Rob Simonsen’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife is an exquisitely-crafted love letter to Elmer Bernstein’s original 1984 score, featuring a highly enjoyable orchestral style and many welcome appearances from iconic themes (and who could forget the Ondes Martenot!) which overall make it simply a joy from start to finish.
It’s pretty amazing just how quickly composer Rob Simonsen manages to musically immerse us back into the wondrous musical world of Ghostbusters here with his Afterlife score – take a look at opening cue Trapped, for instance. It starts quite simply, as a rumble of ominous piano notes opens the piece with some rather 80s-esque electronics scattering through in a fleeting manner. This is swiftly followed though by a very hair-raising appearance from none other than the Ondes Martenot itself – the iconic-sounding musical instrument (like, you’ll really know it when you hear it!) that was famously used by the late, great Elmer Bernstein throughout his score for the original Ghostbusters movie. As such then, even in just the first ten seconds of the first cue here, Simonsen has managed to not only set a very 80s orchestral scene, but with the addition of the Ondes Martenot too has done an equally fantastic job of harkening back to the original style of Bernstein. In short, ladies and gentlemen – I’m already impressed, and we’re barely a few seconds into the score. With that, let’s get back to it; as Trapped continues, some rather sinister strings slowly build in the background, before loud, foreboding brass then bursts into the fray and the orchestra launches into action territory with crashing percussion and additional, heroic brass playing a rather upbeat rendition of none other than Bernstein’s original Ghostbusters theme. It’s a brief and rather fleeting appearance from the motif but a very welcome one nonetheless, and it manages to elevate the already sublime opening cue to staggeringly brilliant as a result. A few frantic bursts of percussion then bring the frantic action to a close, with slow, low-pitched brass hinting further toward the main Ghostbusters theme before the track then draws to a gentle close.
Mysterious, whistling woodwinds open Dirt Farm, with flurrying strings starting to play alongside a few quiet hints toward Bernstein’s original Ghostbusters theme. As the music continues the track then starts to take a bit of a sinister turn, with the strings becoming darker and more worrisome until the moody tone is cemented by another welcome and typically ethereal appearance from the Ondes Martenot. The short Chess then hints toward the percussive elements of the Ghostbusters theme alongside sporadic notes from the Martenot before light, upbeat brass then breaks through the moodiness in Summerville. Here an enthusiastic piano and hopeful strings take the musical forefront, helping to fully pull the tone up into gentle optimism. This upbeatness doesn’t last for long though as the Martenot returns in full, ominously ghostly form in Under The Floor, playing together with some rather eerie-sounding strings and making overall for quite a slow, atmospherically ominous piece. A small spark of hope does appear in the back half though, with the Ghostbusters theme receiving a few iterations on slow, gentle brass notes. The forty second Nice Replica then features a rather upbeat piano, before being upstaged considerably as loud, menacing brass crashes into centre stage in Culpable, reprising the dramatically villainous theme for Gozer from Bernstein’s original Ghostbusters score. Simonsen makes excellent use of instrumentation here as well, with the motif sounding just as malevolent and in-your-face as it did in the 1984 movie. The music then returns to moody, atmospheric ambience in Laboratory, with pensive strings playing alongside several short, sporadic notes from Bernstein’s Ghostbusters theme. Lab Partners however then kicks things up a notch with a proudly enthusiastic rendition of said theme in all its orchestral glory, complete with the light, upbeat percussive elements from the original piece alongside playful brass and piano notes.
The Ondes Martenot returns once again in Definitely Class Five, with the Ghostbusters theme also making a lighthearted though brief appearance on enthused brass notes. Action then bursts into the fray with the short Go Go Go, with the orchestra surging through at a pounding pace and frantic brass taking the lead, which all then segues rather seamlessly into subsequent cue Trap Him. Bernstein’s Ghostbusters theme roars into view once again in the first few seconds of the piece, and builds dramatically over the course of the next few minutes until crashing percussion brings the action to a loud, victorious crescendo. Don’t Go Chasing Ghosts then slows the pace right back down, with slow, meandering strings playing rather pensive renditions of both the main Ghostbusters and villainous Gozer motifs. This gentleness then morphs back into mystery in Mini-Pufts, where the Martenot features rather prominently the orchestra slowly building in the background. This continues over the course of several minutes, with brass slowly starting to rise over the Martenot until frenetic action bursts in and a percussive crescendo is reached a few seconds later. The malevolent Gozer motif then plays in full force in The Temple Resurrected, with loud, aggressive brass and worrisome strings taking centre stage for the majority of the two minute piece. The orchestra starts to pick up the pace a bit in Suit Up, with rapid strings and apprehensive brass taking the forefront for the first minute or so before crashes of percussion then start to build tension, becoming louder and more prominent until a dramatic crescendo is reached and the track then ends. No, I’m Twelve however picks up where it leaves off, with the villainous Gozer motif asserting itself as the centre of attention once again on loud, oppressive brass notes.
As the finale of the score approaches, Getaway continues to up the action ante with swirling, frenetic brass and tense strings performing rather relentlessly for three minutes of dramatically enthusiastic score, with several short though enjoyable renditions of Bernstein’s Ghosbusters theme woven throughout. The action then takes pause for a few moments in Callie, a quiet, mysterious piece that makes intriguing use of light strings and whistling woodwinds for its first two minutes, before then slowly building back up into loud orchestra in the final few seconds. The Ondes Martenot then joins forces with loud, crashing orchestra in the first minute of Protecting The Farm, making for a particularly dramatic and rather ominous opening when then hits fever pitch with the return of the villainous Gozer motif on typically emphatic brass. The tide however slowly starts to turn towards the end of the piece, with the main Ghostbusters theme making several hopeful though rather brief appearances. This all then comes to a head in the rather epic Showdown, with the aforementioned motif playing through several wondrously heroic and rather breathtaking orchestral renditions. At only two and a half minutes in length however I do wish it was longer, as the orchestra and themes just sound absolutely fantastic. With the album fast drawing to a close, final cue Reconciliation then delivers quite a slow, gentle finish to Ghostbusters: Afterlife, with Bernstein’s main theme playing prominently on hopeful strings and low-pitched, optimistic brass. Things do pick up a bit towards the end of the cue though, with the main theme held high for a particularly heroic, triumphant crescendo to see the album happily out.
Overall, Rob Simonsen’s score for Ghostbusters: Afterlife is wonderfully faithful to Elmer Bernstein’s iconic work for the original 1984 movie, so much so that it almost sounds like it could have been written by him. From the 80s-esque electronics, the exquisite orchestra and brilliant use of the iconic Ondes Mortenot instrument, to the welcome reprisals of Bernstein’s original Ghostbusters themes, this album quite simply has it all, and is a well worthy sequel to the classic original. The compositional style here I have to say as well is the absolute star of the show, binding all the various thematic elements together to create not only a really breathtaking 80s-y sound for the album, but also one that’s again incredibly faithful to Bernstein’s works for the franchise. The only criticism I really have is that it would have been nice to perhaps hear a few new themes added to the mix as well, as while the callbacks to the original Ghostbusters motifs are truly brilliant, a few new ideas might have helped to bridge the old and new here a little better (and maybe a motific appearance from Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters song mightn’t have gone amiss either). That being said though, it doesn’t stop Simonsen’s work here from being a lovingly crafted and incredibly well made homage to Bernstein’s original, and a well worthy sequel score overall.
Standout Cue: 24. Showdown
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