Life Just Bounces don't you get worried at all. (A weblog of music and otrogenerica)

Saturday, 12 September 2009

#9: The TV Theme Players — "Then and Now" (Big Eye, 2009)

Or: "things i have learned from listening to The TV Theme Players".

— My god but there are a lot of TV shows. This double CD has 110 tracks. And they're pretty much all American shows, the only UK representative being the really crap Skins.

The Blind Boys of Alabama version of "Way Down in the Hole" is apparently the definitive Wire theme. Which is balls, of course, as everyone knows it's the Tom Waits original.

— Hardly any TV themes are in irregular time signatures. There's Mission:Impossible (5/4), of course, and stalwart Britcop drama The Bill (7/8). And that's literally about the lot. Wasted opportunity, this.

— No kind of treatment could make the theme from Nip/Tuck sound like a decent piece of music. That isn't on this album, i'm just sayin'.

— A lot of shows nowadays don't have proper themes so much as an inoffensive little ambient sound-squiggles (see: Lost, Heroes etc.) This, too, is a waste of potential.

Ben Butler & Mouse Pad absolutely must cover the theme from Tequila & Bonetti. possibly also Jump Street. It's ok, i've told them already.

— The 80s were truly halcyon TV theme days.

— i've really gotta watch Twin Peaks soon.

— i do not find the theme from ER to convey the requisite sense of urgency, being far too relaxed for this purpose. In hospital terms, i think it would be a much more convincing soundtrack for somewhere like the Ear, Nose and Throat department.

— The TV Theme Players are likely a group of highly competent session musicians capable of convincingly switching between myriad styles and instruments with ease. However, the reason i say "likely" is because there's no clue anywhere on the internet who's responsible or why. Their page has no comments and no bio. In the absence of any sort of personality or obvious motive to the group whatsoever, what we're left with is the '00s equivalent of those weird Top of the Pops albums they had in the '60s where groups of session musos would perform ten Top 40 covers — mostly quite passable, sometimes incomprehensibly awful — to skirt licensing regulations.

Considering the potential audience for this creeps me out a little. Who is it aimed at? Prankster radio stations with archive space to fill? People who think TV shows are just a waste of 40 minutes between the cool music bits? The sort of people that listen to anime soundtracks, or consider Jonathan Larson their favourite composer?

At times the atmosphere is uncomfortably close to being stuck in an office Christmas party in Purgatory. The instrumental themes tend to fare better than, for instance, the Tesco No Frills version of Happy Days, which is like being badgered by a hyperactive Butlin's redcoat while trying to eat a cooked breakfast in peace. The most wretched of the lot are the themes which are actual songs: Jane's Addiction's horrible Entourage theme was bad enough to start with, and an anonymous cover of a bastardised excerpt, as here, only adds a sheen of gloss-eyed vacancy to the usual cock-rock bluster. Gruesome. Likewise, South Park illustrates the folly of trying to sound like Primus,1 and Massive Attack's "Teardrop" gains nothing by being oversimplified and renamed "House". And let us never speak of "Jackass" (a.k.a. a horrible bowdlerising of the Minutemen's "Corona", but with all the "Corona" removed). If anything, the themes-that-are-bona-fide-songs mainly serve to reinforce the earlier point that good TV theme composition is a rarefied art, to be increasingly valued over the lamer and more prevalent options of licensing some generically hip alt.rock or setting a synth to AutoBloop.

Jack White of The White Stripes shows up to do backing vocals on the Friends theme.2

— By the 85th consecutive theme i have started to feel as if someone has injected my entire face with Lidocaine. Only another 25 to go...

— The L.A. Law theme sounds like Christopher Cross playing "The Little Drummer Boy".

Highlights: Six Feet Under (wonderful theme in general; includes inventive rendering of the discordant modern classical mid-section vamp); Quantum Leap (which i've always felt to be quite a mediocre theme); Justice League Unlimited (too much metal for one hand); Dragonball Z (session-muso metal is just too hilarious); The Cosby Show and any of its jazzy cod-new-Jack-swingin' 80s contemporaries, against all odds (just unashamedly joyous and daft); Twin Peaks (atmospheric); Prison Break (rare class for a modern theme); Quincy M.E. (parping, clownish); New York Undercover (sounds like an MJ Dangerous outtake); Magnum PI (even, say, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain would have trouble fucking up a tune that good); Young Indiana Jones (a class rendition of Laurence Rosenthal's Boingo-esque theme); Boston Legal (just because i'm pretty sure the original did not feature someone imitating a guitar solo by going "wow waow waaooowww....").

Lowlights: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (no version of this will ever escape lame-o student-disco ironyland); "Woke Up This Morning" from The Sopranos (it was a terrible song to start with, this is just a straight cover. How have Alabama 3 managed to wangle the role of "the Gomez it's ok to like" anyway?); One Tree Hill (shockingly bland college rock crap); Walker, Texas Ranger (widdle widdle widdle); Murder, She Wrote (generally pretty good, but reorchestrating out the flatulent quacking trombone sections is total desecration); Baywatch (always was fucking awful, with its sand-in-the-joints phallic sax breaks farting all over everything, but this version is egregiously bad. it actually sounds like MIDI programming); the aforementioned Heroes (good effort, though); Chappelle's Show (funny for the first thirty seconds, excruciating for the next five lots of thirty seconds); Flintstones (wailing lead/synth revisionism).

mp3: TV Theme Players – "Prison Break"
mp3: TV Theme Players – "Justice League Unlimited"
mp3: TV Theme Players – "Six Feet Under"
mp3: TV Theme Players – "Young Indiana Jones"
mp3: TV Theme Players – "Tequila & Bonetti"
mp3: TV Theme Players – "Twin Peaks"

1 Even if you are Primus. No, especially if you are Primus.
2 Not really.

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