SHOCK’s Chris Alexander reviews 2 Howard Shore soundtracks for a pair of David Cronenberg masterpieces.
We reported about the latest wave of David Cronenberg deluxe vinyl soundtrack releases coming from MONDO here and, if you’re a fan of DC and the work of his visionary composer and chief aural collaborator Howard Shore and if you’re a collector of new vinyl, you were probably pretty excited.
But no matter how hard your heart pounded in your chest – and mine was throbbing along with yours – rest assured, nothing beats the thrill of actually getting these gems in your hands and dropping the needle onto their nouveau wax grooves.
The first release this writer tore into was DEAD RINGERS, Shore’s opulent score for DC’s evolved and elegantly perverted 1988 masterpiece, based on Bari Wood and Jack Geasland’s novel TWINS. Telling the tale of twin Toronto gynecologists Beverly and Eliot Mantle and their destructive, symbiotic and psychosexual connection, DEAD RINGERS (whose original title was changed so as not to confuse folks with the Ivan Reitman comedy TWINS, ironic since Reitman was instrumental in giving DC his start) called on Shore to build on the almost romantic sound he sculpted for his previous Cronenberg collaboration THE FLY. But whereas that film dealt with the tragedy of the body out of control and its effect on a good man and the woman who loves him, DEAD RINGERS’ romance and tragedy is much more complex, dangerous and yet still oddly innocent. The music reflects this, with Shore’s gorgeous title theme, a gentle, intimate overture laced with the almost shy sound of a harp. And yet as the score – and the film – progresses, that lilting prettiness begins to tighten, culminating in what Cronenberg called “suicide music”, a doom laden soundcape that is sad but also cold and soul-dead by design.
MONDO’s packaging is as handsome as the music blasted onto it. The vinyl is heavy and blood-red, the gate-fold cover is sturdy and the design by Jay Shaw and Rob Jones mimics the textbook illustrations that make up the opening credits of the film, with side one and side two listed as “ex.1” and “ex 2.” Randy Ortiz’s art is splendid too, with twin fetuses in a womb, choked by their own umbilical cords and the medieval gyno instruments that figure heavily into the film, sketched on the back cover and interior. Royal S. Brown supplies a brief but well-penned essay inside as well.
NAKED LUNCH is another masterful score by Shore but unlike anything he’d ever done before. In fact, it’s unlike any other film score I’ve ever heard. Which makes sense, considering LUNCH is unlike any movie ever made. Many had cited that beat legend William S. Burroughs’ hallucinatory novel was unfilmable, something that just made DC want to make it more. And make it he did, using the text as an impression and weaving in elements of other Burroughs works as well as tragic moments from the writer’s heroin-ravaged life.To bring the surreal, perverse and berserkly comical story to life, Shore called on saxophone legend Ornette Coleman, the creator of what he called “free jazz”, music that seems scattered on the surface but is actually intensely detailed and designed aural art. Writing the blueprint of the score and recording some of it with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Coleman was brought in to add some much needed freak value. Coleman’s multi-instrumental sound is sexy and alien, speaking of drugs and fevered states of mind, after hours, in a dreamscape version of downtown decay. Shore’s sounds are non-melodic but lush and dark, the perfect blanket to hold Coleman’s wilder contributions. Atypical for Coleman, he even contributes a cover version of a jazz standard to the score, in the form of a roughed up version of Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso”.
It’s mesmerizing and works perfectly as an album on its own, divorced from the film.
MONDO’s double album release comes packaged in their typical sturdy gate-fold with arresting artwork by Rich Kelly and the records themselves rendered in ooze-colored yellow vinyl. Inside there’s both new notes from Shore and a vintage letter written by Coleman about the genesis of his sound for the movie, perhaps ported over from a previous soundtrack release, we’re unsure.
Both albums are essential releases for DC completists. But with NAKED LUNCH, re-discovering it is a revelation. It’s a not just the best soundtrack re-issue of the year, it’s one of the best conceptual jazz soundtracks I’ve ever heard. As addictive as the bug powder itself.
Go to MONDO to learn more and get your copies today.
PostScript: I contacted Cronenberg to mention just how strongly I responded to the NAKED LUNCH soundtrack and he responded:
“I was a little more creatively involved than you might think, from conception to recording to sound mixing. For me, the process is always a bit more hands on than just sitting there and watching the birth of a musical miracle. But Im really glad youve discovered it…”