CD: Road House (1989)

April 15, 2013 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: Intrada Special Collection/ Released: January 20, 2013

Tracks & Album Length: 14 tracks / (48:19)


Special Notes: 16-page colour booklet with liner notes by Scott Bettencourt / Limited Edition.


Composer: Michael Kamen




The success of Lethal Weapon (1987) and Die Hard (1988) made Michael Kamen almost the literal personal music man of producer Joel Silver, and although the composer did seek out smaller projects that had nothing to do with exploding buildings, encircling assault helicopters, or shirtless studs, he did accept a huge array of action assignments and is responsible for some of the signature sounds of big budget 80s / 90s action flicks.

Road House is a strange hybrid, because although produced by Silver, it’s a modest film with just a handful of big screen, money elements (including the villain’s palatial lair, and personal helicopter). Essentially a bonehead barroom brawl movie centered around a zen bouncer, Kamen’s music evokes a bit of southern blues with heavy use of acoustic and electric guitar; the harmonics of quaint Americana; and edgy rock elements for the pro-active scenes where the road house’s bar contents are repeatedly destroyed by punks, drunkards, whores, and sleazy henchmen.

The inclusion of the late, great Jeff Healey in the bar scenes ensured the artist would make some appearance within the score, and Intrada’s CD represents most of the cues plus unused / alternates. As producer Douglass Fake writes in the hefty liner notes, only 2 cues near the end are missing – a not unfamiliar case where elements from a not-that-old movie not longer exist.

The score’s got a fairly gradual mood shift which allows Kamen to develop and reintegrate score material between source music and Healey’s screen performances, and most of the character theme & variations are performed on keyboards. The style is intimate, low-key, and more reminiscent of quiet cues within 1990’s The Krays (a score screaming for a dialogue and sound effects-free release) where Kamen also added synth strings for some tonal warmth. In the CD’s later cues, such as the sad “This is My Town,” Kamen uses reversed and processed strings emulations to convey the disjointed state of the film’s decent characters as they fight against a greedy slimeball.

Road House finally shifts into meatier dramatic terrain in “On the Rooftop,” and like Krays, Kamen layers on grungy droning, didgeridoo emulations, plus skittering staccato keyboard patterns reminiscent of Die Hard (1988).

Healey’s main appearance is in the percussive “Loading Dock Fight,” where the guitarist’s solo winds up & down as per the progress of the extended screen fight. It’s a fun bluesy cue that also shows off the clarity of Intrada’s mastering from the surviving 24-track elements, as well as the nuances of Kamen’s orchestrations and Healey’s inimitable brilliance. (One kind of wishes he had either collaborated on the score, or there might have been a few unreleased outtakes, much in the way Jerry Garcia’s gifts revealed a quartet of wholly distinct solos in the expanded release of Zabriskie Point).

“Loading Dock Fight” also demonstrates that instead of writing a droning, looped cue with the same motif playing in the background, an action scene can get extra subtext from a small instrumental grouping, and from a gifted soloist basically doing his thing – telling a story, commenting on the dueling egos, and adding a little humour to prevent any musical staleness.

As Fake writes in his notes, use of an orchestra may have been brought in to punch up the finale, hence the score’s somewhat abrupt shift from combo rock & blues instruments to full orchestra. After a brief guitar solo in “Emmet’s House Explodes,” the score kind of swerves into Lethal Weapon territory, but it’s short-lived, as (presumably) the missing cues would’ve provided some extra continuity between Kamen additional scaled-down material.

On CD, the score does sort of wind down without a meaty conclusion. The rewritten and orchestra-muscled “The Final Confrontation (Film Version)” helps, but it feels like a hybrid of Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, with some slightly new thematic material.

Not peak Kamen, but an example that even with moronic material, and a producer demanding a branded sound, the composer could deliver a well-crafted score that transcended & poked a little fun at an already clichéd genre.



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


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