'Star Wars,' Nails share angry sound

By Kyle Munson for Des Moines Register on May 3, 2005

At first glance the new album from industrial-noise kingpin Trent Reznor and the soundtrack for George Lucas' sixth "Star Wars" movie to be released might not have much in common.

In the parlance of Yoda: Too quick to judge, you are!

Sure, the mechanics of these two albums, new in stores today, are radically different.

Reznor, under his Nine Inch Nails moniker, sequestered himself in a studio and toiled away in relative seclusion - with few guests, such as drummer Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters.

John Williams' score for "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" was a massive collaborative balancing act, from how he tailored his themes to the movie's plot to recording it with the full London Symphony Orchestra and the choir of London Voices.

But these albums tap a similar emotional core: With "Revenge of the Sith" it's Anakin Skywalker's inner-moral conflict that leads him to the dark side of the force and into the all-black wardrobe of Darth Vader. Meanwhile, Reznor is Anakin/Darth in his own angst-ridden universe, lashing out about self-doubt and failed romance with all the venom of a sulky teen.

More point-by-point comparisons . . .

GLORIOUS PASTS : Reznor and Williams both mine material that they've done better before. Besides the iconic "Star Wars" opening theme itself, Williams' sharpest examples of "leitmotif" (particular themes attached to particular characters) were introduced for "The Empire Strikes Back" - most famously "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)," which makes key appearances in this new score.

Similarly, Reznor's 1994 album "The Downward Spiral" is the Rosetta Stone for how synth-fueled industrial rage can be approached with all the subtlety and artfulness of ambient music. "With Teeth" is Reznor's best effort since that peak, but he's less artful here and seems more focused on churning out one catchy, groovy song after another. In that sense, the album makes good on the promise of its danceable first single, "The Hand That Feeds."

SONG THAT WOULD FIT ON THE OTHER ALBUM : Reznor's "The Line Begins to Blur" would make for a great theme song for the conflicted Anakin. And the spooky "Palpatine's Teachings" on the "Revenge of the Sith" soundtrack sounds like a match for Reznor's brand of gloom.

MOST TELLING INSTRUMENT : Amongst all the guitar noise, Reznor shows more appreciation than ever for a simple, quiet piano melody - especially in the delicate final song, "Right Where It Belongs." If Reznor wasn't so depressed, he could be the next Elton John.

Williams' classic horn lines announce his most hopeful themes, but it's his use of tympani rolls that over the course of his "Star Wars" scores I've come to appreciate the most.

BONUS DVD : The DualDisc version of "With Teeth" includes enhanced mixes of the album and the music video for "The Hand That Feeds." The "Revenge of the Sith" soundtrack includes a separate DVD billed as "A Musical Journey" - a 16-part feature that tells the entire "Star Wars" saga as a sort-of music video, marrying Williams' themes to clips from all the movies. Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine/the Emperor) is the stoic narrator to help string the saga together. It's a little stupid, but no doubt fans will lap it up before the first midnight showing of "Revenge of the Sith."

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