In general I’m not a huge fan of compilations, preferring, in the most part, to purchase the original albums and if necessary create my own “best of”. In the case of Mr Emerson’s previous band this would not include any version of Fanfare for the Common Man. Jesting aside and ahead of embarking on this review I was uncertain of just what I had committed myself to. Three CDs, sixty plus tracks spanning some three and half hours worth of music – so needless to say the listening process wasn’t achieved in one sitting. So I entered this review of Esoteric’s extensive, digitally re-mastered, version of Keith Emerson – At the Movies with a sense of trepidation, but in the end this turned out to be a strong compilation, partly as it brings together material that isn’t widely available elsewhere and thematically makes sense.
The three CDs are divided into the countries of origin from which the films emerged, rather than a chronological order, which is a good move…
Disc one therefore is subtitled US Movies and features two films Nighthawks from 1981, probably the most best known of the all films and coincidentally the only one I have seen. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Rutger Hauer and 70s darling Lindsay Wagner, my memories of the film are that it was a fairly turgid piece of cinema, although I have to say the music fairs much better. Emerson’s sounds and writing reflect the period post Brain Salad Surgery (73) and more appropriately Works Volume 1 (77). So those hugely bold and brassy sounds that so enriched Pirates are evident.
Now you should bear in mind that the music from across the 3CDs was composed for the films and therefore can, at times, be somewhat unfulfilling as individual pieces. In the case of Nighthawks it also suffers from the era it was created. The orchestral pieces (The Chopper, Tramway and I’m Comin’ In) are fairly timeless. Other sections also work well and those pieces reflecting the early 70s movies and composers (Lalo Schifrin as instance), are captivating and prime examples are the opening theme and The Chase. Some of the less memorable moments come from the 70s era disco – Nighthawking, for instance, is a distinctly “skip” affair and even Mr Emerson’s compositional skills cannot salvage this.
Of the three CDs, disc one is perhaps most reflective of the Emerson Lake & Palmer sound.
Best Revenge, released in 1984, I know absolutely nothing about and information on the film is sketchy, however research shows the storyline follows an American tourist, in Spain, who is forced to take part in a $4 million drug deal and stars John Heard and Levon Helm.
I’m sure in the dim and distant past I picked up a vinyl version of this album and if memory serves the opening track, Best Revenge – Orchestral Suite, was the first track on the B side of the album. Not that its important – just a bit of a nostalgia thing. Best Revenge – Orchestral Suite has Keith’s signature sounds and although interesting, contains some moments of inspiration, the “spud-u-like” drumming is a turn off. However Keith Emerson, along with Aynsley Dunbar, get to cut loose in a much more palatable fashion in the Keith Jarrett-esque jazzy Wha’dya Mean. Brad Delp (Boston) makes a vocal appearance on Playing For Keeps, sadly his performance does not lift this above mediocre. The two piano pieces, The Dreamer (Love Theme) and Outgoing Tide, perhaps need no explanation and Keith Emerson performs with aplomb.
Memory serves the vinyl version had a track featuring Levon Helm (The Band)? If so it is not featured here.
As might be expected the second disc is much more atmospheric and haunting affair. Opening with Inferno from 1980 and here “the story concerns a young man’s investigation into the disappearance of his sister, who had been living in a New York City apartment building that also served as a home for a powerful, centuries-old witch”. Keith Emerson opens this disc with some gentle piano and although brief the increasingly strident orchestration nicely sets the scene and lays foundation to the equally engaging Rose’s Descent Into The Cellar. The splendid Taxi Ride Home And Cigarettes, Ices, Etc, evoke ELP around the Tarkus period, whereas the church organ of The Library takes back to their first album and The Three Fates. As mentioned I’ve not seen this film, however the music appears to catch the storyline, and for me the most engrossing from the box-set. Closing out the Inferno section of the disc is Inferno Extras which as far as I am aware did not feature on the original vinyl release. As it’s title suggests – music either not used or perhaps remoulded into a single piece – either way it is a great piece and well worth investigating.
Keith Emerson contributed four tracks for Michele Soavi’s 1989 Italian horror film, La Chiesa (The Church), which, amongst others, includes tracks from Goblin and Philip Glass. Apparently not one of Keith’s more successful collaborations and he would go on to successfully develop and expand on the themes initially written for La Chiesa on his 1995 Changing States album. Certainly worth investigating for ELP fans…
The last of the Italian films is the 1984 Murderock and amongst other titles, also known or mooted as Slashdance. Says it all really. Apparently the film was never intended as a musical but later and following the success of Flashdance from the previous year it became one. It would appear that they didn’t let Keith know of this change as there’s not a catchy tune to be heard, in fact the only track from Murderock with vocals is fairly unmemorable. But Murderock is not without its moments. The solo piano Prelude To Candice is, as one might expect, vintage Keith whereas Coffee Time is a Rhodes piano groover. The remaining pieces serve as atmospherics for the film.
