Ambient 1990 / Gonzo 2016
Obscure soundtrack to a classic thriller restored to its original span to give an aural power to spectral majesty.
Out in 1925, a Lon Chaney-starring adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel was a strange oeuvre: a movie about music but without sound. Although pictures of the period used to be sonically augmented by piano players in real time, such incidental accompaniment could hardly do justice to the opulent tragedy, whereas Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 work didn’t really need visuals to come to life and has been existing on its own to become mostly associated with this Gothic drama. Set to compose an OST to the old film, Rick Wakeman was rising to the double challenge, then, of giving a melodious lining to a classic and escaping the West End influence, and he solved the conundrum in quite an interesting way. Unfortunately, 1990’s “Phantom Power” saw the result cut to the chase and missing more than half an hour of what the keyboard player came up with – a silent realization required non-stop music for more than 80 minutes of action – yet, thought lost for quarter of a century, the score is back in its original scope and order now.
It’s really impressive, in the way of tunes’ shimmer reflecting the flicker of a screen, but, unlike the old album, the 2CD version doesn’t break the flow into separately timed tracks, which, while enhancing its wholeness, can make attributing musical fragments to film events an unenviable task. Thankfully, the movie is there, in the same package, on an companion DVD, in all its black-and-white – well, actually, tinted and in places even colored – glory whose gloom is rather undermined by instrumental performances. These combine baroque moves with romantic passages, sometimes in a rock setting, albeit Wakeman almost avoids variations on a memorable leitmotif, except for passing it from various ivories to vocals and, and unfolds instead a quasi-orchestral backdrop that’s patinated due to a slightly plastic organ and harpsichord. Rick’s only record to feature his operatic collaborator Ramon Remedios as an oratorio presence of the titular character alongside usual suspects Ashley Holt and Chrissie Hammond as Christine Daaé and Raoul de Chagny, “Phantom” has an ambitious charm to it, yet there’s that incidental vapor about the music, despite the ghosts of Mozart and Bach lurking in the dark, and only a few songs – like “The Visit” and “You Can’t Buy Me Love” or “Heaven” – would be solid as standalone cuts.
A duet on “Voice Of Love” may present an interesting contrast of voices, but humor projected from the screen had informed “The Hangman” with a ska undercurrent which somehow seems rather congruous in this context, supported by Tony Fernandez’s sympathetic drums and Dzal Martin’s stellar guitar lines that spice up many a piece here, yet it’s when Wakeman is at the piano that natural emotions are at their apogee… or is that supernatural feelings he’s delving deep in? Still, there’s not a lot of magic on the album, but as a special exercise – no other record attempted to cover an entire film – “Phantom” is astounding.