The Nightmare Before Christmas was a visually and aurally stunning creation. Not to say it constituted and meeting of Beethoven's Ninth and the Mona Lisa, Elfman and Burton's collaborative effort is more than deserving of the "cult classic" reputation that it has "more than" earned. If you're a film score fan, then it's all about Elfman's genius, and the new two CD set released of the score is worth having. A huge part of the Elfman genius is that he can score a film brilliantly, and write amazing songs to go in it. This talent and ability is rare. He's just so good at this! You should be warned -- disc one is the same soundtrack CD previously released, but disc two is very, very interesting.
The opening song, "This Is Halloween" is performed on the soundtrack by the "Citizens of Halloween" and orchestrated brilliantly, like all the songs, by Steve Bartek. It's a classic opening number: it set's up the thematic material to come, lays the dramatic framework out, and in general does everything that you need in "fair Verona where we lay our theme" style. This is classic Greek chorus material, updated perfectly. The beauty of the new set is that disc two has Elfman's demo of "This Is Halloween" for comparison. On the review copy, the track is mislabeled (which might mean I get a tour of Willie Wonka's factory) but the stripped down version is a fascinating insight into how much of this stuff Elfman conceives entirely, before he brings it out and has his team do their magic. His demo version is charming and as catchy as the final production take. If this isn't enough for film music fans out there, there are two other cool versions of this tune included. Marilyn Manson does a very hard rock cover, which only makes sense. It's edgy, metallic and grim. Panic! At The Disco's version (also included on disc two) is really interesting. You get a whole new insight into this material when you have a chance to hear it reworked.
The wicked Cab Calloway style ramble, "Oogie Boogie's Song" is one of the hottest tracks in the film. It's like Caspar The Friendly Ghost meets Slim Galliard. Elfman has a palette of incredible depth, both historically and dramatically. The cartoon music genre has taken over everything from the Broadway stage to the dramatic series, but Elfman doesn't write cartoon music, even for cartoons. He's got a much deeper bag, and The Nightmare Before Christmas shows it off to great advantage. Disc two offers the demo of this too. What's missing, and what's highlighted, is the amazing orchestration on the final version. What's still there, and equally enlightening, is the arrangement. You also get to hear Danny sing, and he always sounds great.
Fan's of "Kidnap The Sandy Claws" get several versions in the set, and Fiona Apple sings "Sally's Song." The second disc is a necessary addition to any collector's shelf. Together the set is enlightening and fascinating. The music is nothing but good.