Babylon 5: Volume 2 - Messages From Earth
Uni / Sonic Images Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Alfredo Narvaez
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/17/2000
As any self-respecting fiction fan will tell you, the music is incredibly important to create the proper mood for any TV show or movie or play. Imagine Star Wars without John Williams' stirring music behind it. A lot of the impact and power that the movies had is lost without the music present. That's true for not just science fiction, but for every kind of work. Think of Schindler's List, Rocky, The Godfather... the list is nearly endless. We might not remember every line of every movie, but we sure as heck remember the music that surrounded every action. It's to the point that several composers are immediately thought of when the names of their best known projects are called - Williams and Star Wars, Morricone and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly or Barry and the Bond films.
Along those lines, we have Christopher Franke, former member of Tangerine Dream, and his work on the hit TV show, Babylon 5. Having recorded every piece of music the show ever did - except for the pilot and the last tele-movie, "A Call To Arms" - it's his music that has stamped the show and given its aura. Fans of Babylon 5 clamored for his music that their record label, Sonic Images, now releases his music to various episodes - not just compilations. Nevertheless, if you were to ask me what album to get first, it's this one.
Compiled at the beginning of the fourth TV season, Franke brought the music of the TV show onto one disc. One part of the album is the opening themes that started the show. A thing to notice how the music changes as the show progresses. The first season theme - expanded here - is wide open and adventurous, the music for a show about exploring and discovering. The second season theme is less open, but still there is a sense of wonder to it. However, season's three theme - probably the best, in my opinion - is more militaristic in nature. Gone is the hope of seasons one and two. Along those lines, season four's theme is very action-oriented. No time for dreams, there's a war going on.
The other part of the disc is made up of these long music suites. Rather than taking the small cues from each episode and just pasting them here by themselves, Franke unites them into four large, ten minute, pieces. This makes for an interesting listen. The first suite, the title track, is very action-packed, but ends with this heroic piece at the end. "Z'ha'dum," the second suite, is filled with more desperation and determination - as it should, for this piece deals with the main enemies of the show, the Shadows. The third suite, "Severed Dreams," is the longest one. Also packed with action-pieces, there's no sense of wonder here. Cool thing is this suite ends with a small strings playing into a sense of despair. Nothing is clear-cut or simple on this show and the music on this suite exemplifies it.
The final suite is a piece of original music. Titled "Voices Of Authority," you may recognize the main cue as the first half of the season five theme. Here you get not only the sense of wonder back, but it's also mixed in with a sense of heroism. Though the piece flutters and moves, it always returns to this main theme. Only gripe with it is that I don't like the little flutter piece that ends it. I would have just let the main cue fade out. But that's just me.
I have two small complaints. While using the suites as showcases helps create a new mood and allows you to see the music in new ways, it can get a bit daunting to sit there and listen to ten minute pieces. At the same time, there's no way for you to listen to your favorite slices of each suite without working your way through them again and again. For example, in the first suite, the heroic and dramatic piece at around the eight-minute mark is one of my favorite cues. There's no way for me to just listen to it whenever I want on a CD. I have to work through the whole piece to get to it. That can get a bit annoying.
The second complaint is that there's just 58 minutes of music here. C'mon. Give us more. There was so much good music throughout the whole show that to just give these four pieces and the four themes may seem not enough.
Overall, this is the kind of music that is created to give off the proper mood. If you are into great sci-fi music or even if you just want to listen to new things, give Franke's music a try. While it may not be as operatic and thematic like most of today's scores, you could find yourself enjoying it for giving the right vibes to the right moments. In the end, that's what great score music is meant to do.