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Vangelis - Odyssey - The Definitive Collection CD (album) cover

ODYSSEY - THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION

Vangelis

 

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2.27 | 16 ratings

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Frankingsteins
2 stars 2003 was an eventless year for the music of Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou. The FIFA World Cup anthem he recorded the previous year had been long forgotten, and doesn't even find its way onto this disc. It happened to be thirty years since his third-or-so album 'Earth,' which was quite good, but again doesn't donate any material. Some of the songs here have all been digitally mastered to be improvements on the originals, although this mastering was originally done about five or six best-ofs back. Perhaps it had simply been long enough since the last one to justify a repackaging and re-release under a bloated title.

'Odyssey,' despite its sub-title, has nothing of 'the definitive' about it. In the ceaseless line of best-of compilations for the one-time-Oscar-winning Greek composer, each release has to distinguish itself at least a little bit from the others, or at least I would have thought so. To add to this insanity, 'Odyssey' isn't even the most recent of these carbon copies, although it remains the last to be officially endorsed. It seems that Universal's goal is merely to fill an accessible 'greatest hits' spot on HMV shelves for eternity, while drawing in the hardcore fans by adding one or two rare and previously unreleased tracks completely out of context.

Context is indeed the major factor lacking here, though this is something that plagues all compilations for all bands. As partially ambient electronic works, Vangelis' individual tracks appear almost always to be crafted with the rest of the album's companion pieces in mind. To take examples from this collection, 'Pulstar' and 'Alpha' may have been the strongest picks from 1976's 'Albedo 0.39' LP, but removed from that space-jazz craziness of that original release they sound feeble, dated and out of place amongst the more contemporary orchestral works. This is even more of an issue for soundtrack segments, though the collection wisely chooses opening and closing titles for the majority of these, free from the burden of depicting characters and action. Even so, this electronic 'odyssey' fails completely to represent the true Vangelis experience despite spanning almost his entire career. What the listener receives instead is an arbitrary stop-start performance of catchy melodies and dramatic, bombastic film introductions that lead immediately to nowhere. Vangelis' film scores rival and sometimes even exceed the quality of his independent studio work, but none of this works when blended together in this thoughtless manner. Even when Pink Floyd released an inevitable career-spanning compilation 'Echoes' in 2001, the seemingly disparate tracks were well sequenced, and effort was even made to segue many of them together. 'Odyssey' is like listening to an album on sites like Amazon, in thirty-second audio clips that end abruptly and leave the listener unfulfilled.

Yes, yes. I know. This CD was never intended to be an original musical statement from the composer, and people do buy collections like this as a cheap way of accessing the well-known songs they like. Even taken under these conditions, 'Odyssey' isn't all that good a collection, and has to occupy a mediocre middle ground between the consumer and the connoisseur. The irritating 'Chariots of Fire' theme is gotten over with quickly so that some more obscure material can be dealt with, without forgetting those other staples of Vangelis soundtrack compilations: the 'Blade Runner' ending theme and 'Conquest of Paradise' opener. Beyond this, there's not a lot that would ring a bell for non-fans. Ranging from 1975 to 2001 it's certainly one of the more comprehensive overviews, though there are many important albums unrecognised; something from 'Heaven and Hell' would be especially welcome, and it's odd that even the most recent studio effort 'Oceanic' is ignored in favour of obscure film themes.

These rare tracks are the major selling point of the album to collectors, namely 'Theme from Cavafy' and 'Celtic Dawn.' The album tries to impress with 'Mutiny on the Bounty' excerpts, but these had already been dealt with on 1996's 'Portraits' collection. These aren't Vangelis' greatest work, and won't remain in your head after spinning the CD multiple times, but I guess it's nice to own them. No, forget that: they are pointless, worthless even, without their rightful place. Whether you think Vangelis' spacey keyboards can adequately convey emotions or not, these eighteen contradictory experiences are skimmed over so hastily that it's hard to get anything at all from this CD other than noticing "oh, this one sounds very seventies. This must be one of those older ones then." Maybe I'd better get on to talking about the actual music.

1. Pulstar 2. Hymn 3. Chariots of Fire 4. Missing 5. Love Theme from Blade Runner 6. End Titles from Blade Runner 7. The Tao of Love 8. Theme from Antarctica 9. Theme from Cavafy 10. Opening Titles from Mutiny on the Bounty 11. Conquest of Paradise 12. La petite fille de la mer 13. L'Enfant 14. Alpha 15. Celtic Dawn 16. Movement 1 from Mythodea 17. I'll Find My Way Home 18. State of Independence

As I stated earlier, this collection is a hybrid of Vangelis' own conceptual albums and the film scores he produced over the decades. As most people know him for 'Chariots of Fire' and 'Blade Runner,' it's the film scores that are granted the most attention, ranging from the high-budget seafaring orchestral grandeur of 'Mutiny on the Bounty' and 'Conquest of Paradise,' the latter being an impressive rip-roaring victorious march dominated by triumphal brass and an emphatic chamber choir, to the cold minimalism of independent films like 'Antarctica' and the afore-mentioned rarity 'Cavafy,' less instantly memorable but still highly impressive and technical. 'Hymn' and 'Missing' were themes composed for television soundtracks and thus a poorer quality can be expected, however the former is a concise uplifting piece that deserves a place among the composer's best work. which this largely isn't.

