After 2012's volume 2 and 2014's volume 3, this past week brings us the BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES Original Television Soundtrack, volume 4. Like volume 2, this album had pre-release availability at Comic-Con, but as I've noted here in recent weeks, I was unable to attend this year due to the birth of my son. So I pre-ordered the album straightaway when it went up on La La Land's site Tuesday at noon, and it arrived (autographed by composers Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis and Carlos Rodriguez) in the mail Friday.
Naturally, given the hectic nature of my life at the moment, I haven't had time to give this set a real in-depth listen, but I have given it one cursory run-through while the baby was sleeping (I think he liked the music!) and I wanted to jump on a post while the iron was hot -- so I found a bit of time to cobble this piece together during a subsequent naptime. Speaking of which -- note also that La La Land released a 4-disc soundtrack album for JUSTICE LEAGUE this past week, and I'll try to write something about that as things settle down within the next month or two. But for now, I really couldn't wait to cover BATMAN.
I already provided some backstory for my interest in this music in my look at volume 3 a couple years ago, so I won't dally much on that this time -- other than to say that we should always remember that, as recently as a decade ago, the only BATMAN: TAS music available commercially was the original soundtrack album from 1993's MASK OF THE PHANTASM film. That was it. A 40-ish minute score from Shirley Walker and nothing more. Fast forward to today, however, and we now have the complete scores to every one of the initial 65-episode production season available on CD. It's hard to express how remarkable I find this. It may come across overdramatic, but ten years back (heck make that twenty years back), I never imagined I would live in a world where this was the case.
With all of supervising composer Walker's episode scores, as well as many of the series' best efforts from other composers, already available on the prior three volumes, one might assume this release would contain the "leftovers" in the form of the weakest material. And, in fact, La La Land nearly didn't produce this album at all, having stated previously that volume 3 was to be it for BATMAN: TAS's initial 65 episodes, with the remaining unreleased material to remain so. But something changed over the past few years, leading to this 2-disc set spotlighting all the remaining notes from that first syndicated season. And I would argue that none of it deserved to be left behind, so kudos are due to La La Land for changing course from their initial plan and getting this stuff out there.
The album opens with the eerie "Off Balance" by Mark Koval and Michael McCuistion; among other great cues, this episode features the debut of Shirley Walker's "Ra's Al Ghul theme" which was later developed by McCuistion and Harvey Cohen in "The Demon's Quest" two-parter (available on volume 2) -- and I have to say, the way Koval counterpoints al Ghul's theme with this episode's suspenseful motif in a grand finale is a moment that gives me chills.
If the phrase "dark but mirthful" can be used to describe anything, it must apply to the next episode score, Todd Hayen's "Joker's Wild". Then it's on to the sweeping mystery of "The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy" from Koval and Beth Ertz -- a tense and action-packed standout, in my opinion, on the album -- if not from the entire 65-episode canon released thus far.
The somewhat lighthearted (by B:TAS standards) "Zatanna" follows, from Peter Tomashek and Nerida Tyson-Chew, with Richard Bronskill's experimental, electric guitar-driven "Moon of the Wolf" next. "The Mechanic" by Tomashek and John Tatgenhorst, a nice spotlight for Walker's Penguin theme, rounds out disc 1.
Disc 2 features only two full scores: The jungle beats of "The Worry Men" by Lolita Ritmanis and the brooding "His Silicon Soul" from Carl Johnson and Harvey Cohen -- a sequel to "Heart of Steel" from volume 3, which revisits the "H.A.R.D.A.C. theme" created by Johnson for that prior installment.
Sandwiched between these two are five relatively short cues composed for "Fear of Victory" by Walker, Carlos Rodriguez, and Lisa Bloom. Apparently this episode mostly featured music tracked in from previous shows, meaning it's the only one of the initial 65 not to have a wholly original score, and the few bits presented here are all that was crafted specifically to accompany it. Still, there's an outstanding fast-paced action version of Walker's Batman theme in the second of these cues courtesy of Bloom, while the third features a great medley of the Joker's Poison Ivy's, and Two-Face's themes in a brief Arkham Asylum scene composed by Walker.
