Finally! People have, for years, acknowledged Beverly Hills Cop as something of a flawed masterpiece. Eddie Murphy's virtuoso performance was a rocket ship to star town for the young actor that was only hampered by a hokey soundtrack that, in courting the highest selling denominator, belittled the film's considerable message. (We blame Jerry Bruckheimer). It's a tragedy to be turned back at the gates of perfection by the demons of cross-promotion.
Thank God, then, for Marco Panella, who has taken Pink Floyd's pioneering work synching their Dark Side of the Moon with the classic film The Wizard of Oz and applied those principles to Bruckheimer's almost opus. What Panella has done is nothing short of a miracle. As the album plays over the top of the film, it transforms (some might say it perfects) Jerry Bruckheimer's gritty urban potboiler-slash-comedy into a story of love informed by the heady values of a childhood spent in rural Vermont.
"It's about a guy growing up ambivalent about his life and deciding to leave his home in Detroit and deciding to chase an old flame who has moved to California," says Panella. A universal theme, to be sure, and, as he points out, it's "sort of an underlying theme to the movie" as well. He's taken the herky, spastic soundtrack of the film, though, and replaced it with a mostly downbeat tempo, substituting the frenetic saxophones and cocaine-addled synths of the '80s with a softer sound, hushed vocals and acoustic accompaniment. Most important, he's created harmony where before there was only the dissonance of egos and break beats.
The project has left several of us forever changed. Witness, now, its transformative powers for yourself, as we present the Inlander's unauthorized commentary to Dark Side of the Cop (itself the unauthorized soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop).
Scene: Opening Credits
Song: "Detroit (Prelude)"
It's the '80s. Detroit's a mess of violence and poverty. Overtop of the original credit sequence, Glenn Frey's sax jam "The Heat Is On" turns the Motor City into a 24-hour dance party. It's disingenuous at best. At worst, though, it's exploitive of the city's legion of toothless auto plant workers and break-dancing children. (Those children break to survive, Jerry, not to amuse you.)
Turning off the volume to the Beverly Hills Cop DVD -- we chose the tr & eacute;s chic Special Widescreen Collector's Edition; eat yr hearts out -- and cranking up the volume on Dark Side of the Cop, though, renders the abject poverty and loitering youth afloat in a sonic collage of space blips, canned beats and carnivalesque organ. The surreality hits you. This is not the land of opportunity our forefathers promised. Piety to the almighty dollar has disenfranchised the common man. This Detroit is hard for a cop. For a heartsick kid, it's hell.
Scene: Axel Foley tries to sell cigarette truck to lowlifes
Song: "Stuck in the Darkness"
A young, lean, mustachioed Eddie Murphy sits in the back of a truck, slumped on a throne of Lucky Strike cigarette boxes. Panella turns attempted police entrapment into a metaphor extolling a life of practical application. "City Dreams on endless blocks / Born of action, not of talk," come his whispered vocals. Letting life come to you is no way to live. It's not Axel Foley's way, that's for sure. Panella weaves quick proverbs into the action here, painting Foley as a kind of take-charge Krishna.
"Spending cigarette deals on me / by the carton, dirty like a stranger"
Clever foreshadowing! The cigarettes, you see, aren't a tool of escape for Panella; they're a metaphor for transcendence.
"Stuck in the darkness far from the glance of the lord / I'll say a prayer as soon as I get my reward." Salvation takes work.
Immediately prior, as a police cruiser pulls up, threatening to destroy Foley's work, the words come: "streets are full of broken goals / men with torches can't resolve."
Panella here is clearly condemning police states. Or, better yet, militarism in general! Or capitalism as a whole! The condemnation runs deep.
Scene: Axel flops around in back of speeding cigarette truck
Song: "Shaky Little Rules"
The most radio-friendly song on the album, "Shaky Little Rules," kicks in as the potential cigarette buyers take off with the loot, leaving Axel to hang on for dear life in the back. It's danceable and strangely familiar.
"People have been comparing it to all these bands," says Panella. (It sounds suspiciously like the Cure's "Grinding Halt" to us.) "[People assume] you've internalized the entire back catalogue of rock and electronica before you make a song, but sometimes you're just fooling around and you come up with something."
The track plays over the top of a mid-speed 18-wheeler pursuit by the incompetent Detroit police. It's played for yucks in the original, but Marko uses it to reinforce the themes introduced with "Stuck in the Darkness": "When I was younger, I tried to walk the line / it only worked out about half the time. / Fighting the good fight only felt half right." Play by your own rules, kids, like Axel.
"I was a stern cop jeered by a laughing cop / I've seen a street cop / smarter than a desk cop / felt like Mechanacop fighting with Robocop."
Life's hard if you take yourself too seriously. Keep it light and, for God's sake, keep it street.
Scene(s): Mikey gets killed by mafiosos / Axel is unhappy with response from Detroit PD / makes the trip to Beverly Hills
Song: "Paradise Lost and Found"
This is the centerpiece of the album, and thus, the crown jewel of the reimagined first third of Beverly Hills Cop. "[This is] the one I put the most work into and the one I built the plot of the album around," says Panella, "It's really a turning point in the CD. It's when the guy decides to leave his home."
The song centers on two couplets. "When this place you live's no longer home / to anything but your demons, well it's time to move along -- time to say you're gone. / Tell the bossman, sorry bro / I'll toast my pension from the road / and think of you at 55 / then put the bitch in overdrive." They speak for themselves.
Scene: In the art gallery
Song: "Like a Realist Painter (Interlude)"
Here Panella juxtaposes the triviality of high art with no-nonsense street sense of both Axel Foley and his unnamed protagonist with the simple line, "Like a realist painter in an abstract world, trying to get a show downtown," spoken over Axel's interaction with frou-frou '80s staple Bronson Pinchot (Balki Bartokomous, y'all!)
There's more keeping our heroes separate from their surroundings than mere wealth. They're at odds at the deepest levels, almost mutually exclusive. But even here, early on, Foley's street-wise determination has begun to infuse the high-concept town with a grit injection that is much needed.
The album is only about 30 minutes long, so it ends just as the film starts ramping up. Still, it's an unqualified success, telling a new story while also deepening our understanding of the original film.
It's not hyperbole to suggest, then, that Dark Side of the Cop is the greatest unauthorized film soundtrack of all time. Panella, though, is wary of his own work's power. "I don't know that I would recommend people watch the film and listen to the album unless it's something you're like really into," he warns. What we at The Inlander are into, though, is the truth, and we find Dark Side of the Cop dripping with it. Panella sees it as a mixed success, saying, "I didn't even think it was very successful as a project -- who wants to be synching and deciphering two plots at a time?"
Point taken, and despite its triumph in re-scoring and reimagining Beverly Hills Cop as a white-boy love story, it works even better as a solid, stand-alone synth-pop album (see CD review on this page). Either way, you need to hear this album. To ignore the opportunity would not only leave you ignorant about a whole new facet of the greatest cop film of all time, it would be cheating yourself out of a greater understanding of that which drives us all. Namely chicks, murder and convertibles.
Now if only someone would give Flashdance the once over.
Dark Side of the Cop at Rock Coffee with Puget Sounds of the Future and LIMBS on Saturday, July 29, at 9 pm. Tickets: $4. Call 838-1864.