Babylon 5: Messages From Earth
Sonic Images Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Alfredo Narvaez
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/27/2000
Without a doubt, one of the more important aspects to any project is the music. I've stated this before, but it bears reminding: The right music can lift a mediocre product and make it appear deeper and richer. And when the project is good, then the music can often be the ribbon on the package. Now to honor the start of the Sci-Fi Channel's showing of this landmark TV series, I decided to go back and review perhaps its most solid album.
Christopher Franke, a former member of Tangerine Dream, might have seemed a weird choice to replace The Police's Stuart Copeland as the music composer for the science-fiction series Babylon 5. (Copeland did the original music for the pilot, but was replaced before the series started. Franke scored all of the series and most of the TV-movies). After all, his most acclaimed project before that had been the score to the 1980s weird sci-fi-movie Legend (best known for starring Tom Cruise and a deviled Tim Curry). Still, Franke brought a new sound and a freshness to the sonic landscape of Babylon 5. By combining both the classic sound of the Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra with his own experiments in electronic music, he managed to create something that had yet to be heard before.
The fans of the show, eager for the music, went out and bought the original soundtrack - which had music from seasons 1 and 2. Still, their demand for more music resulted in the release of this album - Volume 2, subtitled Messages From Earth.
The album could be split into two parts. On one half, you have the opening themes to each season. It's interesting to hear the progression of these themes from "Season One (Extended) Theme" to "Season Four Theme." The first season's theme is very open and feels more adventurous - proper to a science-fiction show. However, as the seasons move, this adventurous feeling dissapears and is replaced by a more dramatic and desperate quality. "Season Three Theme" exemplifies this and is also my favorite. It shows that the music was not being stagnant as the show progressed, but rather moved and joined the actions on screen to create a whole. Very cool.
The majority of the disc, however, is cues taken from various episodes throughout the series. However, rather than just putting these cues by their lonesome, Franke does something that was innovative. He combines the various small music pieces to create music suites that go for some ten minutes each. Even more interesting is that, rather than tie them according to season or year, they are united by how they sound.
The first suite, the title track, is a ten-minute move through some of the more adventurous and heroic music from the show. As it sways and moves, it picks up steam. Then, from about the six-minute mark till the end, the piece gains both a sense of urgency and destiny. This is great stuff. The other suite that has as much heroism in it is the closing--and original - "Voices of Authority." It constantly returns to this same sequence - or theme - which is also great. (Some might recognize the main theme used here as the first half of the Season Five theme).
The other two suites, "Z'ha'dum" and "Severed Dreams" feature some of the more darker and action-oriented music from the show. Clocking between twelve and fifteen minutes each, they both are full of the mix of electronic and orchestral tones that Franke is able to do so well. Perhaps my only complaint is that they are so long. Couldn't Franke have broken them down to six to ten minute pieces? Minor, minor complaint, but I think that's the only thing detractors may have against this album.
Have you ever wondered what the future's orchestras might sound like? Pay close attention. This is what they should - and perhaps will.