OK, I am finally going to review something that I am crazy about, to the point of obsessed, maybe even OCD. I am a huge Danny Elfman fan from the Oingo Boingo days. Recently he has really become the next John Williams with regards to movie soundtracks. While that may be arguable to some, I really don’t have time to get into the finer points other than to say that like Williams, Elfman’s work compliments the movies and even improves it by completing the stories. Anyway, with that said, I first saw the Nightmare Before Christmas when it first came out and I bought the soundtrack the same day back in 1993. I finally got my hands on this take of the original music and felt compelled to opine.
First, I was a little put off by the seemingly overbearing “goth” and “emo” feel, but upon further review (about 50 times), this is a much broader take than at first glance. Where some of the reviews here are musical midgets that can’t see beyond their own like or dislike of a genre of music, my judgment on this is a combination of the artistic interpretation and how it tells the story. I think it is unfair to say Marilyn Manson and run for the hills or synthe/techno what the ?!?! and give it poor remarks solely from a myopic point of view. While all view points are valid to one’s self my point in giving a review is to allow others to see my take and make a decision to buy or not to buy based on my experience. Now to the music:
Overture – If you don’t understand how Polka has influenced Danny Elfman then this won’t make much sense to you (OK polka would have influenced Weird Al more than Elfman but it was fun to write.) For the creative license I give it a 5/5.0. It seemed pretty natural and not a forced interpretation. It is by no means a stretch; and the feel, flavor and mood of the original was not lost. – Score 5/5
Opening – Can you get a better voice then Elfman for the opening? No you cannot!!! – Score 5.0
This is Halloween – Here is my first issue with this compilation. At first this seems to be a fit, but I refused to let “goth” hijack my precious Nightmare just because it creates some buzz. This rendition offers nothing original. It is plainly replayed and poorly sung. There is no musicianship. It is cheap and makes Marilyn Manson look better than he is soley by playing all the notes that already exist; he offered nothing original to it. It is neither darker than the original nor lighter. It just exists for a self serving homage to the singer rather than a tribute to Elfman’s work. I wish we could get Ozzy Osbourne. He would give it its due. – Score 0/5
Jack’s Lament – I am going to have to reject the All-American Rejects. Here we really have a communication problem. Instead of projecting frustration with Jack’s lack of challenge, we get apathy. Instead of hearing pride in ones work…well you get the point. The stepwise bass you here at the beginning is a tribute to Dante’s Lament and I’m not talking about the movie Clerks. I wish this would have been done by someone who has some training. The artistic license is just a half a notch above Manson. They took a chance in changing what was communicated, but I don’t think it works. Yes, Jack was bored, but he didn’t drift into a melancholy, marijuana-induced, apathetic view on existence. He was restless and acted. Something entirely missed in this inconsiderate depiction. – Score 2/5
Doctor Finklestein/In the Forest – At last some thoughtful contribution. It is somewhat minimalist, which allows the focus on what is being communicated. It went darker than the original and now when I see or imagine Jack’s stroll into the woods, the woods are a bit eerier, even foreboding. I love the feel. – Score 5/5
What’s This? – The creative license here is of note. Its like playing baseball and scoring a touchdown. Sally’s song could be emo but this??? When Jack finds something “he never knew he never knew” to quote Pocahontas or Rumsfield if you’re just a bit astute, he goes ballisticly unemotionally detached. NO!!! He is exited, renewed and even quickened! It is beautifully sung though, but communicates something entirely out of sync. – Score 3.5/5
Town Meeting Song – Ok, we stretch a 3 minute lyrical masterpiece into 9 minutes. This had better be good, and at first I was disappointed. However, upon further review, it is a musical “redo” ingeniously prolonged. Here, it is the story/not the music that really stands out. It is funny. My favorite line is “OOOHH YES, Does it still have a FOOT?” You couldn’t get that kind of excitement in the original without destroying the rhythmic interplay of that sequence, but I would love to hear that kind of excitement in the movie. It would have been funnier. Some will of course not like this selection. It is musical and there are some great rock elements here, but it is the story that takes precedent over the music and it is well done. – Score 5/5
Jack and Sally Montage – This is greatness and a magnificent tribute to the music. This is the best instrumental here. There is some experimentation and it works. This made me want to dig into the Vitamin String Quartet. – Score 5/5
Jack’s Obsession – Again extremely miscommunicated, like the media’s interpretation of Palin’s death panels. But, I do have to give kudos for the musical transformation. It doesn’t sound anything like the original, and it doesn’t communicate obsession at all. It is very lackadaisical, extremely mismatched, and useless in the telling of the story. But for some odd reason – Score 3.5/5
Kidnap the Sandy Claws – There is some risk here, it is not a reproduction like This is Halloween but it doesn’t push Korn’s musicianship. It really isn’t sharp playing just ok. It is playful, fun, but maybe too abrupt. It has grown on me but not my favorite. – Score 4/5.
Making Christmas – This is fine playing and a great interpretation. It communicates the excitement and energy required. Nice to hear some added metal tributes also. The drum line and guitar work is excellent. Of all the vocals this one is the best and knocks it out of the ballpark. I’m not even a metal fan but can hear the artistry. Thanks Rise Against – 5/5
Nabbed – Another thoughtful, instrumental piece. I loved hearing an oriental flair; and the tributes to the oriental sound without losing the integrity of the work are pleasing. – Score 4.5/5
Oogie Boogie’s Song – I don’t know if I’m disappointed or pleasantly surprised here. At first, I really wanted this to be vocal and have someone go to town on it. You know that when Elfman goes blues bar he is really having fun. I wanted to see someone play tribute to that kind of fun, but I didn’t get it. Instead I got Spanish guitar and good Spanish guitar at that. Score – 5/5
Sally’s Song – Beautiful piece, but not shiny – Score 4.5/5
Christmas Eve Montage – This is a fun piece and brings a little of the electra/techno into this mix. I think Depeche Mode would have worked too but you can’t have everything. All in all, I’m glad it was included. – Score 4/5
Poor Jack – This is done well. Not a lot of risk taken but some fun elements. – Score 4/5
To the Rescue – More electra/techno but not unpleasant. It is fun and even nostalgic. I could totally see this in an Austin Powers rescue scene. – Score 4/5
Finale/Reprise – OK, a little harder than I expected but it works on some strange level. This is risk taking that compliments the music/story. – Score 4.5/5
Closing – Again no better voice than Elfman’s – 5/5
End Title – I really enjoyed this – mesmerizing, pensive, and lyrical. Very well layered, and I feel this is a bit Tangerine Dream like. It is one of the best instrumentals here. – Score 5/5
There are more hits than misses for the eclectic minded. This album has a wide range of styles that the more myopic collector will dismiss. It is excellently put together as a whole and no one style outdoes any of the others. Although the instrumentals do tend to outdo the vocal pieces but that is to be expected. It is easier to rearrange instrumentals than to change the vocal style and not lose the story and maybe that is where the trouble lies for some selections. Either they didn’t change anything substantial or they went too far and ruined the story. Simply put the vocals are constricted in the artistic license to keep with the integrity of the story telling. With that, I would have to give the winning effort to Raise Against for Making Christmas. It is well worth the misses. All in all – this compilation is better and broader than I had originally thought.
M. Kent Leckie