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DC Showcase by Jeremy Zuckerman, Benjamin Wynn
(The Track Team)

DC Showcase

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DC Showcase (Soundtrack) by Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn (The Track Team)
DC Showcase (Soundtrack) by Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn (The Track Team)
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DC Showcase (Soundtrack) by Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn (The Track Team)

DC Showcase
Composed by Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn (The Track Team)
La La Land Records (2011)

Rating: 6/10

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“...we’re left with a bloated and unusual album with some strong highlights that are frustratingly buried in a sea of forgettable fluff.”

DC Doldrums
Review by Marius Masalar

One would imagine that superheroes would make for a great musical inspiration. Indeed, if past scores have been any indication, it seems like an easy assumption to make — even outside of the feature film world. Take Christopher Drake’s material for films like Batman: Under the Hood as an example. Whatever magic inspiration was being channeled there seems to have flown over the heads of JEREMY ZUCKERMAN & BENJAMIN WYNN, whose collected material from SUPERMAN/SHAZAM: THE RETURN OF BLACK ADAM and other DC original animated shorts (JONAH HEX, GREEN ARROW, and THE SPECTRE) is frustratingly lackluster and makes for an uneven and unsatisfying listening experience.

Skipping over the negligible “WB Logo” (1) stinger to the “DC Showcase Main Title” (2) gives us a good sense of what’s to come. The synthy opening pushes into what promises to be a strong and engaging theme; mysterious and colourful. Unfortunately, as soon as we expect it to actually start, it ends with a twinkly flourish. Make note of that feeling of flattened anticipation because you’ll be revisiting it a lot throughout this album. “Black Adam” (3) is a dark 5-note theme for the villain that’s presented once in the low strings and woodwinds before the cue hammers itself out with percussive hits after a mere 40 seconds. So much for tension. The mood takes a sharp turn with “Billy Batson” (4), a cheerful and light track that presents a simplistic but effective and pleasant characterization of Billy. It’s also the first track on the album thus far that’s longer than a minute, so the ideas have a bit of time to breathe and develop.

Such patience is rare on this score though, as we see in “Looking for Change” (5) and “Good is Hard” (6), two quick transitional cues that each briefly suggests a sad mood. The latter has the potential to be quite a moving piece of music, but its stunted length robs it of the opportunity. “Battle in the City” (7) is the score’s first dedicated action track. It’s a very percussive track, and its fluctuating energy level lends it a strong sense of tension. There is some very creepy texture work being done, especially in the low end of the orchestra, and the result is a perfectly unsettling listen. The lengthier cues continue with “Subway Ride / Wizard Shazam” (8), a piece that unfortunately does a poor job of justifying its length. The promising opening, reminiscent of the album’s main theme, once again dissolves into a disappointing underscore. A few thematic rises do little to interrupt the plodding monotony of the atmosphere.

The pace picks up again with “Back in the City” (9), where brass growls float over a bed of whispery strings and a pizzicato rhythm. “Shazam” (10) opens with a strong and beautiful theme for the character. Lovely uncertain harmonies and soaring strings offer a dramatic and very cinematic mood. The cue’s second half is sadly rather repetitive, but it’s sprightly and moves by fast enough that it doesn’t feel bothersome. “The Dam” (11) opens with some development of the Black Adam theme, but it fails to offer much substance over its brief length of dissonant meandering. Much the same is true of “Gods and Ants” (12) although this latter track’s creepy atmosphere is arresting. A fairly interesting action sequence is elaborated on in “Billy’s Had Enough” (13), and a gorgeous thematic break at the halfway point offers a nice contrast before the gentle ending.

The rising arpeggiated figure returns in “Tawny’s Reveal” (14), sounding almost Harry Potter worthy. It’s pretty safe to skip the 18-second “Just One Word” (15), especially since it leads into one of the album’s strongest cues, “The Return of Black Adam EC” (16). This cue succinctly and excitingly summarizes much of the sporadic thematic material we’ve been hearing hints of so far, and does so in a vibrant and dramatic fashion. This also marks the end of the Superman/Shazam portion of the album.

Beginning the Jonah Hex portion is “Ella’s Rag” (17), an authentic and very pleasant ragtime piece for solo piano. The Jonah Hex tracks are the strongest on the album in terms of musical creativity, and “Madame Lorraine” (18) is a good example of why. Truly haunting, the solo fiddle is chillingly beautiful above the sparkly backdrop. The mood is directly continued in “Above the Bar, Red Doc” (19) — which really should have just been combined to make one track. The feel of the west is driven home by the guitars in “Jonah Rides into Town” (20). It would have been nice to hear the motives developed further in a lengthier cue, but short track lengths continue to plague the album. Madame Lorraine’s creepy theme returns in “Madame Lorraine and Jonah” (21), unfortunately it doesn’t offer much different from its previous appearances besides some gentle guitar that urges it to a nice ending flourish.

This section’s first and strongest action track is “Jonah Takes Care of Business” (22). A propulsive and catchy rhythm underscores a combination of guitars and percussion. Equally interesting if not quite as energetic is “To the Mine Shaft” (23), where Madame Lorraine’s theme joins in for a thematic and satisfying track. The closing track for the section, “Jonah Hex EC” (24) is understated and moody; nothing but solo guitar to round things off.