And speaking of Arkham, these nine complete episode scores aren't where the set ends. The remainder of disc 2 is filled with the "Arkham Archives", a testament to La La Land's dedication to getting all of this music out there -- and I mean all of it. When volume 1 came out way back in 2008, it was sort of a "highlights" album rather than an all-inclusive score release. Mind you, the scores on that release were quite comprehensive and the material on those two discs made for a fine listening experience; but there were cues of varying length omitted from nearly every episode. That has been rectified here, as La La Land gives us various tracks, ranging from a few seconds to a couple minutes, from "On Leather Wings", "The Last Laugh", Pretty Poison", "Two-Face", "It's Never Too Late", "Vendetta", and "Birds of a Feather" by Walker, McCuistion, and Lolita Ritmanis.
And beyond that, while volumes 2 and 3 were much more exhaustively compiled than volume 1, La La Land still managed to find some additional material to supplement those releases as well. Thus we have alternates and source cues (music composed to play within a scene rather than as part of the underscore -- Muzak, radio broadcasts, etc.) from a number of volume 1, 2, and 3 episodes as well!
The package is beautifully designed by Jim Titus, who did a spectacular job on a few of the prior DC Animated albums as well, and while I liked the dramatic cover of volume 3 the best out of all these releases, this set has a striking image of Batman on the front cover and an iconic headshot from the opening credits filling the interior CD tray. I almost feel like the cover might've been commissioned for this particular set, because unlike the prior volumes, it doesn't look like any old promotional or production art from the era.
The liner note booklet features, as usual, a comprehensive essay by album producer John Takis, this time focused entirely on Shirley Walker's life and career -- and I have to admit, I learned a few things about Ms. Walker I never realized, namely that she was born in Napa, grew up here in the Bay Area, and even went to high school a scant nine or so miles from where I currently live! Following this retrospective are brief episode summaries and notes from the various composers regarding their roles in crafting those episodes' scores, along with their remembrances of Walker (and a nice anecdote about the late Harvey Cohen as well, from Carl Johnson).
|Sixty-five episodes and a movie.|
Once again, I must note that I have no musical background to speak of. When I talk about film and television scores, its with layman's knowledge at best. But, as I've noted previously, I know what I like, and I firmly believe that BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES had some of the finest music ever composed for television, and certainly the finest ever composed in the field of action-adventure animation. Every score stands on its own with a unique theme like something out of the back catalogue of Golden Age Hollywood, even as the scores taken together feature numerous recurring motifs and callbacks. As with the previous volumes in this series, BATMAN: TAS volume 4 receives my highest possible recommendation for fans of Batman or simply of fine music.
La La Land has said that THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN AND ROBIN, essentially the second season of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, is due up next, most likely in the form of a 3-disc set. The show had twenty episodes, however, and I worry that three discs may not be enough to contain complete scores for all those installments. But I trust La La Land's record (no pun intended), especially after this fourth BATMAN release, and I'll be anxiously awaiting that next set, whenever it materializes. (Hopefully sooner rather than later, though. What can I say; I'm impatient!)
Available now from La La Land Records:
- BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES Original Television Soundtrack volume 1
- BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES Original Television Soundtrack volume 2
- BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES Original Television Soundtrack volume 3
- JUSTICE LEAGUE Original Television Soundtrack
- SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES Original Television Soundtrack volume 1
|The full DC Animated Universe musical experience as it exists today.|
Note 2: And now, with all those pleasantries out of the way, I'll take a moment for some unprofessional complaining: According to La La Land, sales on their SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES volume 1 soundtrack from 2014 were less than favorable, and plans for a second album have been placed on indefinite hold. At the same time, these BATMAN: TAS albums seem to sell like hotcakes, leading me to pose the rhetorical question: who on Earth buys the Batman albums but not the Superman one?? It's the same music! That is to say, the same composers working in the same style on characters in the same universe! The SUPERMAN album even has a three-part score on it from an episode which guest-starred Batman and featured Shirley Walker's theme heavily. Buying one of these sets without the other is like ordering a burger without fries or, I dunno, getting a smartphone without a data plan or something. They go together, and there's absolutely no excuse for somebody to purchase one but not the other!
So I implore anyone who enjoys this BATMAN music to go read my review of SUPERMAN: TAS volume 1 and then jump over to La La Land's site to listen to track samples and pick it up. I absolutely guarantee, if you like the BATMAN stuff, you won't be disappointed by SUPERMAN!
*An even year also means it's time for my S.F. Giants to win the World Series again, so let's all keep our fingers crossed for that too, right?