So we arrive at the last of this box-set trilogy, (sorry), with two films from Japan. The B movie of this disc is, Harmagedon: The Great Battle With Genma, an anime, sci-fi film released in 1983. I’ve never been a “gamer” but the music has all the hallmarks of those early Nintendo type games. Even Keith’s sounds are early Korg digital and therefore generally harsh and lacking warmth. Zamedy Stomp and Challenge Of The Psionic raise the bar slightly and Keith introduces some warmer, more familiar sounds, but ultimately this is a fairly missable section of the box-set.
And now the feature show for this disc – Godzilla: Final Wars released in 2004. The storyline is a variation on a theme and really needs little expanding upon here. Once again not all the music hits the spot, the rave-dance tracks, (and there’s a few), EDF Headquarters Fight and EDF Museum being prime examples, are once again skippable. Infant Island features sweeping synths – although the chiming Morricone pocket-watch sound, (A Few Dollars More), brought a smile. However the stronger material comes towards the end of the disc and presumably the end of the film. Cruising The Cirro Stratus with its signature Emerson synths, the brief orchestrated Godzilla Theme and the bombastic Godzilla Final Wars End Titles – again full of bombast, Hammond organ and fanfare synths. Shame those watching the film would most likely have been walking out at this point.
This box-set turned out to be much better than I had anticipated and certainly well worth the admission fee. A bit of a mixed bag at times, but given that there’s 3:30 hours worth of music and taking into account ‘the brief’ and therefore constraints imposed, there’s still a great deal of quality music to be found on Keith Emerson – At the Movies. The liner notes, by Malcolm Dome, with quotes from Keith Emerson, are a nice bonus and food for thought that Keith was in the running for both Chariots Of Fire and The Elephant Man.
As to be expected from Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red Records, the sound quality is consistent across the release and the re-mastering spot on. Presented in a clamshell box – this is certainly a worthy addition to the Emerson collection.
CD1: US Movies
01. Nighthawks (Main Title Theme) (2:25)
02. Mean Stalkin’ (2:21)
03. The Bust (2:08)
04. Nighthawking (6:18)
05. The Chase (6:03)
06. I’m A Man (4:20)
07. The Chopper (3:04)
08. Tramway (3:26)
09. I’m Comin’ In (3:04)
10. Face To Face (2:52)
11. Flight Of the Hawk (3:09)
~ Best Revenge
12. Best Revenge – Orchestral Suite (15:28)
13. Playing For Keeps (4:21)
14. The Dreamer (Love Theme) (2:40)
15. Wha’dya Mean (5:04)
16. Outgoing Tide (1:49)
17. For Those Who Win (3:35)
18. The Runner (3:26)
CD2: Italian Movies
01. Inferno (Main Title) (2:55)
02. Rose’s Descent Into The Cellar (4:56)
03. Taxi Ride (Rome) (2:13)
04. The Library (0:55)
05. Sarah In The Library Vaults (1:15)
06. Bookbinder’s Delight (1:09)
07. Rose Leaves The Apartment (3:28)
08. Rose Gets It (2:07)
09. Elisa’s Story (1:07)
10. A Cat Attic Attack (3:11)
11. Kazanian’s Tarantella (3:31)
12. Mark’s Discovery (1:21)
13. Mater Tenebrarum (2:36)
14. Inferno Finale (2:23)
15. Cigarettes, Ices, Etc (2:49)
16. Inferno Extras (10:15)
~ La Chiesa (The Church)
17. La Chiesa (The Church – Main Theme) (3:56)
18. The Possession (2:28)
19. Prelude 24 (2:21)
20. La Chiesa Revisited (4:23)
21. Murderock (2:46)
22. Not So Innocent (3:32)
23. Prelude To Candice (1:45)
24. Don’t Go In The Shower (1:05)
25. Coffee Time (2:32)
26. Candice (3:38)
27. New York Dash (1:32)
28. Tonight Is Not Your Night (1:12)
29. The Spillone (1:50)
CD3: Japanese Movies
01. Harmagedon (Theme Of The Floi) (3:35)
02. Jo And Michiko (2:44)
03. Sonny’s Skate State (4:14)
04. Zamedy Stomp (2:59)
05. Challenge Of the Psionic Fighter (4:12)
06. Children Of the Light (3:59)
~ Godzilla Final Wars
07. Godzilla Vs. Gotengo (1:51)
08. Godzilla Final Wars Titles (2:59)
09. EDF Headquarters Fight (1:37)
10. EDF Museum (1:18)
11. Infant Island (2:00)
12. Rodan Attacks NYC (4:14)
13. Earth Defense Forces Theme (2:45)
14. Motorcycle Battle (2:49)
15. Godzilla Awakens (1:51)
16. Love Theme (1:28)
17. Monster Zero Theme (2:14)
18. Cruising The Cirro Stratus (2:44)
19. Godzilla Theme (1:20)
20. Godzilla Final Wars End Titles (4:41)
Total Time – 210:00
Keith Emerson – Keyboards and programming
~ Various others (however the information is patchy and therefore not included)
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red
Catalogue#: ECLEC 32460
Year Of Release: 2014