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Battlestar Galactica Season One Music Review

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 08:55 AM

July 11, 2005

Battlestar Galactica Season One

Not only is the reimagining of the '70s series an improvement over the original, but so is its soundtrack

Battlestar Galactica Season One

La-La Land Records

Total disc time: 1:18:31

MSRP: $13.29

By A.L. Sirois
Back in the day, Battlestar Galactica told the tale of a "ragtag" fleet of human spaceships that has barely survived an all-out war with the robot Cylons and is now fleeing, tail between legs, in search of Earth, the legendary home and final redoubt of the human race. The show was pretty much a Star Wars knockoff, and for today's viewer the FX have not aged well, to say the least. The characters have names like Cassiopeia and Andromeda. The 21st century version of the show has a similar framework, but it's a lot darker, and hence more interesting. Plus, the FX are much, much better. So is the music.

The original score, by Stu Philips, was highly derivative of John Williams' work for Star Wars: heroic, brassy, major key, lots of "sweep," and so on. But the new miniseries struck out in a very different direction. Composer Richard Gibbs acquitted himself admirably in the score. His assistant on the project was Bear McCreary, who takes the helm here and doesn't drop a beat in so doing. Relying on cues influenced by "world music" and Taiko drumming, and utilizing any number of interesting instruments, McCreary's music here really stands out.

What's most interesting about the album is that it is certainly not predictable. It's as if McCreary decided early on that he was going to mess with listeners' heads as much as possible. He throws Celtic influences into the mix, along with Middle Eastern stylings and even some classical Indian riffs. This is the same sort of thing that Richard Gibbs did in the miniseries—he wanted to project a world that was similar to our own, yet strange and alien. It worked nicely then, and it works nicely now.

The source music cues vary from elevator music, as McCreary calls it, to Italian operetta and Gaelic choirs. One very nice thing about the liner notes is that they provide translations of the lyrics.

Shattering sci-fi clichés

As with Gibbs' score, the percussion is what really drives McCreary's take on BSG. It really kicks the action cues in the butt while still providing a martial feel to the proceedings. Listen to "Helo Chase," "The Olympic Carrier," "Starbuck Takes on All Eight" and "Battle on the Asteroid." This is good stuff! It's puzzling that no one ever noticed how well drums and spaceships go together. One suspects that there will be more of this sort of instrumentation in future SF films, because it just seems to fit.

The problem, if there is one, with McCreary's music, is that it is so determinedly anti-science-fiction-music-cliché that it forges territory—the reliance on Middle-Eastern-style melodies, the extensive use of percussion, the almost total lack of "typical" orchestration, the utilization of "little"instruments and the like—that is itself all too likely to become rather clichéd. But that's a worthwhile risk to take.

The very best thing about McCreary's efforts here is that they result in television music that is better than what one would expect, and consistently so. Ain't nothing wrong with that! What would he do on the big screen? One suspects that he'll get a chance to show us in the not-too-distant future.

I suppose one could carp about there being too much percussion on this album, but when I find myself swaying in time to the music, then I know I'm having a good time. And this disc is definitely a good time. — Al
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