Vangelis created nothing short of the Mona Lisa of synth scores with Blade Runner, an absolute masterpiece in both music and style that still to this day remains unmatched.
It is hard to describe just how fantastic Blade Runner is, both as a film and a standalone album. Movie-wise, both the original and it’s sequel Blade Runner 2049 are strokes of visual genius – showing off incredible dystopian landscapes and weaving them expertly with a pretty captivating and indeed thought-provoking story. The future introduced to us in the first film is bleak (with Earth being devoid of most life due to a horrific nuclear war) but director Ridley Scott somehow manages to make it beautiful. The dark and heavily commercialised cityscapes would be hell to actually live in, but aesthetically here they are simply breathtaking. The aspect of Blade Runner that has made it such a cult classic over the years isn’t the story or characters (although they do play a part), it’s the hauntingly beautiful world in which it is set. And indeed, a large part of the credit for making said world so monumental goes rightfully to Vangelis, the composer who created the final nail that hammered Blade Runner’s Los Angeles into movie legend.
Just before we begin the track-by-track analysis however, I’m going to talk briefly about the history of the score’s album release. Because of what was rumoured to be a falling out between Vangelis and Ridley Scott, the music didn’t actually see a commercial release until 1994, twelve years after the film premiered. In addition, the album we did get unfortunately has a fair amount of dialogue from the film mixed in with the music. For example, we hear the android Roy talking over Tears In Rain (as it happened in the film) for a good thirty seconds before the music is allowed centre stage. While some would say this adds to the overall atmosphere, I would argue that I bought the album for the score, not for the film. If I wanted the dialogue as well as the music, that’s what I’d watch. The talking is also incredibly frustrating, as it is playing over and interrupting one of the best soundtracks ever made. Straining to hear score while having to endure irritating speech is not something I want to do when I put a soundtrack on for a listen.
Anyway, that was my one and only gripe with the score, and hopefully Vangelis will allow an expanded release for Blade Runner sans dialogue at some point in the near future, so that we can be done with the 1994 release once and for all. Certainly if he does decide to, I and I imagine many others will happily pay a great deal of money for it. Right, let’s get on with the review.
The album opens with Main Titles, which does a wonderful job of setting up the tone and indeed the world that we are about to be introduced to. As the first few seconds of the track play, the score begins with a slow and low-pitch Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer (the instrument that forms the centrepiece of Vangelis’ Blade Runner) note. It is rather haunting, and sets a very somber mood. The voice of main character Rick Deckard then echoes out, along with a few sound effects of an old (futuristic by 1982’s standards) computer. This is the only one of the dialogue moments in the album that I honestly don’t really mind, as it does help with the dystopian world building that Vangelis is doing here. Thankfully it also doesn’t last very long, as the music once again takes centre stage after a few seconds. Percussion loudly interrupts Deckard, and the synthesizer re-emerges. We are then treated to a good two minutes of incredibly atmospheric and somewhat relaxing synth score. Despite being not particularly thematic or hummable note-wise, Vangelis’ composing here describes the cyberpunk setting of Blade Runner even better than the visuals do.
Blush Response opens with yet more dialogue, this time lasting for over a minute. Fortunately, it doesn’t play over the best part of the track which begins just as the speaking fades out. Vangelis sets a more upbeat and rapid tone with some fast and almost hip-hop sounding percussion, but before long that famous synthesizer kicks in with an eerie four-note motif on repeat that counterpoints the percussion, overall creating one of the more memorable and rather spooky pieces of Vangelis’ music. This then fades nicely into Wait For Me, where the pace slows a little and dialogue returns for a short while before thankfully disappearing. The percussion overall has a more blues approach here, a style reinforced by a saxophone that plays prominently for much of the track. That slow and somber tone started in Main Titles also makes it’s presence known, and all these different elements working together make Wait For Me one of the more standout cues on the album.
Vocals make a notable entrance in Rachel’s Song, where they form the basis of the character’s theme for much of the piece. The music once again has a slow and rather dark feeling to it, though this time with a slightly romantic edge. The theme for Rachel largely performed vocally with the synthesizer taking up the background, and is one of the more hummable and certainly memorable motifs that Vangelis composed for Blade Runner, which only makes sense given how major a character she is. It is curious to note however that she is the only character to actually get a named theme, with the likes of Roy and Deckard getting potential but never certain motifs later on in the album. Then again, she is an important part of the story, perhaps more so than even main character Deckard.
