By Charlie Brigden
You generally know that with a David Lynch film, you should expect the unexpected. Lynch’s films are known for their alternative and subversive touches and that extends to the music, so when picking the composer for his 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction tome Dune, it’s not surprising that he went for a wildcard in the shape of rock band Toto, with additional music by Brian Eno. But what is surprising is the score that they composed; a stirring and sophisticated piece that may have garnered more attention had a more traditional composer created it. But there is always room for re-evaluation, and handily Music on Vinyl have just reissued the score on 180 gram vinyl.
As a score, Dune is a hybrid of traditional orchestral score – courtesy of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra – and a more contemporary (at least for 1984) rock sound with synthesisers, heavy percussion and thick electric guitar overdubs. The main titles are a great illustration of this, with the harsh sweeping four-note motif played on synth, with the guitars, orchestra, and thudding percussion coming in after the first movement to provide a greater sense of texture and colour, and also size. It’s a fantastic theme in its own right, but put together in this way it does a fine job of conveying the enormous scale of the story as well as its complexity. Scale is an important part of the film, as the story threads from massive spaceships and battles to the intimate character relationships at its core, with the score handling this pretty well through thematic and textural development.
The noble ‘Leto’s Theme’ is a good example of this. A gentle and warm melody for strings, it has a calming influence and sense of wisdom that represents Duke Leto Atreides (father of the main character, Paul), and interpolates the main theme to illustrate the challenge he and Paul will have on the planet of Arrakis (the Dune of the title), with a more sinister edge to subtly foresee his eventual fate. It’s a small, beautiful cue, and a display of the intimacy needed to ground the characters against the giant fantasy backdrop. The love theme between Paul and Fremen warrior Chani is a bit more fanciful, especially in ‘Prelude (Take My Hand’) where it plays via a beautiful combo of strings and acoustic guitar, and the reprise at the end – ‘Take My Hand’ – where it has a rock ballad kind of feel with electric guitars. It’s a wonderful theme though, and the latter track is one of the best on the record.
Brian Eno’s contribution – the prophecy theme – makes a sole appearance on the album, unsurprisingly called ‘Prophecy Theme’. It’s, how shall I say, very Eno. It’s very ethereal, meditative, beautiful, if a bit meandering. But it sounds right at home with the rest of the score. Toto acquit themselves very well in terms of the more cinematic pieces, such as the ‘The Floating Fat Man (The Baron)’, which has a smooth but sinister synth line that riffs a bit on classical music, and the climactic ‘Final Dream’. The action sequences are covered incredibly well, with the effective ‘Robot Fight’ and its idiosyncratic percussion, and the excellent ‘First Attack’ that has some brilliant choral sections as well as an interesting slight jazz undertone. But the centrepiece is the stunning ‘Big Battle’, which utilises the main theme wonderfully as well as a fine balance of electronics and orchestra, although the best part is the triumphant end section that overlays massive choir and electric guitar (although the guitar is more prominent in the film mix).
Also impressive is ‘Dune (Desert Theme)’, a concert piece of sorts that was originally supposed to close the film (and potentially would work as well as ‘Take My Hand’ (try sequencing it that way if you have the CD). It uses pieces of the love theme and is very guitar and synth-orientated, more so than anything else on the album and as such may come across as the most 80s of the tracks. Saying that, the album is sequenced very well with ‘Dune’ opening side two, and the final two tracks of ‘Final Dream’ and ‘Take My Hand’, the former of which is a stunning cue that reprises a motif heard in ‘Paul Meets Chani’. Building slowly through ethereal female voices and strings, it develops into an huge and epic climax worthy of the fate of Paul Atreides, although not perhaps the ludicrous end of Lynch’s film where he makes it rain. Notably, the film version uses an edit of the finale of ‘Big Battle’ instead of the album track.
Music On Vinyl have done a fine job of bringing Dune back to vinyl, with a relatively clear sounding transfer, presumably from the analogue tapes. The sound is fine across the board while impressive in parts, notably the opening narration from Virginia Madsen’s Princess, the channel-hopping percussion of ‘Robot Fight’, and the choral ending of ‘Big Battle’. They’ve also replicated the original album’s artwork, right down to the Polydor labels. While the original artwork is always cool, the source here seems a bit blurry, and it maybe would have been nice to see a contemporary artist to put their spin on it, but it matters not really. Whatever the cover, Dune is one of the best scores of the period and has been given a fine treatment on vinyl.
Dune is out now from Music On Vinyl