himself, since he seemingly dropped off the soundtrack scene after scoring James Cameron’s True Lies (1994) and Uli Edel’s Rasputin (1996).

Those who know the Terminator scores are aware of how vital the metallic and hard synth sounds were to the two movies, as well as Fiedel’s love theme on piano and keyboards, which brought some gentility to the troubled character of Sarah Connor as she’s forced to ally herself with (as well as believe) in time travel and a killer robot determined to eradicate her son John before he grows up to be a hero extraordinaire.

McCreary’s music is beautifully tied to Fiedel’s music right from the opening titles with a loose variation of the Terminator march, as well as his own elegiac theme for Sarah Connor, performed with strings and peripheral metallic hits that evoke more of a heavy emotional struggle than actual combat.

On the one side, it’s nice to hear McCreary’s use of chamber strings, given his best-known work, besides Battlestar Galactica, has been for horror films set in hillbilly hells. (In terms of blues-based, guitar heavy scores with humour and edge, McCreary is king. His musicians are first-rate, and the guitar work is performed and recorded with the intention to bring the listener as close as possible to the instrument’s textures.)

And yet his fusion of sadness with coldness is equally personal.

“Sarah Connor’s Theme” moves to a compact epic finale, and in “Central America” the theme is given some ethnic flavour with flutes and acoustic guitar. “Derek Reese” is another melodic cue that also evokes the electric violin used by Fiedel in both films. McCreary’s spin is to have the instrument – thickened by layered performances – play within Celtic/southern harmonies, and compliment the emotional stream with some woodwinds for added warmth, if not compassion.

The CD’s action cues are just as potent, and cuts like “Cromartie in the Hospital” pulse not with rage, but a determination to destroy with clinical precision, and McCreary blends the Fiedelian synth drones that evoke a drill bit boring into some hard surface, and a techno pulse thickened with metallic samples. McCreary also has fun looping and trapping his digital pulse in a circular stroke motif, which recurs in subsequent action and tension cues.

The composer explains he and percussionist M.B. Gordy make a point of recording their own library of real metallic sounds, and that organic quality pays off in the cues because no matter what filter or distortion is applied to the metallic sounds, they still bear the sonics of real steel – and that gives the score cues a harder edge than popular samples.

McCreary also goes a bit bonkers with destructive digital filters in “Motorcycle Robot Chase,” and while it sounds like your CD player is having an aneurism, the crunching sounds are all part of the recording. (It may seem out of place – and admittedly you don’t want to play that track loud – but it follows the industrial tenor of Fiedel’s first Terminator score.)

La-La Land’s CD features more than an hour of great cues, and they’ve been edited to form a tight narrative, with one song from Season 2, “Samson and Delilah,” placed at the head of the album. McCreary’s arrangement is first-rate (as well as the fat guitar sounds), and the lyrics set up Sarah Connor’s own conflicts in being an unintentional warrior, and ready the listener for the score cuts.

The CD also contains the guitar-heavy song “Ain’t We Famous,” with gorgeous vocal harmonics for the chorus, and sharp writing by Brendan McCreary, Bear McCreary’s brother who also contributed the satirical songs on the Eureka soundtrack album as well.

Maybe McCreary thought he was being foolishly hopeful in writing music that followed the ideas established by Fiedel, but this album really is a perfect follow-up to the first two Terminator scores.


© 2009 Mark R. Hasan

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