Monday, October 31, 2011

Manheim Steamroller: Halloween

Review # 50
Artist: Manheim Steamroller
Title: Halloween
Format: CD (x2)
Label: American Gramaphone (sic)
Year: 2003
Songs/tracks: 23

So I'm obviously getting out of order here, but in honor of the holiday, I thought I'd go ahead and review this. It's the only thing in my collection that can really be described as a Halloween album. There's some Misfits stuff, but as good as that is at Halloween, I'll listen to them any time of year, so I won't call it holiday music and I'll get to them in their proper alphabetical turn. Some other stuff is debateable, like the Ghostbusters soundtrack or a record of someone reading Edgar Allen Poe stories, but this is the only self-labled Halloween record in my collection

If you've ever heard of Manheim Steamroller before, it's almost certainly because of their new-agey synthesizer heavy Christmas albums, popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Christmas records are pretty corny, but they're also tied up with a lot of fond memories from my childhood, because my parents had the first two. So, while I don't like them, I like them anyway, if that makes any sense. The band has released several non-holiday albums in their Fresh Aire series which I frequently see at thrift stores, but I've never heard any of them and I don't think many people have. I was very surprised a few years ago when I learned that they were both still producing music and had a Halloween album (indeed, looking at Wikipedia, it appears they have more than one).

A few years back, my friends and I used to play what we called "Junk Poker," a game which was identical to regular poker, except instead of betting money or chips, we all brought piles of knickknacks we had laying around to use as bets. Part of the fun was negotiating the value of the different items ("Is that a raise or a call?" "No, I think you need to put more on the table than that," etc.). The night would finish up and someone would have cleaned their basement while someone else would be going home with a pile of items of varying quality and value, some of which might show up again the next time we played. I ended up with some cool stuff this way, and also was forced to make some runs to Goodwill to donate huge piles of other people's junk on some occasions. This cd was something I won in one of those games, and mostly out of curiosity, I kept it.

This album is comprised of two discs: one featuring "spooky" synthesizer music, and the other featuring 10 tracks of atmospheric sound effects (sometimes with occasional synthesizer notes). And before you ask, yes, I did listen to both discs from beginning to end for this review.

Let's start with the sound effect disc. It's fairly typical of Halloween sound effects collections. You could play it at your haunted house/Halloween party and nobody would give you a hard time about it. The disc features ten tracks of sound effects that include "Alien Spaceship," "Ghost Voices," and three variations on "Enchanted Forrest" which, to me, all sound exactly the same and all use the exact same echoing wolf howl several times. Spooky backward whispering in "The Other Side" makes it the creepiest of all the tracks, while the funniest is definitely "the Mountain King." I don't know if the king is supposed sound scary, but he sounds more like he's got really severe gas pains. He grunts and groans in what sounds like tremendous discomfort for over three and a half minutes. It's quite hilarious. "The Mountain King" was the only track on this disc that actually distracted me from working on my dissertation because I couldn't stop laughing at that poor mountain king. Someone should get him some Gas-X.

The music disc is just bad.  It starts with "rockin'" version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, the famous organ music you hear in so many Halloween related movies, but played on a synthesizer without enough sustain. Then the synth drums kick in and it gets very silly very fast. This disc is mostly made up of tunes you'd probably be familiar with, "deranged" by Chip Davis of Manheim Steamroller. Their version of "The Flying Dutchman" stands out because it's super dramatic. It reminds me of low budget version of Lord of the Rings Soundtrack.There's also a Nutcracker-esque version of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme song, "Rite of Twilight," which riffs on Twilight Zone theme, and version of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" from Fantasia, all played in that silly synthesizer-heavy style that made Manheim Steamroller so popular in the late '80s. The disc also features few original tunes by Chip Davis like "Rock & Roll Graveyard," which is even worse than the covers. I guess if you're seriously a fan of their Christmas music and are planning to throw a Halloween party, you might like this, but otherwise, Manheim Steamroller's Halloween is really only good for a few chuckles, as far as I'm concerned. Also, they apparently don't know how to spell "gramophone."

Happy Halloween!

Total songs listened: 633

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