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COP OUT – Harold Faltermeyer

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Nostalgia for the 1980s is all the rage these days. As someone who actually grew up in the 1980s I often find myself forgetting that it all happened almost 30 years ago, and that I remember all the new-nostalgia crazes and trends the first time around. In film music circles, the 1980s is remembered with both fondness and incredulity in equal measure, the latter due primarily to the popularity and success of a number of synth-pop composers. Harold Faltermeyer was one of those; over a six-year stretch he wrote music for box office smash after box office smash, with the likes of Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Fletch and Tango & Cash. His music remains incredibly divisive, and he has as many detractors as fans who laud his creative synth programming and (at the time) cutting edge electronics. In many ways he was the Hans Zimmer of his day, and he can legitimately be considered the source of Zimmer’s über-heroic anthemic style, which originated from Faltermeyer’s collaborations with Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson. However, for a multitude of reasons, his music fell out of fashion, and as a result he hadn’t scored an American feature film since Kuffs in 1992 – until now.

Cop Out is a buddy-comedy starring Bruce Willis and 30 Rock’s Tracy Morgan as two cops on the trail of sports memorabilia thief who has stolen the rare baseball card that Willis’s character, Jimmy Monroe, was planning to sell to pay for his daughter’s upcoming wedding. The movie, which also stars Seann William Scott and Michelle Trachtenberg, is directed by Kevin Smith, whose film works to date have been laden with 80s pop culture references, and who clearly has an affinity for the era. It makes perfect sense for Smith to have coaxed Faltermeyer back out of retirement to score his film as a throwback to his own golden era.

When I look back on it objectively, Harold Faltermeyer was actually pretty good at what he did. His themes for Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun are fine and have rightly become famous, and he was nothing if not a technical innovator, but for better or worse now he tends to get lumped in with other synth composers like Giorgio Moroder, David Foster, Sylvester Levay, and even Vangelis, all of whom scored a number of very successful films, but are now often seen as musical dinosaurs, relics of their age that represent everything that was bad about 80s film music, and whose styles have dated badly. In truth, Faltermeyer unquestionably had a knack for memorable themes, as well as a certain ‘coolness’ in his music that is difficult to describe but immediately apparent; unfortunately, Cop Out never reaches those levels, and is exactly what it looks to be from the outside looking in: a pastiche of a style which wore out its welcome 20 years ago, written purely at the whim of a genre-geek director, but which still retains a maddeningly retro appeal.

Cop Out certainly sounds authentic. It’s as though Faltermeyer went back in time and recorded this score with the Roland and Yamaha keyboards and drum machines that were available to him in 1986, right down to the 8-bit squeaks and big, fat, wet synth chords, and this works in the score’s favor in terms of the nostalgia factor. Where Cop Out differs from other scores in his past, however, is with the obvious inclusion of some contemporary R&B and hip-hop elements in the rhythmic parts of the main theme, “Cop Out”, and its subsequent variations in “Cool Cops”, “Shoot ’Em” and others. One can easily imagine samples such as these appearing in a modern song by someone like Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg or Dr. Dre, and it is to Faltermeyer’s credit that he has managed to effectively pastiche this generation’s urban musical zeitgeist in the same way he did before. Unfortunately, and despite how hard it tries to emulate them, the Cop Out theme is never going to attain the level of success and popularity that ‘Axel F’ or ‘Bit By Bit’ did back in the day; this kind of music just doesn’t have the same impact as it did before.

The theme for the film’s main protagonist, heard in “Po Boy is Bad”, features a more aggressive beat and a sampled choir overlaying agitated tremolo synth strings. Later, cues such as “Dave” and “Brooklyn Car Chase”, have a sense of urgent energy combined with playful good-naturedness, and often feature the familiar echoing percussive effects that so typified his Beverly Hills Cop scores. “Gabriella’s Story” has a more dreamlike, ambient feel that provides the score with some welcome downtime while, somewhat oddly, the “Jealousy” cues pit laid-back calypso or bhangra-style grooves against what can only be described as a sampled dog bark.

The conclusive pair, “Muy Safe-O” and “I Love You”, see Faltermeyer in romantic mode, adding a tender acoustic guitar and a pretty piano melody to his bank of synthesizers, ending the score on a pleasant note. And then the wonderful gospel/disco/rap song at the end, “Soul Brothers”, is yet another throwback, being performed in her inimitable style by Patti Labelle, and having lyrics by Keith Forsey, who was involved with several other 80s classic films, notably Flashdance and The Breakfast Club.

It’s difficult to know whether to recommend Cop Out or not. It exists solely as a tongue-in-cheek reference to its predecessors in Faltermeyer’s filmography, and as such cannot be judged as a “new work” because it’s so intentionally rooted in a 25-year old style. Fans of that era of music are likely to love every moment, as are those who have lamented Faltermeyer’s absence from the film music scene for so many years. I have to admit that I had a great time listening to it, and from a pure enjoyment point of view, I can’t fault it. However, it’s clearly going to confuse or alienate a great deal of today’s soundtrack buying public, especially the younger generation who see this kind of score as a relic of films made before they were born.

Rating: ***

Buy the Cop Out soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Cop Out (2:40)
  • Po Boy Is Bad (3:00)
  • Mangold & Hunsacker (2:13)
  • Dave (1:52)
  • Vicious Drones (2:29)
  • Gabriella’s Story (3:14)
  • Cool Cops (3:12)
  • Jealousy, Part 1 (2:59)
  • Shoot ‘Em (2:59)
  • Jealousy, Part 2 (2:21)
  • Brooklyn Car Chase (2:30)
  • Night Stakeout (2:24)
  • Muy Safe-O (1:46)
  • I Love You (1:03)
  • Soul Brothers (written by Harold Faltermeyer and Keith Forsey, performed by Patti Labelle) (4:20)

Running Time: 39 minutes 01 seconds

Watertower Music NLR-39186 (2010)

Music composed and performed by Harold Faltermeyer. Additional production and programming by Sam Spiegel, Brent Nichols and Kevin D. Anderson. Recorded and mixed by Brian Reeves. Album produced by Harold Faltermeyer.

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