Release Date: 2000
Review: Lost Liners
4 / 5 Stars
I had received the soundtrack to "Lost Liners" a while back, but never got around to reviewing it until now for the simple reason that I had missed the PBS special, and I had no idea when it would be rebroadcast. After listening to Michael Whalen's emotional and stately score to this 2-hour special on Robert Ballard and the Titanic, the Lusitania and The Empress of Ireland, I could only imagine what the music did for the pictures on the screen. Thankfully, Michael was kind enough to send me a videotape of the program, so I finally got a chance to see how well his score worked. Sufficed to say, it took it up to a new level - I knew the score, but now I had the context.
Beginning with "An Age Gone By (Theme from "Lost Liners")", Whalen allows us to hear a strong emotional theme performed by strings and orchestra as the main introduction plays out on screen. When the first mention of Titanic comes in, there is a bit of synth vox present, as if in homage to James Horner's hugely successful score. But ultimately this is a score about dignity. As Robert Ballard continually reminded us in the special, these aren't just shipwrecks - these are graves.
Hearing the stories about what happened on the Lusitania from some survivors of the attack was quite moving - I was never really knowledgeable about the whole series of events. "Sailing into History (The Lusitania Theme)" is a very emotionally powerful cue because we know what happens to the ship - and hearing about the human tragedy on board is truly moving.
I had never heard of The Empress of Ireland until this special, and I was shocked to learn that more people died on that ship than on the Titanic - yet it's relatively unknown to the average person. Again, the special focuses not so much on Ballard's explorations of the wrecks, but of the human element and the stories of people on the ship. Once more, Whalen's emotional score bump the whole experience up a notch with his gentle and respectful score in "A Memorial for The Empress".
While most of the emotional cues are primarily orchestral, there are quite a few contemporary cues, which mostly fit in with the modern day sequences featuring Ballard and his crew, or some of the more narrative documentary material. These cues still manage to fit into the whole flow of the album, and don't seem out of place. One cue, however, that doesn't seem to fit is "Building the Twins (Soundtrack Remix)". A bit too "clubbish" for my tastes, it seemed to be a bit out of place with the synth percussive effects and I would have preferred the original cue as it appeared in the special, even if musically it was similar to some other cues we've heard before.
By far the most haunting song I've heard in a long time, "A Flower On The Sea" (featuring Mary McLaughlin) is a powerfully emotional cue - especially since in the special it was accompanied with photographs from the different ships - and no narration whatsoever. Those four and a half minutes were more powerful than the previous two hours - and Whalen's music and lyrics in conjunction with McLaughlin's soft voice reminded me of some of Julee Cruise's songs from "Twin Peaks". It is a truly emotional ending to a well-done album.
The 2-hour long special was highly enjoyable and informative, and Whalen's score was dead-on. Keep an eye out on PBS to see if they rebroadcast it - it's well worth watching, and you just might learn a few things you didn't know before (I know I did)! "Lost Liners" is available through PBS online, Amazon.com, and CDNow. It's a great album, and runs about 53-minutes long.
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