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Cosmos Vol.4 (Alan Silvestri)

June 24, 2014

Cover_cosmosCOSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY (VOL. 4)

Alan Silvestri, 2014, Cosmos Studios Music
13 tracks, 40:38

Will “Cosmos” volume 4 deliver more of the same or present something radically different? Will it worth the additional purchase?
Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

The long-awaited sequel to Carl Sagan’s popular 80s series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage”, “A Spacetime Odyssey” offers a view of the universe and focuses on mankind’s pursuit of knowledge. A second volume of the show’s music by Alan Silvestri has now been released. Whilst it continues in the same style as “Volume 1“, “Volume 2” and “Volume 3”, it has some satisfying variations to offer.

What does it sound like?

The album opens with a lovely orchestral rendition of the “Cosmos” main theme, here carried by woodwinds. The second half of this cue sees some nice strings-and-horn interplay, so typical for this composer.  “Pat Patterson” opens gently and continues with a strident ostinato for piano. As the orchestra slowly comes back in you could almost imagine that this is how Silvestri writes his trademark action cues. The first half of “4.5 Billion Years Old” sounds like a thriller, or a film-noir, with suspensful chord progressions. The second half is marked by electronics and arpeggios for both piano and guitar; which have featured so heavily throughout this series. In this case Silvestri layers a melody for horn, strings and choir on top of it.

Electronics come to the fore in cues like “Duck Soup?”, wtih its typical sparkling noises. “Sifting the Stars” opens quite lively with percussion and a Middle-Eastern-sounding violin, though within seconds it calms down again and gradually starts to move towards a fully orchestral second half. “Stellar Atmosphere” is a mesmerising cue that reprises several of the series themes. The strings are heart-felt during the first half, though a delay-effect on a guitar elsewhere jars as it’s not in sync with the tempo. From someone like Silvestri I can only assume it is deliberate, though it’s unpleasant nonetheless. The second half features a lovely, twinkly rendition of his theme for Carl Sagan – a simple, one-finger melody, as Silvestri described it in a recent interview. The theme returns in “Adaptable Species”.

“What About Us” may well be the biggest orchestral cue of the series so far, courtesy of the brass section. Its suspenseful chords are reminiscent of “Contact”. Things get a lot more playful in “Paris, 1878” in which the composer presents a simple, but infectious little melody that gets bounced around the orchestra. It doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of some of Silvestri’s best comedy scores (I’m mainly thinking “Mouse Hunt”), but it sure has a pretty good go at it. Incidentally, it’s cues like these that highlight my main concern with the score(s) for “Cosmos”. There are a lot of really great ideas present, but none get to live up to their fullest potential. Maybe that’s because it’s TV, or because it’s a documentary, or maybe it’s a budget decision or even an artistic one. I really want this “Paris” cue, like so many others, to kick into the next gear, but it doesn’t. It is held back, like the rest of the score.

“Once There Was a World” is, for the most part, another nice orchestral cue. It opens, however, with gamelan and flute. Silvestri does Asian music. It’s pleasant enough, but is cut short. Again, it would’ve been nice if this got a chance to develop, even if the orchestral part is ultimately more satisfying. Finally, one of the score’s most beautiful themes gets to soar in “Islands of Light”. It’s what I call Silvestri’s ‘pandora’s box’ moment, named after that magnificent little cue on the “Tomb Raider 2” score. “Sacred Searching” promises to take Carl’s theme to new heights… and almost does. It swells, with strings playing the theme and horns providing a nice counterpoint. However, the piano motif from “Contact” (surely a deliberate quote) finishes the cue. The album closes with “End Credits”, which is a brief suite of the score’s main themes. The sound quality of the main and end title cues has always irked me. There’s something odd about it, as if the stereo is artificially widened (or something else). Whatever it is, it is done badly.

Is it any good?

The fourth release suffers from the same issues as the previous ones, though also shares the same qualities. There are plenty of really good ideas here. Lots of lovely, heart-felt melodies, moments of suspense and moments of wonder. Yet, the music is never allowed to really rise to its fullest potential. Maybe it wouldn’t have been appropriate for the show, but for us fans it’s a real shame. It may be wishful thinking, but I’d quite like for Silvestri to adapt this music for the concert hall and let it really soar.

I often complain about Silvestri’s use of electronics. The arpeggiated guitar that appears throughout the whole score is an ear-sore. Generally though, the electronics on this fourth album are a bit better. More importantly, there is less of it! Overall then, this is arguably the best of the series. Did it really need four albums? In hindsight, probably not. No more than it needed four reviews! This last installment features some satisfying performances of the main themes; as well as some other wonderful (typically Silvestri) orchestral cues.

Rating [3,5/5]

Tracklisting

1. The Pale Blue Bot (3:25)
2. Duck Soup? (3:55)
3. Pat Patterson (3:07)
4. 4.5 Billion Years Old (4:11)
5. Sifting the Stars (4:10)
6. Stellar Atmospheres (4:34)
7. What About Us? (2:23)
8. Adaptable Species (2:25)
9. Paris, 1878 (2:38)
10. Once There Was a World (3:56)
11. Islands of Light (2:01)
12. Sacred Searching (1:23)
13. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – DVD End Credits (2:30)

Availability

Digitally on iTunes (no digital booklet).

Related Reviews

Cosmos (Vol. 1)
Cosmos (Vol. 2)
Cosmos (Vol. 3)

More Information

For a wonderful in-depth interview with Alan Silvestri and Seth MacFarlane about “Cosmos”, visit the Projector & Orchestra website.

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5 Comments
  1. I much prefer the artwork for Volume 4 over the previous ones. At last they put some thought into it.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Cosmos Vol.3 (Alan Silvestri) | Synchrotones' Soundtrack Reviews
  2. Cosmos Vol.2 (Alan Silvestri) | Synchrotones' Soundtrack Reviews
  3. Cosmos (Alan Silvestri) | Synchrotones' Soundtrack Reviews

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