Jun 1, 2010

CD Review: The Saint: Original Soundtrack

In the liner notes for their sublime Music of ITC compilation, Network suggested that most of the music for The Saint other than the suite included on that release was lost. And yet, here is enough of it to fill a four-disc set from the company. Praise be! Hopefully this clearly un-lost music bodes well for a Persuaders! soundtrack in the future, since that too was said to be lost in the same source. But back to the matter at hand: this isn’t just a collection of mere scraps that survive, like the New Avengers soundtrack was (and in that case I am happy to have whatever is available, even if it’s nothing terrific); this is the real deal. This is the meat of Edwin Astley’s score for the color seasons of The Saint, not scraps! And it makes for great listening.

While I am a huge fan of the show, I’m no Saint expert, so without the aid of Andrew Pixley’s liner notes (which sadly weren’t included with the review copy I received, but are sure to be excellent, judging from the hefty and informative booklets included with every other Network ITC soundtrack release), I’m not able to pinpoint which cues come from which episodes. But while I’m sure the tracks are probably organized by episode, they actually break down nicely into four discs each with their own individual flavor, yet still clearly part of a satisfying whole.

Disc 1, unsurprisingly, starts with a classic bit of that instantly recognizable pre-title setting music that inevitably establishes Roger Moore in some wonderful exotic location as he offers a bit of pithy voice-over while waiting for someone to identify him as “the infamous Simon Templar” (or famous, or notorious, depending on their opinion of him). Then we get the great, original color-era TV version of the Saint theme (not a re-recording such as appears on so many cult TV theme compilations), a theme that instantly conjures jet-age mystery and adventure in far-off cities and a suave, urbane, inimitable hero in a dinner jacket. It’s a really great theme, one so identifiable with the show it represents that it becomes impossible to imagine one without the other. But it’s music that brings to mind the romance and intrigue of the series rather than the action. This isn’t driving, action-oriented music like the themes for Mission: Impossible or Danger Man. Like most ITC themes, it’s about ambiance. That’s typical of the first disc in this collection, most of which seems to emphasize the exotic and romantic flavor of the series rather than the danger or the scrapes that Simon constantly gets into–and out of. Sweeping, location-establishing cues are each embellished with the musical flavor of the country in which a given episode takes place. It’s exotic music for exotic places–and great mood music.

Disc 2, on the other hand, is much more action-oriented. It even offers up a really fantastic sped-up version of the theme that transforms it into an action track–and one that would fit in nicely alongside the aforementioned music from Danger Man and Mission: Impossible. There’s no question that this version–like most of the tracks here, never before available on any previous Saint CD–will be joining those themes right away in the spy theme playlist on my iPod. The whole disc showcases some of Astley’s very best action cues. Some of them evoke Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther music, and others are downright Bondian, but despite those allusions they are all unmistakably Saint. Unlike ITC’s Prisoner soundtrack set, which accurately represents the series with disparate cues in disparate styles by multiple composers, the Saint soundtrack is a very cohesive collection. Like Astley’s Danger Man music, all of the cues are of a whole, and most of them readily recognizable as Saint cues whether through snippets of the theme or other distinctive touches.

Disc 3 contains more fantastic score cues of both varieties–ambiance and action. Then, into the mix sneak some songs. The mixture of instrumental and vocal tracks makes this my favorite individual disc of the collection. Only a few of the songs are truly great (by far the best is Disc 4's fiery female-sung torch song “Out to Get You,” which was also included on The Music of ITC and could fit in easily amidst spy classics like Vicky Carr’s rendition of “The Silencers” and Shirley Bassey’s “The Liquidator”), but all of them work in conjunction with the incidental tracks to paint an accurate portrait of The Saint and its era. It's the overall effect that I love. The vocals come from the nightclubs Simon Templar frequents in London, France, Germany and the Caribbean, and each reflects its setting in accent and style. Just as every ITC series requires some Spanish flamenco music on a solo guitar (mercifully there is only one such track included here, as opposed to the unlistenable twenty or so endlessly repeated on the Man in a Suitcase set!), so does every ITC series seem to demand at least one calypso number. Personally I prefer the one from Danger Man to the one here, but in its broadcast version this one’s not bad. Innumerable vocal-only demo versions of it included on the final disc, however, quickly wear out their welcome!

Disc 4 has more songs, more score, and a lot of alternate takes and demos like that calypso number. The first half of it is eminently listenable (and even boasts that great “Out to Get You” song I mentioned earlier), but the alternate takes and stings are the sort of stuff you’re only likely to ever listen to once. Personally, I have little use for the bare-bones, vocal-only a capella versions of the songs, stripped of their instruments–with one exception. The a capella scat version of the Saint theme itself (just one individual element of the usual version of the theme–and one I’d never picked out on its own before, amidst all the reverb and instruments), performed by a female vocalist with truly impressive range, definitely makes for an interesting listen. As for the others, the completist in me is grateful for their inclusion, but happy that they were relegated to the final disc. Other multi-disc ITC soundtrack sets from Network have mixed multiple takes in throughout, and that sometimes makes for more academic than entertaining listening. I’m happy to report that The Saint soundtrack is much more listenable in its entirety than those ones, unencumbered in its body by a lot of aborted takes or brief stings. Those that are included at the end feel like bonus tracks, and that’s the way it should be. Network’s The Saint: Original Soundtrack is a godsend for fans of the show and a worthy addition to any spy fan’s music library. Let’s hope that more thought-lost ITC music turns up, and that we might eventually get similar unexpected releases for the monochrome Saint seasons and, of course, The Persuaders!, my own personal soundtrack Holy Grail. (Well, now that we've finally got a CD for Dracula AD 1972, anyway!)

The Saint: Original Soundtrack is available exclusively through Network's website. It retails for £34.99, but is currently on sale for £29.99. You can listen to a suite of sample music from this release here.


Delmo said...

When I ordered it the price was £25!

Anonymous said...

Very nice and informative review. Although the notes to THE MUSIC OF ITC *actually* said was:

"...Although a wealth of material is still extant for the colour episodes, the bulk of the material composed for the monochrome shows of THE SAINT does not appear to have survived...."

Anonymous said...

Useful review, thanks. Still waiting for yours on "The Music of ITC" haha, but I know you had a backlog of stuff. Just announced by Network "The Zoo Gang" OST !!

Tanner said...

Thanks, guys. And thank you, Anonymous, for the true text of the Music of ITC booklet. Again, I didn't have the actual liner notes; I was just going by hearsay and I guess I got it wrong! At any rate, I'm glad THIS Saint music exists... and I wonder why Network waited this long to release the music for a show arguably more famous than any of the others, save for The Prisoner!

Delmo said...

I think they either wanted to torture Saint fans or sit on what would probably be their best seller for next to last.