Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Score
Rounder 11661-9078-2 [1166190782]
(2008 commercial CD soundtrack release)

They say the best things come to those who wait, which must prove to all that Beck's music for Buffy The Vampire Slayer was an instant classic in screen scoring. To say this release has a wealth of emotions, fantastic faux-orchestral voice, beautiful melodies.. is to understate how magnificent and varied the scoring really is. On screen it MADE the show, combining in a rarely repeated mix of talent in scripting, acting and music; on CD it leaps straight at you: the newbie will be dazzled, the Buffy fan instantly transported back to what must have felt like an era of magic, monsters, vampires and school homework. Beck's talent here is to wield the still-evolving orchestra-sampling/midi technique in combination with some live instrumentation (budgetary constraints dictated) and contrive an effect that feels epic. This is still a difficult art since transposing an orchestral score to synth instrumentation even now sounds cartoonish. Beck masters this art, especially in strings and brass, gelled with spot-on percussion and vocal sounds, and extends the soundscape with naturally electronic sounds for effect. For intimate moments he usually falls back on the sound of the piano, occasionally passing the melody to a live solo instrument. The effect is so expansive in scope that a single disc of short cues (constrained by the episodic format of a television programme with commercials, teen-friendly pacing, budgeted brevity of impressive scenes) can at first feel too much to absorb. The quality of each cue can be savoured individually without ruining effect, and in this case the parts are really better then their sum. In turning to quantity, the disc does at least throw as much as it can, but there is much missed from the series, as any listener of the two promotional albums would attest. The soundtrack misses a great deal, and not just because it has only a single disc; it also tries to squeeze in music from Season 4 and the finale to Season 5. This music, most of it newly released, shows Beck still in top form, tuning his instrument to the growing maturity of the series' characters, adding more dissonance, thematising new relationships, and topping it off with the tear-enducing understated final theme.

In all, this is most definitely a must-have release for fans and newbies. But it won't replace the promotional albums, which not only contain a great deal of quality material missed from the commercial release, but combine many of them into listenable suites that make extended listening more enjoyable. A litte more thought on that side of things would have made this new disc a great deal easier to swallow.

A few additional comments:


Below is the track listing with comments comparing cues with those of the promotional album where appropriate

01. Massacre (from 'Becoming' [2.21]) = Promo2tr19 on site (matches time and title)
02. Angel Waits (from 'Passion' [2.17]) = Promo2tr9 on site (matches time and title)
03. Remembering Jenny (from 'Passion' [2.17]) 1'51" on commercial v. 2'03" for Promo2tr3. They have everso slightly different endings for no clear reason.
04. Twice the Fool (from 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' [2.16]) = Promo2tr2 (matches time and title)
05. Moment of Happiness (from 'Innocence' 2.14]) = Promo2tr13 on site (matches time and title). Very slight difference: commercial lacks the bridge to the next track.
06. Loneliness of Six (from 'Lover's Walk' [3.18]) = Promo3tr4 on site (matches time and title)
07. Sugar High (from 'Band Candy' [3.06]) = Promo3tr3 on site (matches time and title). Difference: promo contains bridge from previous track.
08. Tai Chi (from 'Band Candy' [3.06]) = Promo3tr2 on site (matches time and title). Difference: promo is slightly extended and bridges to following track.
09. Kralik's House (from 'Helpless' [3.12]) = Matches title of Promo3tr12. Comm' 2'23", promo 3'46", and although they share material, the promo cue is far more elaborate and varied as well as longer. The commercial track may be a vastly edited version.
10. Magic Snow Music (from 'Amends' [3.10]) = Matches title of Promo3tr10. Comm' 2'41"; promo 3'29". The promo has a melancoly 47" section before that uplifting oboe tune.
11. Slayer's Elegy (from 'The Wish' [3.09]) = Matches title and time (roughly) of Promo3tr7. Comm fades in a chord to start the vocal theme, whereas promo crashes (cymbal/timp) in from the previous track. Otherwise identical.
12. Faith's End (from 'Graduation Day' [3.21]) = Matches title of Promo3tr21. Comm' 2'44", promo 3'35". Promo starts with a slight overhang from previous track but otherwise the same. This fast section is hugely extended in Promo before the pair continue identically with a plaintive central section and booming epic 'to be continued' blaze.
13. Drink Me (from 'Graduation Day' [3.22]) = Matches title and duration of Promo3tr23. Identical except from an added bass note in the promo which helps transition to the key of the following track.
14. One Last Moment (from 'Graduation Day' [3.22]) = Matches duration of promo3tr26, titled 'One last look'. Otherwise identical.

15. Haunted (from 'Fear Itself' [4.04])
16. From the Grave (from 'This Year's Girl' [4.15])
17. Demon Got Your Tongue (from 'Hush' [4.10])
18. Golf Claps (from 'Hush' [4.10])
19. The Princess Screams (from 'Hush' [4.10])
20. Spellbound (from 'Who Are You?' [4.16])
21. Fyarl in the Morning (from 'A New Man' [4.12])
22. A Really Big Sandbox (from 'Restless' [4.22])
23. Spaghetti (from 'Restless' [4.22])
24. Body Paint (from 'Restless' [4.22])
25. Xander's Nightmare (from 'Restless' [4.22])

Most of the tracks from S4 are indispensible and have not been released elsewhere or in promotional form (to my knowledge). Since the music for this season was slightly less varied, with some action cues especially reprised a number of times, this is a well-proportioned addition. Although more music from Hush is welcome, some of the scoring from Restless is uneventful, but it is the other cues which enhance the experience most: 'Fyarl in the morning' shows Beck having fun with his monster music and 'From the grave' is captivating.

26. The Tower (from 'The Gift' [5.22])
27. Losing Battle (from 'The Gift' [5.22])
28. Apocalypse (from 'The Gift' [5.22])
29. Sacrifice (alternate version, from 'The Gift' [5.22])

Beck returned for the single episode finale only of this season and introduces a number of themes you sense would have had greater vibration had they been used earlier. Much of the scoring, though, is reminiscent of other cues, and some of the brass writing for once betrays its synth roots, which is a shame because there are occasional flashes of inspiration, and an alternative version of the 'Sacrifice' cue is crowbarred in (the other version already on release) to remind us how good he really is with his most poignant piano-led theme. So this section is the least impressive on disc, even though it still forces the listener to imagine just how different the rest of the season might have felt with Christophe Beck's hand on the volume dial.

Blunt Instrument