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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Explore Alternate Realities of Sound with Sci-Fi in Hi-Fi

by Ken Newquist / September 29, 2003

All through my high school career and a good chunk of my college one, I spent a fair amount of time questing for the soundtrack to the movie 2010. I finally got it in my sophomore year (1992), when my girlfriend at the time found it for me in a CD store up in State College, PA.

Of course, I was ecstatic, and after a quick kiss I ran back to my dorm room, where I happily through it onto my CD player ... and was horrified by an opening track that had taken all that was good and proper about 2010's excellent cinematic overtures ... and combined them with disco.

The horror was near absolute. Had great Cthulhu appeared at that moment, his tentacles writhing, his eyes shining with celestial madness, I doubt the horror could have been any greater ... and I'm pretty sure I could have thrown the CD at him and even he would have fled screaming.

Fortunately, only that first track had been corrupted, and the rest the soundtrack was true to the film. But now, more than a decade later, I've encountered a CD that's the stylistic heir to that lone, maddening track. It's called Sci-Fi in Hi-Fi, and to listen to it is to understand exactly why so many geeks when dateless in high school.

Imagine, if you will, all of the great science fiction themes. Star Trek. Star Wars. Alien. Battlestar Galactica. Blade Runner. Jurassic Park. Now strain your brain and picture them "re-imagined" by an early 1980s pop band who's just discovered the beauty of the synthesizer.

Despite the fact that I'm a Huey Lewis fan, and that I didn't mind when Rush when all synthetic on us, this combination of pop and sci-fi just didn't do it for me. As for whether you will like it, consider this: for "Star Wars" (Track #3), Neil writes in the liner notes: "Here Darth Vader meets Bo Derek". And amazingly enough, that's exactly what it sounds like. If that combination sounds appealing to you, then this CD is for you (and apparently you wouldn't be alone: Neil tells listeners that it was a #1 single in Japan and France).

"Star Trek: Encounters" (Track #2) is a montage of early and late series tracks that's heavy on the keyboard synthesizer and throws in aspects of The Outer Limits and something called Men in Space, the later of which I admit I've never heard of.

"Alien" (Track #8) opens straight enough but then ends with this weird early-1980s, Tron-like pop that makes you scratch your head and wonder if you'd just heard that you thought you'd heard.

All of these tracks are played with the over-exuberance and unrelenting enthusiasm of fans who've been taking Mountain Dew intravenously for the last 24 hours. Again, decide for yourself if that's a good or bad thing.

This is a "super audio" CD, which means that if you have the right stereo equipment (and I don't) you can hear the tracks at a near-divine level of audio quality. It's supposed to really bring out the depth and texture of the music in a way that CDs have more or less failed to do since they killed vinyl. Alas, my stereo equipment is a few years old at this point, and doesn't support the format, so I'll have to leave that aspect of the CD to another reviewer.

Neil Norman -- who put this CD together -- has made a name for himself executive producing several Star Trek soundtrack albums (Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: First Contact) and is apparently a hit at science fiction conventions. He's sold quite a few CDs and undoubtedly has his fans.

Unfortunately, after listening to this CD, I can't say I'm one of them. Most of the tracks are far too synthetic for even my 80s-born tastes, and his creative "re-imaginings" of the various themes veer so fast and so far from the source material that they almost qualify as parodies.

I suppose a good potion of my disappointment in the CD comes from my expectations -- when I first got it I thought "cool, these are all theme songs I enjoy -- how excellent to have them all on one CD". When I read the liner notes, and realized that they'd been, well, "re-imagined", my first thought was a wish that they'd at least kept close to the source material, perhaps elaborating on the themes, but playing it straight.

And of course that's not what happened. The sole exception, far as I can tell, is "Jurassic Park - The Lost World Medley" which is exactly the sort of straight-forward elaboration I was hoping for. Like the original score, it makes the listen feel like they're part of something wonderful and magical (like say, watching resurrected thunder lizards roaming a tropical plain). I wish that more of the tracks had shared is serious devotion to the source material -- I think I could really have gotten into it then.

Details

  • Sci-Fi in Hi-Fi
  • Various Artists (presented by Neil Norman)
  • MSRP: $16.98
  • Audio Fidelity
  • Web: www.neilnorman.com
  • Rating: 3 of 10 stars