Released: July 1984 on the Varese Sarabande label
Composers: Edgar Froese, Chris Franke and Johannes Schmoelling
Musicians: Edgar Froese, Chris Franke and Johannes Schmoelling
Instruments: keyboards, electronic equipment, guitar, synthesisers, electronic percussion
She has the power... an evil destructive force - movie tagline
Crystal Voice (03:07)
The Run (04:50)
Charly the Kid (03:51)
Escaping Point (05:10)
Rainbirds Move (02:31)
Burning Force (04:17)
Between Realities (02:53)
Shop Territory (03:15)
Flash Final (05:15)
Out of the Heat (02:30)
Background: Firestarter is the band's fifth soundtrack album. The film was based on the Stephen King novel of the same name and it tells the story of Charly, a young girl on the run from a shady government agency because she can manipulate fire with her mind. It starred Drew Barrymore, who was flavour of the month following the success of E.T. and it also featured George C. Scott as an elderly assassin and Martin Sheen as an evil bad guy. Heather Locklear was in it too but don't let that put you off.
Elsewhere: The Run, Charly the Kid and Rainbirds Move all appear as remixes on 1994's Tangents boxset.
My Review: Sometimes things just come together. As an avid reader of Stephen King from a very early age, I was acutely aware that Hollywood had adapted one of my favourite books into a film. And if that wasn't exciting enough, they had employed one of my favourite bands to score it! How could it possibly fail?
Sadly, the film turned out to be forgettable nonsense when I finally tracked it down on VHS in the late 1980s. The special effects just weren't special enough and the woefully low budget couldn't hope to compete with the images conjured up by my imagination when I initially read the novel. Actually, if it wasn't for the Tangerine Dream connection I probably wouldn't even own the damn thing on DVD today (a steal at £2.99!).
The soundtrack, on the other hand, has stood the test of time remarkably well.
The opening track, Crystal Voice, is simply incredible. It hinges around a very memorable, almost conventional melody, and yet there's just enough menace and foreboding bubbling under the surface to keep it interesting and slightly off-kilter. There are some wonderful chord changes that give the track a dreamy quality and the trademark sequencer pattern has never been put to better use.
In fact, this theme is so good they'll use it again in two tracks time, only this time they'll call it Charly the Kid! When played back-to-back it's difficult to tell the two pieces apart, but who cares about that when the tune is as hummable as this? You'll even be thankful when they run it past you the third time and fourth time via Burning Force and Shop Territory, only this time the catchy motif will be accompanied by some deft guitar work from Froese, a prickly sythn solo from Schmoelling and an increasingly urgent sequencer pattern by Franke that gives the melody an even more intimidating edge. The only thing that I can compare it to is Eric Clapton's work for the TV series Edge of Darkeness nearly two years later. It's that good.
In fact, if you string all these versions of that theme together then you've got a classic side of Tangerine Dream vinyl right there...
Sadly, the rest of the album struggles to rise above the standard soundtrack fare that we've come to expect from the band. Testlab and Rainbirds Move are serviceable enough while The Run, with its stabbing synths and fluttering arpeggios that drift aimlessly over a chugging sequencer showcase a formula that the band will continue to refine when it comes to their soundtrack work throughout this decade. This kind of thing could be played over any moderately suspenseful scene in any straight-to-video thriller made in the mid-to-late 80s and it wouldn't sound out of place. However, as a style of music it leaves me feeling cold and a little bit depressed.
However, the most interesting track of all is probably Between Realities. It's almost avant garde in its approach and for a moment you'll actually believe that the band have been transported back to 1972.
The final track, Out of the Heat, is a little gem, too. If you were expecting a final reprise for the main theme then you'll be disappointed but what we get instead is almost as infectious, and once again it's easy to see how the band influenced the likes of Depeche Mode and Orbital with this accessible, yet strangely morose slice of electro-pop.
I still have a soft-spot for Firestarter. It's certainly one of the more palatable soundtrack albums from this era, and while the film itself may have been a damp squib, some of this music - and that theme in particular - makes it worth seeking out.
Live: Tangerine Dream did not play any live dates in 1984. They were probably too busy churning out soundtrack albums.
Watch: Here's the theatrical trailer for the film:
Rate Your Music - easily one of the best soundtrack albums. Maybe one of the last good soundtracks now that I think of it.
Prog Archives - funny how the music does not date, yet the film showcasing a very young Drew Barrymore certainly has.