Heaven And Hell


RCA Records, 1975


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Growing up, one of the fondest memories I have is watching the PBS series Cosmos, hosted by the late Carl Sagan. My father had gotten hooked on the show, and I happened to stumble in one night as it was coming on - whammo! I was regretting that I had already missed a few episodes. (This was long before we even thought of owning a VCR.)

One of the most distinctive things about that show - besides the way that Sagan could draw out the word "billions" like William Shatner trying to sing "White Rabbit" - was the music. I have a feeling that even if you watched only one episode, if you heard the music that made up the opening and closing theme of the show, you'd instantly think, "Aah, Cosmos!"

You might not, however, know that the piece is by Vangelis - for that matter, you might not know who Vangelis is. Despite having made a name for himself in America with the theme to the movie Chariots Of Fire, the Greek keyboardist had been a fixture on the music scene, both as a solo artist and with the band Aphrodite's Child. The album that particular piece of music comes from, Heaven And Hell, is a bizarre portrait of music without a specific genre to try and pigeonhole it into. It's occasionally beautiful, sometimes painful... and utterly confusing in the end.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The bulk of the album - all but one cut - is made up of the two-sided title track. If you pick this one up looking for the particular section that Cosmos used, you'll want to focus on about the last five minutes of part one. The section starts with the gentle sounds of a grand piano, playing a melody that could easily be a cosmic lullaby. As the synthesizers start to enter the picture, it's almost like a vision of beauty is unfolding in front of you. The piece slowly builds in power and instrumentation, until it crescendos into a powerful finale. It's the kind of selection that can move you to tears, given the right circumstances.

The majority of the first part (at least what we haven't talked about yet) is a strange combination of freeform jazz and Wagner-like classical droning. One of the last times I put this side on, my daughter was in the room, and she turned this part into a 15-minute exhibition of interpretive dance. (She's three years old; she can get away with that.) The jazz portion isn't too bad, but the neo-classical part (featuring the English Chamber Choir) is more than a bit strange - actually, it's boring. Wrapping up the first side with "Long Ago And So Clear" (featuring Yes's Jon Anderson on vocals) doesn't help matters; if anything, this piece seems the most out of place.

If the first half of Heaven And Hell was a mixed bag, the second half of the title track is the one that will have you asking, "Just why did I buy this album in the first place?" I don't know if various movements were supposed to illustrate the two divisions of infinity, but I'd venture a guess that the second side is more focused on hell. If it's not about the underworld, then I wonder why I went through hell getting through this portion of the record.

The biggest problem is the piece's lack of structure. Even in classical music, there is some central musical nervous system that is being followed, but on this piece, that structure is thrown right out the window. Maybe Vangelis was inspired by Edgard Varese for this album, I dunno.

Make no mistake, the portion of "Heaven And Hell" that was used for Cosmos is still a work of musical brilliance. But if that's the only reason you're thinking about buying Heaven And Hell, save yourself the aggravation and pick up, if you can still find it, The Music Of Cosmos, the show's soundtrack album. It has the essential part of this album right there, and you don't have to wade through all the sludge that makes up the bulk of Heaven And Hell.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.