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Soundtrack review: Jean Claude van Johnson (season 1) (Joseph Trapanese – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Jean Claude van Johnson (season 1) (Joseph Trapanese – 2017)

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“Jean-Claude Van Johnson” is an American action comedy-drama television series produced by Amazon Studios. Van Damme is playing “Jean-Claude Van Damme”, a global martial arts & film sensation, also operating under the simple alias of “Johnson” as the world’s best undercover private contractor. Retired for years, a chance encounter with a lost love brings him back to the game. This time, he’ll be deadlier than ever. Probably. Joseph Trapanese wrote the score.

What guy my age, who had his teenage years at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s didn’t want to be Jean Claude van Damme? He was the icon of a generation, the ultimate hero; everybody wanted to fight like him, everybody loved the way he came back in each final fight after seemingly being down. I remember in Romania there were this underground video stores and “Bloodsport” was like the most watched and looked for movie. I was no different, I had my van Damme motivational years and I am happy to see him go beyond martial arts and, well, act now. He tried the serious acting / self parody thing before in a movie I quite liked, “J.C.v.D” and now he’s doing it in a smart and funny TV show. Joseph Trapanese is one of those composers who knows how to write my favourite kind of music, ambient electronic and as I was watching the show I heard some sweet 80s synth vibes I hope I will find on the score. From the cue titles it seems most of the music is actually from just the first episode.

Of course that doesn’t matter as the opening cue “I have a gift” is a beautiful, melodic, almost period sounding piano theme that I remember from the opening monologue; I get the funny feeling that Joseph Trapanese left somebody else in the studio for just a minute and when he heard that suave piece he came storming back in to take over with his sound even before that first cue was over. I don’t mind since I am a fan of Trapanese’s electronic aggressivity and I also know that he will come back to the emotional. There is usually a range in which a Trapanese score will fall and “Jean Claude van Johnson” seems to be going into the raw, loud and electric sound of “The divergent” series or “The raid”. I can understand why he would go for bombastic, afterall, it’s all martial arts and spy stuff in this one, sometimes comedic and over the top. I love it when it goes like in “JC kicks ass”, spectacular, epic almost.

Whenever I listen to a Joseph Trapanese score I can’t help but look for that particular sound that’s imprinted forever inside me since “Oblivion” – that quiet, ambient electronic place that builds up into an emotional wave that gives me goosebumps. I get my “Oblivion” fix in all it’s might and glory, goose bumps included, in the epic “Testing the microchip”. Actually there’s no way he didn’t write this cue, or at least its base, during the “Oblivion” sessions; there’s too much of that magic sound of what is possibly my favourite post 2010 score in this cue. I noticed the same thing about “JC at peace” which is a dead ringer for “Ashes of our fathers” and the mood that leads “Oblivion” into the end titles.

Joseph Trapanese understood very well what this show was about and got the right balance between satire, make-believe and seriousness in his music as well; I am enjoying this score out of context as well even if those 80s vibes I had remarked are rare (but present in a cue with a self explanatory title for a JCVD fan like “Philippe and the Timecop (policeman)”). Luckily I remarked a lot of good music on the show and I am happy to be able to enjoy it like this as well. Usually shows with such a short run, 6 episodes, don’t get separate score releases but I am glad that the high profile of both actor and composer warranted it in this case. Joseph Trapanese brings the goods and infuses his electronic music with sounds of martial arts movies, of Sci-fi movies and of epic trailers with a touch of metallic emotion. If you are a fan of his you will not be disappointed.

Cue rating: 89 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 29 / 55

Album excellence: 52%

Highlights:
I Have A Gift
I’m Back
JC Kicks Ass
Testing The Microchip
Hello Phillipe
Huck Trailer
Philippe and the Timecop (Policeman)
Sad Segway
I’ll Show You
Training Vanessa
Getting You Back
It Never Switched
JC At Peace
JCVJ End Credits

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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