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Tangerine Dream's 'Thief' soundtrack remastered for a new generation

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Tangerine Dream kept composing one great film score after another back in the 1980’s. Whether it was “Risky Business,” “Firestarter” or “Miracle Mile,” the German electronic music group lent their own distinctive sound to some of my favorite movies of the decade I grew up in. One of their best efforts was for “Thief” which marked the feature film directorial debut of Michael Mann and starred James Caan as Frank, a highly skilled jewel thief and ex-convict who is looking to achieve the American dream. With Mann’s meticulous detail to cinematography and the ways in which jewel thieves (several of which were hired as technical advisors for this film) carry out a robbery, Tangerine Dream’s music proved to be the perfect complement to the style he ended up achieving to such an unforgettable effect.

Not only a remastered soundtrack, but a complete one
Not only a remastered soundtrack, but a complete one United Artists

Not only a remastered soundtrack, but a complete one

Thief” has now been given a deluxe soundtrack release by Perseverance Records, a small label specializing in film scores that have either not been given the proper releases they deserve or which are in need of a remastered edition. Their edition of “Thief,” to no one’s surprise, sounds better than ever, and it also includes the track “Confrontation” by Craig Safan who is best known for composing the score to “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.” Now this particular track has been omitted from previous soundtrack releases, but the good people at Perseverance Records did the right thing by including it here. It would not have earned the status of deluxe soundtrack had it been left out.

The best tracks
The best tracks United Artists

The best tracks

Now anyone who knows me best understands how much of a sucker I am for electronic film scores, and “Thief” is one of my favorite electronic that wasn’t composed by John Carpenter. My favorite track is “Diamond Diary” which underscores the first big robbery Frank commits in the movie, and it captures the intensity of it as well as the amount of time he has to complete his job in (which isn’t much). Then there’s “Dr. Destructo” which focuses on Frank’s determination to rid others of the control they have over him. As for Safan’s “Confrontation,” it is terrific in scoring how Frank gets his revenge and accepts the inescapable reality of who he is and what he cannot change.

Anything missing?
Anything missing? United Artists

Anything missing?

Is there any downside to this edition of the “Thief” soundtrack? Well, there are no additional or alternate tracks to be found here. Since this movie is now more than 30 years old, I figured there would be more music that we haven’t heard on vinyl, cassette tape or compact disc before. Having watched Mann’s movie again recently, there are portions of Tangerine Dream’s score that sound different from what’s on the soundtrack, and I would have loved it if the film versions had made it onto this edition as well. Still, Perseverance Records has gone to great lengths to make this terrific film score sound better than ever before, and it makes revisiting this soundtrack all the more necessary.

The accompanying booklet
The accompanying booklet United Artists

The accompanying booklet

“Thief” also comes with liner notes written by James Phillips which looks at what inspired Mann to make this movie, how Tangerine Dream came to compose the score for it, and how Craig Safan was brought in to write music for the movie’s ever so violent climax. It was a surprise to learn that Mann originally considered using blues music to score the criminal lifestyle this movie sucks us into. It turns out that it was William Friedkin, who had just worked with Tangerine Dream on his underrated cult classic “Sorcerer,” that recommended the band to Mann for “Thief,” and back then the band was on the cutting edge of a new kind of music.

Phillips ends up quoting Edgar Frosse, the founder of Tangerine Dream, as saying he wanted to create “timeless music” and that the “exotic and shifting moods” of “Thief” fit in perfectly with the kind of music the band played. Just from listening to this soundtrack, you can tell that Frosse and his collaborators, Christopher Franke and Johannes Schmoelling, were really into experimenting with music and sounds, and it all makes for an unforgettable score that for some utterly ridiculous reason got nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Original Score. Go figure.

Craig Safan's contribution
Craig Safan's contribution United Artists

Craig Safan's contribution

Another interesting section of Phillips’ liner notes is of how Safan was brought in to compose one piece of music for “Thief.” I was always under the assumption that the track Safan composed was actually taken from a soundtrack to another movie as Mann got into the habit of doing that with his later films. However, it turns out that Tangerine Dream was unavailable at one point due to their being on tour in Europe, so Safan was brought in to finish things up. Seriously, when I heard “Confrontation” the first time I watched this movie, it did not sound all that different from the music Tangerine Dream had created.

In closing
In closing United Artists

In closing

Granted, a lot of electronic scores from the 1980’s sound hopelessly dated these days to where you can’t help but snicker at them a little, but Tangerine Dream’s score (and the additional music by Safan) to “Thief” really has stood the test of time. It perfectly captures the adrenaline rush of stealing stuff that doesn’t belong to you as well as the inevitably that you can’t escape the life that you have long since created for yourself. Perseverance Records has done an excellent job in making Tangerine Dream’s music sound better than ever, and kudos to them for giving us the “Thief” soundtrack in its entirety instead of leaving out certain tracks as was the case in previous editions. Like many of my favorite movie soundtracks, I never get sick of listening to this one.

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