October 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Michael WHALEN
Lost Liners  
  Original Soundtrack Recording to the PBS Television Special
  ORCHARD 6448   [53:25]

Mankind is intrigued by catastrophe. A trip to the video store reveals movies about war, mutation, and failed human endeavors such as Hindenburg and Titanic. No natural disaster is unexplored; earthquakes, flood, famine, meteors, tornadoes, you-name-it. Nightly television provides us with voyeuristic 'reality' shows, news programs that read like obituaries, and solemn documentaries.

It is the last category that "Lost Liners" sails, but with a share of soul and distinction. Composer Michael Whalen follows-up on his hurried "Titanic: Anatomy of a Disaster" by going the Lee Holdridge route, taking robust melodies and amiable orchestrations to accompany the tragic histories of the Titanic, the Britannic, the Lusitania, and the Empress of Ireland. The track 'Launching the Titanic/Brown's Photographs' stands out for its bold introduction and reflective resolution, as do 'Queenstown/The Search for Titanic' and 'Sailing into History (The Lusitania Theme)' for their colorful sound textures. The composer uses a traditional orchestra with synthesizer, guitar, penny whistle, South American flute (!), fiddle, and assorted musical sweeteners in a manner familiar enough to engage one's ears yet innovative enough to make that engagement worthwhile.

There are a few rasping moments. 'Hunting the Lusitania' literalizes the hunting concept with primitive drum rhythms and aggressive electronics. 'Building the Twins' suffers a similar dishonor in a soundtrack remix that recalls banging trash lids and chirping insects. 'Two Ships Pass in the Night' drones. After Whalen establishes a luxurious context for the Gilded Age, interspersed with bubbly New Age meditations, the intrusion of a riotous pop mentality is bewildering. The score's generally anachronistic symbolism of the past may require acclamation, and these cues ask for too much.

The composer's notes include the dedication of the soundtrack to the memories of those that experienced the misfortune firsthand... The final track and final highlight is a Celtic-flavored threnody of loss to the oceanic depths, of moving onward, and of wishes. 'My Heart Will Go On' this is not. Featuring vocalist Mary McLaughlin, 'A Flower on the Sea' is thoughtful, sincere, without a hint of triteness. This end expiates some problems that came before, and completes the dedication of the score as heartfelt proof of its integrity.

Jeffrey Wheeler



Jeffrey Wheeler


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