While any resonance that the 'Chariots of Fire' and 'Blade Runner' themes may have once possessed has clearly been lost through reduplication, they still stand strong as expressions of Vangelis' more commercial tendencies, especially in the simplistic piano melody of 'Chariots,' the culmination (however annoying) of a tune that can be traced right back through albums of 1977 and '75. The end titles of 'Blade Runner' strive for epic sci-fi excitement in their techno background for sweeping strings, and if one piece of that excellent soundtrack could justifiably be placed independent, it's this one. But then we also get an edited version of the 'Love Theme,' which works less well. While the end titles were simply an enjoyable but inconsequential electronic piece to play out as the cinema audience leave their seats for the foyer, the 'Love Theme' comes from the middle of the film, in the thick of the plot and character interaction. It's certainly lacking the atmosphere that would be built from the tracks preceding it, and can easily be skimmed over as "the sax song" here, robbed of its essential context more than anything else on this collection, which mainly provides endless false starts. Vangelis' soundtrack to 'Blade Runner' works perfectly in the film, complimenting the equally incredible visuals to the point that I never even care about the weak story and numerous plot holes. As an audiovisual experience, I consider 'Blade Runner' a special treat, and one that fails to be represented even when juxtaposing these two segments of the soundtrack.

With this one exception, Vangelis' non-soundtrack albums have always been of far more interest to me. Even when they're really bad, it's at least interesting to dwell on what exactly the old Moogmeister was trying to do. This album stays well away from impermeable disasters like 'Beaubourg' and 'Invisible Connections,' but also sadly misses out even some of those best-selling progressive albums from the 1970s. 'Pulstar' and 'Alpha' are taken from 'Albedo 0.39,' and 'The Tao of Love' from 'China,' but even Vangelis' most unashamedly pop-centric albums 'Spiral' and 'Direct' are ignored, perhaps for reasons of space. The two tracks from Albedo are about as good as Vangelis gets in his purely electronic phase, both based around repeating melodies and riffs that expand and evolve organically over five to seven minutes. 'Pulstar' is fast and energetic, and works perfectly as the opener for this collection just as it did for the original studio release. 'Alpha' is far more restrained and gradual, evolving from a nice keyboard base to end as one of the most craftily uplifting songs I've ever heard, performed in excessive major keys. These are two of my favourite songs from the album, despite suffering from the contextual issue. By contrast, 'The Tao of Love' is probably the weakest offering they could have gleaned from 'China,' itself an un-incredible album. Stereotypically and, again, deliberately Chinese sounding (Vangelis never even went to China), this is interesting for the first bar and then repeats itself to death. I heard this playing in the background of an Ainsley Harriott show, set in China: it really does lend itself as generic Oriential sounding music.

One of the more interesting sections of this collection, where a sense of coherence manages to seep in, comes with tracks twelve and thirteen, both piano-based, melancholic songs. Oh yes, they both have French titles too, though they don't come from the same album. 'La petite fille de la mer' is the oldest song here, from a soundtrack Vangelis recorded for a nature documentary. It's sad, soft and subdued, aiming for a different goal than the cheery and prominent style of most of the previous songs, but suffers for its long length and over-repetition, even if it's intended to be hypnotic. 'L'Enfant' is far superior, expressing a distinctive Vangelis aura even in its unplugged state and being one of the purest emotional expressions of this release, equal to the earlier 'Hymn' (both songs come from the same album, the soundtrack to 'Opera Sauvage.') 'Celtic Dawn' is a new song in that it was previously unreleased, not recently recorded, and could easily be filed among most of Vangelis' forgettable compositions of the 1980s and 90s. The 'pure Vangelis' part of the album closes by bringing the listener back to the present, with the grand operatic opening of 'Mythodea,' originally performed in Athens in 1994 but revamped as the official music for NASA's Mars Mission in this century. It suffers from the pompous pretentiousness of all Vangelis' operatic and symphonic work, but the subdued presence of his synthesiser is so well integrated within the volume that I can't help but like it, though I wouldn't be able to sit through the whole 'Mythodea' performance. Occasionally, the tasters this collection provides are more than enough.

The final two tracks are a radical departure from the previous sixteen, taken from Vangelis' collaborations with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson. Cheesy and simplistically poppy, these songs aim to provide cheap, bland thrills to the masses through the combination of Vangelis' dance-like keyboards and Anderson's approachable androgynous vocals. 'I'll Find My Way Home' is admittedly catchy and quite nice, but 'State of Independence' should have been replaced with something more memorable.

'Odyssey' isn't the best collection of Vangelis' music, and despite price cuts, isn't even the cheapest. Those looking for an engrossing audio experience won't find it among these disparate compositions, seemingly arranged at random with a couple of noted exceptions, and long-time collectors won't even be impressed by the artwork. Overall, this compilation works best as a sampler of Vangelis' albums, mostly his soundtracks, and even those who own more Vangelis than any sane person should be allowed (I have quite a lot) will likely find introductions here to material that would otherwise be unavailable, especially the more oblique soundtracks such as 'Missing' and 'Cavafy.'

Vangelis' only new material since this collection was the disappointing soundtrack to 'Alexander,' perhaps signifying that his illustrious and wildly inconsistent career is over, though he could always surprise with another orchestral classic like 'El Greco.' Either way, 2003 was a meaningless time to release a self-important 'definitive collection' such as this, and primarily offers an inexpensive means for the sound team of Ainsley Harriott shows to acquire generic archive material for the future, as they have already done with 'The Tao of Love.' If Ainsley winds up cooking krill and albatross in Antarctica, it's a safe bet what his soundtrack will be.

Frankingsteins | 2/5 |

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