John Carpenter ‘Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998’ Review: iconic filmmaker/composer goes down memory lane with new interpretations of his classic film scores.
Full disclaimer:John Carpenter is my favorite filmmaker of all time. Sure, he hasn’t made a truly great movie since the 80’s, but his body of work from 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13 through 1988’s They Live is remarkably consistent. And a key part of his appeal are his legendary, minimalist synth scores.
Carpenter remains one of the most underrated filmmakers in cinema history, but thanks to the 80’s revival with TV shows like Stranger Things and films like It Follows, both his visual flair and metronomic sonics are back in vogue. There’s an entire genre (synthwave) which has been lovingly created in his image. He’s now hipper than ever. And he’s capitalized on it with two albums of non-film related material (2015’s Lost Themesand 2016’s Lost Themes 2), as well as performing live.
Seeing the filmmaker in concert last year on his North American tour was absolutely magical. A surly, introverted director became the world’s most unlikely rock star. In addition to new songs, he went through a greatest hits of his best film scores, set to clips from his films.
Carpenter returns with his latest album Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998 (out October 20th on Sacred Bones Records), recorded with his core collaborators, son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies.
Anthology functions as both a career retrospective and a callback to his recent tour, performing classic themes to Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, Escape From New York and The Fog, while also revisiting scores from lesser acclaimed films like In The Mouth of Madness and Vampires.
What makes Anthology stand out from his original soundtracks is its fleshed-out sound. These are more full-bodied than his skeletal compositions, giving a rock-band swagger to songs he once recorded either by his lonesome or with former collaborator Alan Howarth.
As a result things sound the same, but different–the theme for Prince of Darkness adds squiggling industrial textures over its gothic, church-bell framework, while the bluesy theme for They Live gives Davies a chance to showcase his moody pentatonic soloing skills. He also wails over In The Mouth of Madness, adding some Metallica chug to the proceedings (in a nice bit of serendipity, the theme originally featured his father, Kinks guitarist Dave Davies).
It’s also worth noting Carpenter and co. play the themes to Starman and The Thing, as those are Carpenter films that were scored by other composers (Jack Nitzsche and Ennio Morricone respectively). Starman is a grandiose symphonic-esque beast while The Thing gets a subtle makeover, adding more dynamic rhythms and a hypnotic, mutating beat.
The album closes with Christine, one of his best themes– transformed into a dance floor friendly anthem, offering one of the biggest melodic hooks on the record.
Anthology is a lot of fun, and the only thing that might scare off Carpenter purists is the lack of vintage gear. This a very modern production, so don’t expect classic analogue synths. The group dynamic gives it something more rugged and raw however, so it balances out.
Anthology is a great gift for the budget conscious Carpenter fan, a sampler of his best themes at a reasonable price. But it’s more than that–it’s a celebration of his legacy and status as the most unlikely of hipster icons. If he’s coming to a town near you: GO! Full tour dates are listed below.
P.S., I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s amazing new cover of the Halloween theme, it’s like a medley of the Halloween soundtracks that gives a whole new sense of dimension and scope to Carpenter’s haunting piano motif.
Buy John Carpenter’s ‘Anthology’ on Amazon:
JOHN CARPENTER US TOUR DATES
10/29/17 – Las Vegas, NV @ The Joint at Hard Rock Casino
10/31/17 – Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Palladium
11/2/17 – Anaheim, CA @ City National Grove
11/4/17 – San Francisco, CA @ The Warfield
11/5/17 – Santa Cruz, CA @ The Catalyst
11/7/17 – Maplewood, MN @ Myth Live
11/9/17 – Chicago, IL @ Aragon Ballroom
11/10/17 – Detroit, MI @ El Club
11/12/17 – Toronto, ON @ The Danforth Music Hall
11/13/17 – Montreal, QC @ Metropolis
11/15/17 – Boston, MA @ Royale
11/16/17 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5
11/18/17 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Trocadero
11/19/17 – Syracuse, NY @ The Palace Theatre