The Sound of Star Trek Part 27: Star Trek – The Next Generation, Volume Three

Composer Dennis McCarthy was a popular choice for the producers of Star Trek – The Next Generation and this week we take a listen to GNPD’s third soundtrack edition for the series focusing on three of his scores, first released back in 1992.

Through fear of repeating myself, I always come to these reviews for historic TNG soundtracks with some trepidation. And it’s easy to be like that simply because of the oft-spoken and well-known stance of the series producers about wanting atonal, dreary music.

And so it was with this album – and rightly so.

It’s strange to think that McCarthy’s input showed much promise, certainly in his early score for ‘Encounter At Farpoint’ – and his work on Generations is absolutely stunning. He must have been gnawing at his baton in frustration because a lot of what was composed in between was purposely and specifically…meh.

And it’s an approach I’ll never get my head around.

Anyway, I had a morning’s drive ahead of me recently so I saw it as an opportunity to give this disc a spin. Sandwiched betwixt Dean Martin‘s My Woman, My Woman, My Wife and Jean-Michel Jarre‘s Equinox Infinity, I couldn’t have chosen a more different set of albums of listen to while stuck on the freeway.

As Dino’s vocals for ‘It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin” faded out, in came the strained synthesized version of Alexander Courage’s theme to Star Trek which gently gave way to Jerry Goldsmith’s TMP theme. Familiar stuff. You know the drill.

Two of the three episodes selected for this release are highly respected in fandom and give the indication that they would be something special here. ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ is represented by four tracks, highlighting points in the story such as the appearance of the Enterprise-C, Guinan’s sixth sense, Captain Garrett (wrongly monikered as ‘Commander’ here) and Tasha’s previous empty death. Subtle tubular bells indicate the altered time line and should have been expanded upon. But they only appear the once and are missed as a result. It’s a great ethereal sound.

In an earlier article, I alluded to the notion that Courage’s fanfare has come to represent the Enterprise in all her designations, and my theory is hardened here, too, because McCarthy briefly touches on said fanfare. Other than those two interesting points, the rest of the soundtrack simply blends into the surroundings.

‘Unification’, the great two-parter that acted as a fully-fledged bridge between the generations (but let’s never, ever forget Deforest Kelley’s surprising appearance in the pilot, please), was surely deserving of a score that touched on the past as well as fitting into the TNG future. Surely? Yes? Anyone? Oh. The episode features Sarek and Mr frikkin’ Spock and all we get as a highlight is a half-hearted elevation of strings when Spock mentions ‘another captain’. Otherwise, we’re back to the usual realms of soundtrack by numbers for the six tracks. It’s not horrid, it’s just not memorable. Actually, yeah…it’s horrid.

Finally, ‘Hollow Pursuits’ gets its chance in the spotlight. And so does Mr Broccoli. It’s a fun episode and McCarthy does at least get a chance to find some of that fun in his composition. Another mis-titled character is noted here ‘Lady Gates’, using McFadden’s acting first name (she is Cheryl by birth and also when she’s working as a choreographer) as oppose to her character’s. McCarthy nicely taps into Michel Legrand for his representation of the TNG bridge crew as Musketeers, clearly emulating swashbuckling score of yesteryear – and then the joy is gone again and soon we’re back on the dreary anti-themes.

Then to wake us up, Goldsmith’s TMP theme returns as the end titles for TNG, somewhat giving an element of relief that it’s all over.

Next: Alex Kurtzman and Star Trek The Next Generation

Only a completest would have these volumes and they’re not ones to sit down and listen to – and certainly not ones to be entertained by while driving. But they are a nice-to-have. And it’s a shame as I do genuinely have a lot of time for Dennis McCarthy’s work: he’s a talent Rick Berman and co. never truly took advantage of during their television years.

Next time: Star Trek Sound Effects

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