Green Arrow follows, beginning with “Late Again / Tension at Airport” (25). Some unusual percussion helps set a tense and sneaky mood not unlike similar material from Zimmer’s Frost/Nixon score. The cue is simplistic but tastefully executed and perfect at introducing the aesthetic of this portion. “Assassination Attempt / Prince” (26) is an aggressive action cue with dissonant blasts of brass over low piano and stick clacks. The aggression eventually resolves into some gentler material featuring the less traditional percussion of the previous track, and this latter section is more compelling to listen to. If you’re a fan of percussion, then “The Conveyor Belt” (27) will be among your favourite tracks on the album. If you’re after anything more, then you’ll find yourself disappointed in this serviceable but thin rhythm study. Some orchestral dissonances are added in “Merlyn and Green Arrow Duel” (28), but the result still manages to be dull, and the tension is strangely low for the music representing a duel.

“Safe? (Count Vertigo)” (29) manages to pack both soft thematic material, percussive wildness, and ugly dissonant rumblings into its short length, which makes for a disjointed listen. Thankfully, “Every Queen Needs a Consort” (30) follows up with some consistency and even a nice string arrangement of the theme. The Green Arrow section’s ending cue, “Green Arrow EC” (31), is so brief and thin that it seems almost unfinished — a disappointment.

Entering the album’s final section for The Spectre, we hit some appropriately campy, jazzy flair. “Mr. Brenner Takes a Dip” (32) toes the line between groovy and goofy, managing to be fun to listen to either way. Conga percussion and some tricky hi-hat grooves prepare a tense and stereotypical ‘crime scene’ mood in “Corrigan Assesses the Crime” (33), which the vibraphone flourishes and quiet DJ scratching help support. More of the same continues into “Surveillance Camera Tapes” (34), a much shorter cue that, again, could have easily been combined with the previous track. “Costumes” (35) takes a more serious turn, darkening the atmosphere and startling us with some razor sharp synth swirls. It builds patiently to an almost TRON-like conclusion.

The completely unnecessary “Squashed” (36) cue gives up after just 20 seconds and leaves us in the airy and dreamy mind trip that is “Heading to Mexico” (37). Some of the TRON-like synth work returns here, joined by more dissonant textures and a lot of different broad, windy atmospheric pads. A subtle combination of that instrumental ensemble and the jazzier one from the first few tracks in this section comes together in “An Old Friend / The Secret” (38). This is easily the highlight of the Spectre portion, followed by a more overtly groovy vamp on the material in “The Spectre EC” (39) — a concluding track that summarizes the album well in that it shows us some promise and then cuts short before we can latch on.

For an album with so many individual tracks, it’s confusing that no one on the team sat down to listen to the thing all the way through. Had they done so, it would have been impossible to avoid making some key changes that might have done a better job of highlighting the relatively few bits of truly interesting material on this otherwise yawn-worthy collection of serviceable sonic wallpaper. Combining some very similar tracks into longer suites rather than leaving us with tens of terribly stunted tracks would have been one easy fix. Another would have been paring down some of the more underscore-type tracks in favor of lengthier treatments of the dramatic material that has some thickness and musical longevity to it.

Sadly, none of those fixes did occur, so we’re left with a bloated and unusual album with some strong highlights that are frustratingly buried in a sea of forgettable fluff.
 

Rating: 6/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 WB Logo 0:19  **
2 DC Showcase Main Title 0:50  ****
3 Black Adam 0:49  ***
4 Billy Batson 1:39  ****
5 Looking for Change 0:33  **
6 Good is Hard 0:29  ***
7 Battle in the City 4:40  ****
8 Subway Ride/ Wizard Shazam 3:54  ***
9 Back in the City 1:10  **
10 Shazam! 3:13  ****
11 The Dam 1:31  **
12 Gods and Ants 1:01  ***
13 Billy's Had Enough 1:57  ***
14 Tawny's Reveal 1:18  ****
15 Just One Word 0:18  *
16 The Return of Black Adam EC 0:43  *****
17 Ella's Rag 1:58  ***
18 Madame Lorraine 0:55  *****
19 Above the Bar, Red Doc. 0:53  ***
20 Jonah Rides Into Town 1:33  ****
21 Madame Lorraine and Jonah 1:21  ****
22 Jonah Takes Care of Business 1:27  *****
23 To the Mine Shaft 2:50  *****
24 Jonah Hex EC 0:42  ***
25 Late Again/ Tension at Airport 2:22  *****
26 Assassination Attempt/ Prince 4:00  ***
27 The Conveyor Belt 2:02  ***
28 Merlyn and Green Arrow Duel 1:06  **
29 Safe (Count Vertigo) 0:54  **
30 Every Queen Needs a Consort 0:57  ***
31 Green Arrow EC 0:42  **
32 Mr. Brenner Takes a Dip 1:00  ****
33 Corrigan Assesses the Crime 1:22  ***
34 Surveillance Camera Tapes 0:30  **
35 Costumes 2:19  ***
36 Squashed 0:23  *
37 Heading to Mexico 2:53  ***
38 An Old Friend/ The Secret 2:31  ****
39 The Spectre EC 0:38  ***
  Total Running Time (approx) 59 minutes  

 

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