Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

So a while back I posted a review of the preceding volume in this series, and what should happen but Neil Norman himself reads it and sends me the next one!

I'm very pleased to report that it's yet another rollercoaster ride through feel-good SF themes from yesteryear. Usually when I reach the end of a CD I go back and replay my favourite ones. This time I must have gone through half the album again.

For me, this one carries a slightly different tone to earlier releases in the series. I still equate "Neil Norman And His Cosmic Orchestra" with the energetic rock style of his earliest releases in the series from the 1980s. Here we still get a liberal sprinkling of that throughout, but continuing the trend from volume IV, several of these are more serious and faithful to the originals. Both blend well together to provide a wider sampling of Neil Norman's talents.

It's all summed-up rather well by the opening track - Back To The Future. At first, with all the brass, xylophones and violins you could be forgiven for thinking that you were actually listening to the original movie soundtrack. But about a minute in you can hear Norman's trademark electric guitar creeping in underneath, lurking, waiting, plotting to rock things up just as soon as its secret masterplan to clear the stage of all those more serious-sounding instruments is unleashed.

We don't have to wait long.

Track 2 is the Mission: Impossible theme, played live to an enormous crowd of fans in Rio de Janeiro, complete with tannoy introduction in Brazilian! The crowd's ecstatic screaming conjures up memories of the dizzying popularity of The Beatles, or even The Goodies in their wilder moments. Neil and his friends sound oblivious, as they proceed to electrify such an iconic underscore with more metal conviction than the US rail network.

Track 3 - Some Of Us Have Been Behaving Strangely - isn't even a cover version of anything as far as I know. Instead we have six minutes of something that mixes the excesses of rave and dance music, and transports it all back in time to 1985. There are no insanely repeating car alarms here, but plenty of metal rock doing a similar job, only much better. Six minutes is a good length – I can really lose myself in stuff like this.

Having established the ground-rules, The Flash, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales From The Crypt take us into that more subtle, orchestral sound that I was talking about, but it's the authentic piano going round in circles of Halloween that nails it for me. This album may not be as funky as some previous entries, but NN's diversity enables the urgency of his arrangements to emerge in a variety of new ways.

The Art Police, Mars Attacks, X-Men (Animated) and War Of The Worlds (TV) all have their own particular sounds to them, but The Crawling Eye heralds the arrival of something a bit new - tributes to forgotten black-and-white movies. What? You've never heard of Quentin Lawrence's 1958 classic The Crawling Eye? Here's how the sleeve-notes sum it up:

"One of the very best movies about a giant radioactive brain with tentacles and one eye squatting on a mountaintop who makes zombies out of dead people."

It sounds like pure joy, and Norman freely admits the post-modern place where he's coming from with his next track - the theme-song from the TV movie-strand Mystery Science Theatre 3000:

"You're wondering how he eats and breathes,
And other science facts,
Then repeat to yourself, 'It's just a show,
I should really just relax.'"

This number also features an instrumental break that sounds like 1970s TV Heaven.

Robot Monster features original sound-effects, atmospheres and even dialogue from the film, proving that with this one Norman has firmly stepped-over into more tribute than cover-version.

It's a respect continued throughout Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun and The Lost World Medley, the latter of which really does sound like it's the original soundtrack. I haven't compared them, I just mean it's so huge and orchestral. By the time that V For Vendetta comes on, with its Matrix-esque horns and, later, gentle piano lulls, this album has firmly departed from aiming for fun, and is instead beautifully cherishing the scores.

It's a million miles away from the crazy style that I associate with Neil Norman's work, but I'm pleased to say that it's a lovely new reason to continue enjoying his material.

All that said, Norman sure hasn't lost his sense of fun, or awareness of what retro-nerds like me have come to expect of him.

The final track Galactic Vortex is another original composition, this time by Les Baxter, but so exactly in the style of Norman's original 1980s albums, that it could seamlessly be passed-off as from one of them. I think he's just about done a tribute to his own work there.

This is another terrific entry into the series, and I can't believe he's talking about waiting maybe another decade before doing the next one.

I'd say my DNA has now been irrevocably altered.

Buy it here.

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2 comment(s):

At 3:53 am, Blogger KlownKrusty said...

Neil Norman is a shining star. There's something of the Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons about his music - familiar yet delightfully quirky.

With renewed cinematic interest in science fiction, I too hope it's not a decade until he releases his own takes on Avatar, District 9 and Mega Shark.


At 1:46 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Mega Shark? I hear that's one of the very best movies about a giant prehistoric shark fighting a giant prehistoric octopus with tentacles and starring Debbie Gibson.


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