Escape from the swamp


Taylor at the helm, again showing that he’s probably the one best adapted to soundtrack work.

Escape from the swamp.

I’ve got some friends who started a band after a discussion at a party about how great drums and synths are. They wanted a band that was just drums and synths, and they wanted to both be able to play drums and synths in it. So they did.

This track sounds nothing like them (maybe they need to by a timpani), but it follows the principle, and it sounds great as a result. It’s just a rolling drum exploration, wandering and meandering, with energy and purpose, but not a huge amount of structure, and a big wide synth wading through it slowly.

I guess the synth is the swamp, and the drums are trying to escape it, and they do, through persistence and roaming. It’s an unsubtle musical narrative, but it’s pretty clear, and it suits the energy well. There’s a claustrophobia to it, a weightiness, and a sense of adventure. It pulls together threads of doom and hope and trappedness from previous motifs, and reconstructs them as this wandering thread of movement.

There’s not a lot of variety to it, and the end sounds like someone pulling a plug on it, and then mooing in complaint, but it’s a perfect little bit of soundtrack work. Interesting, but not distracting. Informing the narrative, without actually obscuring whatever is happening on screen.

And actually, I even like that final synth sucking noise. That last burst of loss, as incongruous as it is.

When you think about it, it’s pretty weird to have a rock band doing a sci fi soundtrack, especially when they don’t really create a rock soundtrack in any real way. They’re just doing straightforward soundtrack work, figuring out how to use synths, and toying with sound effects and ways of meeting up with action and dialogue. They were clearly committed to doing the whole thing with verve and swagger to meet the comic book origins and Technicolor absurdity. It appears nobody making the film knew what tone to go with, and so Queen ran with what they saw. Drama, action and space.

So they went deep, all space age synth and drama. But then they still had the natural Queen thing of giving control to different band members for different pieces, and so ending up with very different approaches.

Freddie just wants to lark about on badly tuned synths. Brian is saved for swooping guitars and that one big Flash motif. Deacon makes little incidental noodles (to varying effect).

But Roger, once again proving to be a dark horse, is the one that goes for it, goes for real soundscaping and dramatic narrative work. He’s no Carpenter, but I reckon he could find a tone and make it work. I’d really like to hear his work on a larger sci fi project. But obviously the ground has shifted on what that would mean these days.

Flash Gordon was already a nostalgia piece when it came out, despite pushing some boundaries in terms of visual effects and design and, indeed, in the music. The soundtrack is brutally of it’s time, but in that makes it clear it was also ahead of it.

Basically, if you want a swampy escape theme with drama and claustrophobia that feels alien…you could do a lot worse.



Queen: An Exploded Diagram is me having big and little thoughts about every Queen song in chronological order. If you want to support me, making it more financially viable and easier to explain to people at parties, please back my patreon.

Illustration by Emma.

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