There was a time in the 1980s when it seemed that almost every Hollywood film and television show was accompanied by its own soundtrack album. Miami Vice alone produced three albums during its five season run. Whole sections of record shops were dedicated to records, tapes and then CDs emblazoned with lilliputian facsimiles of poster artwork scaled to fit each audio format. For the studios and broadcasters these franchise spin-offs were a lucrative source of additional income and a useful tool in extending the appeal of their screen progenitors.
By the late 1990s the advent of downloads and streaming had seen sales of records beginning to decline and record shops closing down and, with them, it seems, the popularity and availability of soundtrack albums began to wain. Lately, however, there has been something of a resurgence in film and tv soundtracks driven, it seems, by a nostalgia for all things retro, particularly electronic music that sounds like it is played on a Korg or Minimoog. Films such as Tron: Legacy, and Drive, and the retrofest that is Stranger Things have all been accompanied by successful soundtrack albums that hark back to a time when crunchy synth pop was in the charts.
Men Against Fire is the fifth episode in the latest series of Black Mirror, the television series created by Charlie Brooker that portrays the near future as a technological dystopia. The increase in the programme’s production budget since moving from Channel 4 to Netflix is evident even from the soundtrack. Few television shows are scored by composers of the calibre of Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. Other episodes have been scored by other stellar names including Max Richter and Clint Mansell.
Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow are successful composers in their own right. Salisbury is best known for his television work, perhaps most notably his association with David Attenborough and the BBC, and Barrow for his membership of seminal trip hop band Portishead. Working together they have developed a niche in brooding, electronic music having previously collaborated on Drokk: Music Inspired by Mega – City One (a score for an imaginary film) and scored Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.
While most of this album – with the exception of standout title track – is unlikely to appeal to the broad audience who enjoyed the television series, fans of old school electronic ambient and filmic music that is reminiscent of the 80s – Brian Eno’s Apollo, Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy and John Carpenter’s Lost Themes come to mind – are likely to enjoy the ride. It is an album that asks to be played late at night while driving.