Mr. Cellophane

In a location adjacent to a place in a city of some significance, what comes out of my head is plastered on the walls of this blog.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Oooh, scary! music - Part VI

Continuing what I said yesterday about Danny Elfman and Halloween, we come to a project that Elfman clearly relished, for it combined his vast talents as a songwriter and composer with his love of the holiday. That project is The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Halloweentown resident Jack Skellington (spoken by Chris Sarandon, sung by Elfman, and I'm struck by how alike their voices are; not really par for the animated musical course) is weary of Halloween and seeks a change. He stumbles upon Christmastown and tries to make the Yuletide season his own. Based on a story by Tim Burton, this is an impressive stop-motion feature whose reputation has grown over the years (thank you, Hot Topic).

Given how much narrative heft the songs carry, it's a little shocking that Elfman didn't receive a writing credit. (I guess a 'co-producer' credit works just as well.) It's a real kick hearing an orchestra doing the backing for these songs. "This is Halloween" introduces the citizens of Halloweentown with a gothic psuedo-march. (For an added treat, pick up "Music for a Darkened Theater - Vol. 2" which features a demo of Elfman singing all the parts!)

"Jack's Lament" makes for a mournful (if beautiful) bit of soul-searching as Jack longs for something more out of life (death?). "What's This?" is a complete 180-degree turn; an bouncy evocation of pure joy as Jack discovers Christmastown. "Town Meeting Song" expresses the citizens's curiosity and misunderstanding at the strange new holiday that Jack tells them about. "Jack's Obsession" (or "Something's Up with Jack") follows Jack's mania as he continues to understand Christmas.

"Kidnap the Sandy Claws" is a playfully malicious number following the plans of Lock, Shock and Barrel to...well, guess. "Making Christmas" interpolates the Dies Irae and a brief reprise of "Jack's Lament" as the townscreatures go about delivering a new kind of Christmas.

"Oogie Boogie's Song" is a very amusing Cab Calloway take-off detailing the villain's plans for Mr. Claws. "Sally's Song" is a lovely cabaret-style number; a heart-breaking expression of unrequited love, splendidly performed by Catherine O'Hara. "Poor Jack" is a beautifully dark tune, almost like a sequel/reprise of "Jack's Lament". "Finale/Reprise" moves from an uneasy take on "What's This?" to a truly romantic reprise of "Sally's Song".

The underscore to this film is also enjoyable. It's essentially instrumental versions of the songs, but still quite well-done. "Overture" begins with a soaring fanfare, before moving into a jaunty, sleigh bells-laden take on "What's This", followed by a 'tick-tock' "Making Christmas" on winds and horns and an appropriately searching read of "Jack's Lament".

"Doctor Finklestein" features the only non-song-derived motif, a staggering percussive melody for Sally's creator (Willian Hickey). "Nabbed" reprises the melody all-too-briefly while riffing on "Kidnap the Sandy Claws". "In the Forest" features a lonely flute and twittering jazzy horns, while "Christmas Eve Montage" follows Jack on his journey, accompanied by the "Lament" and "Obsession" melodies before taking a dark turn toward the end.

Two of my favorite score cues are "Jack and Sally Montage" and "To the Rescue". The former divides between soulful renditions of "Sally's Song" (with a superbly dark version at track's end) and wondering variations on "Jack's Lament" as Jack struggles to recreate Christmas. The latter is a driving action cue nimbly interpolating "What's This?", "This is Halloween" and "Making Christmas" and mixing them with the "Oogie Boogie" orchestration. The "End Credits" reprise virtually every song melody in a fantastic suite.

"Opening" is pretty much the narration from the film, while "Closing" (which wasn't in the film) provides a very nice epilogue to the story. Patrick Stewart's work is just marvelous and another good reason to own this disc.

The soundtrack (on Walt Disney Records) has been reissued with covers of the songs by the likes of Fiona Apple, Marilyn Manson and Fallout Boy...then again, it does feature Elfman's demos, so the choice is up to you.

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