- When Rustic Hinges need Lubrication (Iron Man reads Keith Emerson Comics) -
Although I could be wrong (it wouldn't be the first time) I think this CD is only available from the official Keith Emerson website as I have to date, never seen a copy in any retail stores.
If the sleeve notes are to be believed, this project was forged at a meeting in 1994 between Marvel Comics illustrator supremo Stan Lee and probably the worst knife and flame throwing musician in history, Keith Emerson. At its conclusion both parties agreed that the music traditionally used for children's comic book animations was banal in the extreme and what better opportunity was there to give the kids a subliminal musical appreciation primer than get Mr E to levitate the soundtrack to film score extravaganza proportions ? What finer candidate could there be than the man who lit the bomb in 'bombastic?'
A marriage made in heaven it would seem, but as King Henry VIII whispered quietly to one of Anne Boleyn's linen handmaidens:
- No, don't bother with two pillows, we won't need that many tomorrow trust me -
'Iron Man Main Title Theme' - Keith gets us off to a lively start with a swaggering and nagging march tune stated on heroic signature synth brass underpinned by a punning groove exploiting some resonating metallic percussion. I can even see the screen credits scrolling in front of my minds eye. The old biker's sabbatical in the film industry during the 80's is reaping rich dividends here.
'And the Sea Shall Give Up It's Dead' - Starts with a very eerie high pitched dissonant cluster chord (Yep this must be the leitmotif of the 'baddie' - Wagner goes digital). However the momentum of this intriguing opening is soon lost as the piece lapses into a rather half-hearted but knowingly twee 'cheese lounge' tangent before Emerson, for reasons best known to himself, quotes 'Street War' fleetingly from 'In the Hot Seat'. Things do perk up thereafter with some sporadic and delightful orchestral writing and several disguised and modulated allusions to the opening track's sublime theme. There is also a hint of both 'Glorietta' and 'Romeo & Juliet' in places here and the whole construction although certainly ever changing and atmospheric does betray a rather haphazard arrangement. Keith also completely overdoes the punning metallic clanging percussion arsenal to wearying effect. This type of short episodic writing is certainly appropriate for animation work but I fear it would take until 'Godzilla Wars' in 2004 before Emerson would perfect this particular discipline fully. (Which reminds me, I need to add that album to his discography)
'I Am Ultimo, Thy Deliverer' - Some brooding and restive string synth writing opens this track and at least half this section has a more satisfying development and structure than the one before. The percussion is much more restrained and carries more weight as a result. The rapidity and insistence of the staccato passages are cleverly balanced against the legato pad and string sounds with the overall effect being that of a fully realised dynamic orchestral score. At 6 min 50ish however, we deviate into a straight rock groove but like all the many ideas that proliferate on this record, nothing sticks around for long or even prefaces its arrival. Circa 9 mins in we meet some martial snare and a jazzy interlude but again this is never sustained into a lasting theme. At 11 minutes we bump into a flustered Bela Bartok, bamboozled by his pungent Hungarian modes being employed for a fantasy cartoon. Yep, things really do DRAG from here on in and I cannot help but get the impression that this has degenerated into technician Will Alexander with stopwatch in hand, dialling up a new preset and challenging the maestro to:
- Play something that fits that sound then smarty leather pants! -
Just prior to the quarter hour elapsing we get a very clumsy lurch into Chick Corea jazz rock territory, and as brilliant as the solo and groove are, they just do not stem naturally from what came before. The fact that the drum sounds employed are via sequenced samples or a hardware unit does not help the creation of a credible percussion performance throughout the album alas.
'Data In Chaos Out' - Quotes cheekily from Holst at least twice on the intro I think? and seemingly emboldened by his subterfuge going undetected risks a snatch of both 'God Save the Queen' and 'Mars the Bringer of War' further in. You are a very naughty man Mr Emerson. Segues into an unusual, for Keith at any rate, pastoral and folky medieval plainsong a la Gryphon before appearing to quote his own left hand ostinato on 'Piano Concerto 3rd Movement'. (We'll let the last one pass certainly) Significantly there is a synth patch Keith uses liberally which mimics moving 'around the dial' on an old fashioned wireless and this may give some rationale as to the truncated brevity of the writing employed here to imitate the effect of stumbling upon short excerpts of random broadcasts? Keith however is plainly guilty on 'Data In Chaos Out' of that cardinal sin of many keyboard players who have distorted guitar sounds under their fingers via a sampler/synth i.e. if you don't think and play like a guitarist you're gonna sound like the Venus de Milo holding a Strat (pretty unconvincing)
'Silence My Companion, Death My Destination' - Play the first 20 seconds of this to your annoying and stubbornly white urban bro' next door and watch his acne encrusted features fall when you exclaim with indecent and crowing glee:
- 'Gotcha.... it's old prog fart numero uno!!' -
Piano appears for the first time here and despite the wonderful and tantalizing glimpses of Emerson's playing we again never get a chance for the underlying ideas to present themselves properly due to the disjointed nature of the arrangement which resembles a cut-up narrative that would have made even William Burroughs proud. Once again the main theme provides some sort of respite and it certainly has a strength and resilience that so much of this messy album does not. Emerson dallies with dance techniques at various junctures with mostly unconvincing results i.e. he layers house beats under urban sax motifs and bleepy analogue percussion and just manages to lose whatever skin tone he may have possessed before he started. Yep, unfortunately after about 15 minutes, as if on cue, Keith has run out of ideas and merely goes round his favourite synth presets again giving us a wretched home demo appropriation of 'Tank' for our pains of forbearance. Uncannily, 'Street Wars' makes yet another appearance and like a wasp in the middle of winter, proves to be a particularly unwelcome guest.
'Iron Man, Theme Alternate' - Very strong musical ideas relegated to just 1 minute in duration. So much of the quality on this recording is in inverse proportion to its running time.
So there you have it, a very disappointing pot pourri of soundtrack related sketches and preset digital synth cul de sacs I'm afraid. Perhaps if I had seen the visuals that are to accompany this music I may feel differently but if you are going to release a stand alone CD of music, it really should measure up of its own accord. Those proggers who are HEAVILY into synth sounds for their own sake might be in hog heaven with this album but as for the remainder, only the terminally obsessed (like moi) should indulge.