The saxophone makes a passionate return in the interestingly named Love Theme, where it and the Yamaha CS-80 work together to form the incredible piece of music that this four minute wonder is. Not only does it beautifully capture the atmosphere of the dystopian world once again, but it is also just a very peaceful and relaxing track to listen to. Additionally, it works wonderfully as a precursor to Blade Runner Blues, a nine minute mainly synthesizer based track that was very close to being the standout cue of the score. Blues proves that you don’t always need themes to be musically effective, as it doesn’t contain any particular motifs that certainly I could spot. Much of the nine minutes contain seemingly random high pitch synth notes paired with a lower pitched backdrop, and yet overall the track is wonderfully ambient, and once again captures the dark and melancholic mood of the film perfectly. While listening to Blues you can easily just sit back and let the music take you, and you should.
One More Kiss Dear, Memories Of Green and Tales Of The Future are somewhat strange additions to the album when compared with the rest of the music, as not only do they contain very little of the Yamaha CS-80 but are also very tonally different to the rest of the score. It is a little jarring to be listening to the relaxing and futuristic Love Theme and then suddenly be thrust into the past with the 1930s style One More Kiss Dear. However, the tracks are overall very good at building the cyberpunk world that forms the backbone of Blade Runner, and because of that they are very necessary additions to the soundtrack. They are also surprisingly all composed by Vangelis himself, which astonished me as I hunted for the 1930s artist that surely must have been behind One More Kiss Dear, a song (yes, song!) that sounds like something that played on the radio during the Second World War.
Memories Of Green then continues this retro style with a classic-sounding piano that takes the spotlight for much of the track. Tales Of The Future then somewhat returns us to 2019’s Los Angeles as the synthesizer comes back, however much of the piece is performed vocally in what I can only describe as a very Asian/Middle Eastern style. This style is continued somewhat in Damask Rose, though instrumentally this time rather than vocally, and only for a short period before hints are made towards a return to the Blade Runner synth.
Overall, these dramatic hops between genres make for some strange pieces of music (especially when played with the rest of the score), but that strangeness is what ties them incredibly well to the dark future of Blade Runner. They fill in the blanks of the dark cyberpunk world building that the synth couldn’t, and form some of the more important elements of the musical tapestry that is Vangelis’ Blade Runner. If these four tracks demonstrate one thing, then it is Vangelis’ sheer composing genius.
The tone of Blade Runner then fully returns in Tears In Rain, having been hinted at in Damask Rose. It is a welcome return despite the breath of different genre air from the four Odd Tracks, and what an amazing return it is. The track does unfortunately open with dialogue, but after thirty seconds it fades away, and a warm low-pitched synth background then forms. Higher pitched primary notes are then played throughout the track, which perform remarkably similar to raindrops (which can’t be a coincidence given when this music is played in the film). Each time a note “drops”, it echoes just like a raindrop does when it hits the ground. This fantastic musical idea combined with the somewhat gloomy synth background forms a beautifully melancholic piece, and because of this Tears In Rain became one of the more famous tracks on the score, even going so far as getting a reprise in Blade Runner 2049.
The standout cue award then goes to the masterful End Titles, the much more hummable “theme” for Blade Runner. This is the thematic, more recognisable music that most people will think of if you mention the soundtrack of the film to them. While not being quite as emotionally and atmospherically captivating as certain other tracks, it is still an absolutely fantastic piece of score. The synth hits a fast pace almost immediately as the track begins, and the music has that “Main On Ends” feel to it right away. Percussion begins to take up the background and the synthesizer then plays out the fourteen notes that form the theme. It initially has a dark and rather gloomy tone, but as the track progresses the theme gets faster and higher in pitch, slowly changing into a more dramatic and epic piece. The “middle eight” (see the Doctor Who Theme) of the Blade Runner theme then plays, a fast and almost heroic-sounding extension of the main theme notes. It hints at a potentially lighter and more upbeat side to the otherwise haunting score, but this hint vanishes almost as quickly as it appeared. The darker side then returns for a few more thematic renditions before End Titles and the score itself then bow out.
All-in, Vangelis’ score to Blade Runner is nothing short of an absolute masterpiece. It is The Godfather of synth-based music, and most likely always will be. Even Hans Zimmer’s Blade Runner 2049 couldn’t get anywhere near as awe-inspiring and simply breathtaking as this wonderful score (and it tried!). It is one of my favourites and will always be one of the best soundtracks of all time. Iconic doesn’t even begin to describe it. My only issue with this particular presentation is the dialogue that’s woven into much of the music, as I and I’m sure many others find it incredibly annoying since it drowns out some of Vangelis’ brilliant music. Hopefully one day we’ll see a complete or expanded edition that will allow us to hear Blade Runner in all it’s un-dialogued glory. For now though, we still have a fantastic soundtrack that takes you instantly back into that beautiful dystopian cyberpunk world, and I will be forever grateful to Vangelis for it. Finally of course, this album gets a Perfect Score on this site, as it completely and utterly deserves it.
Standout Cue: 11. End Titles