John Carpenter’s score gets a brilliant new package courtesy of artist Alan Hynes
Lend an ear to SPINEMA: a column exploring all movie music, music related to movies, and movies related to music. Be they film scores on vinyl, documentaries on legendary musicians, or albums of original songs by horror directors, all shall be reviewed here. Batten down your headphones, because shit’s about to sound cinematic.
They Live is a bold and subversive critique of the rampant capitalism & consumerism that engulfed the ‘80s. A revered cult classic, it also spawned an artistic movement. Above all this, it’s a hell of a piece of entertainment, one that features perhaps the greatest fight in cinematic history. Roddy Piper plays Nada, a man who comes into possession of a pair of sunglasses that reveal what is hidden beneath the surface of our world. Under billboards, magazine, and our money, subliminal messages to obey and consume. Under the skin of some people, monstrous aliens that have infiltrated our society. We’re all being sold a lie, and we’re buying it without hesitation.
It’s the distinct kind of cinematic vision you’d expect from writer/director John Carpenter, who also penned the score (along with frequent collaborator Alan Howarth), as he did for so many of his works such as Prince of Darkness, Escape from New York, Halloween, The Fog, and Assault on Precinct 13. I count myself blessed for having seen him perform many of them live last year as he toured his Live Retrospective. So it’s a treat to delve into this new vinyl release of his They Live score from those fine folks over at Mondo.
They Live is essentially about Nada swaggering into this world and shaking things up, and the score embodies that. Carpenter’s distinct synth work is backed up by a blues twang, built from combinations of harmonica and sax. It’s a rather breezy, slow vibe that defines some of the earlier tracks and those that center around Nada. Tunes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Western, building to a showdown. As the alien menace becomes more apparent, urgency is imbued with more ominous notes. A rock twang from guitar, discordant synth spikes, drums, and heavy bass. It’s perhaps not Carpenter’s most memorable score, but one that certainly works well paired with the actual feature.
They Live is one of those releases where Mondo have brought in an artist able to flex their creative muscles, and have a little fun too. Alan Hynes has designed a package that plays off the central McGuffin of the sunglasses. The iconic shades take prominence on the front and back, while the gatefold inside depicts one of the infamous subliminal billboards, only this time spelling out the name of our protagonist. The sleeves pull out, and plastic overlays flip up to remove key phrases from the film atop tongue-in-cheek adverts. The vinyl itself is a bubblegum color, the right choice, although a black version is also available. You can see images below, and more via Mondo here.