A warm fuzzy feeling, that feels like unconditional love, emanates from my heart when I watch television shows and cartoons from my childhood. There are a few very special shows that make my heart flutter all-the-quicker and one of these is Ulysses 31 (the others are The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Dogtanian and Around the World With Willy Fogg if you're interested). I first came across the show when it was first shown in the mid 80s on the BBC but I saw it in my formative years again in the early 90s on Channel 4, where it was shown daily at 6:30, just before the Big Breakfast. I remember thinking how cool and ahead of it's time the animation was but the moody, evocative and exciting synthesizer soundtrack complemented the show well... heightening the sometimes very dark cartoon well. Being a huge soundtrack nerd I tried to track it down but to no avail. The soundtracks that were available were the original vinyl printings from 1981 and these were far from the complete soundtrack, often vocal remixes over the scores.
I purchased a Tele 80 Ulysse 31 soundtrack a few weeks ago but unfortunately it contained lots of French vocal tracks and only about 6 instrumental pieces from the show.
To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement, however in my search I did see that as 2016 was Ulysses 31's 35th anniversary a collector's edition of the complete soundtrack would be available on double CD for the very first time. The release would include the complete score by Denny Crockett, Ike Egan, Haïm Saban and Shuki Levy and all the opening and closing credits sung in the French and English!
The album was only produced in limited numbers and was fetching a very high price on Amazon and other websites but I managed to get the soundtrack at a reasonable price on ebay, shrink wrapped and brand new. And so, without further ado... here is the review of the Ulysses 31 soundtrack.
The first thing to notice is that the soundtrack has a bit of weight to it as it is a double CD set (containing 165 tracks!)with a 16 page booklet explaining the creation of the show, with interviews of the the creators, composers as well as a detailed account of the remastering process. Unfortunately for me the whole thing is in French and having not spoken the language since secondary school my translation is patchy at best, however I have a wonderful teaching assistant who speaks French fluently and I will try to get her to translate it for me.
The music here is crystal clear as it has been remastered from the original masters by Ian Jones at Abbey Road Studios. This is the way the soundtrack was intended to be heard as even on the DVDs the music can sounded distorted and warbled.
I've listened to the album a few times now and the majority of the themes I remember are all here. I'm not sure how the album is sequenced but I think it is in chronological order, with many of the familiar themes near the beginning and the more uniquely used tracks or incidental tracks being later on in the collection.
I'm not going to go through every single track here as that would be long and incredibly tedious for your to read so I'll pick out the highlights.
On disc 1:
- Track 2 is Overture- The Base of Troy, which sounds quite majestic and sweeping, just what you'd expect for a space opera but it morphs into late 70's disco with a funky beat. Definitely a track of it's time but charming for it.
- Track 3 is energetic and driving as it underscored moments of space battles and actions. Attack of the Tridents is a very short track, being only 20 seconds long, but is very effective.
- Track 4, Unknown World, is a beautiful piano piece with moody synthesizer bloops and beeps creating an unsettling soundscape. This piece was used in times of tension and mystery and you can see why.
- Track 5, Noumaïos's Theme is a beautifully melancholic piano and flute theme. There is very little synthesizer sound used for this piece and this adds to its wistfulness- a definite highlight.
- Track 10, The Curse of the Gods #1, is one of the signature pieces of music from the show. It has a dramatic steady drum beat which is added to by a deep synth sound which adds a spooky element, then the trumpets kick in and add a shrill element. This is another absolute must listen for fans of the show!
- Track 15, Olympus, is a wonderful piano and deep synth sound which is further enhanced through the shredding guitar. It sounds broody and dark and is another signature theme from the show.
- Track 16, Space Battle, sounds like an 80s soft rock band just jamming with drums, cymbals and shredding guitar combining to create a fast paced track.
- Track 21, Calypso, is a soft piano piece that sounds melancholy and thoughtful at first then the flute and drum kick in to add another layer of sadness. Another beautiful must listen.
- Track 25, The Sirens, sounds unearthly and ethereal. The whoosy airy synth sounds mixed with the strange whale-like squeals give this piece a unique sound. It ends with strange cries and moans of the type you'd find in scary horror films. it is quite unlike anything else on this album but in a good way.
- Track 31, Ulysses Battles the Cyclops, sounds suitably epic. It builds with a deep bass guitar and thumping drum and then the weird synth kicks it adding to the drama, throw in a few violin and trumpet sounds and this piece kicks it up a notch until it reaches the dramatic end.
- Track 40, Goodbye, is a poetic flute and piano piece that flutters by sadly. It was often used at the most tear-jerking moments of the series and you can hear why.
- Track 53, Ulysses meets Ulysses, is a strange Spanish guitar piece interspersed with some dramatic strings.
CD 2 continues the good work of the first but has less of the well known tracks but does still contain much worth listening to.
- Track 3, Tales of the Legend, is a dramatic track with organs and what sounds like some harmonised vocals, lending this piece an otherworldly air.
- Track 4, Odysseus, sounds like an 80s guitar solo from a soft rock band, all shredding guitars and a cool base in the background.
- Track 30, The Heart of Olympus, has a deep baritone noise underscoring a dramatic piano peice... very unnerving!
- Track 40, Universe in Harmony, is pure funky disco celebrating the success of Ulysses. A fitting groovy ending to the series!
Overall the soundtrack is brilliant and has stood the test of time well. There are tracks that are undeniably relics of the time but the whole score sounds like it belong to a lost sci-fi feature film rather than a 35 year old animated series. This is a must have soundtrack for all fans of the show and for fans of synthesizer music with that late 70s / early 80s feel. Essential!