The third full length album of dystopian disco by John Carpenter, in his Lost Themes franchise, as oddly thrilling as it is, finds the acclaimed director getting a little lost as he navigates the pitfalls of his own mythology. The issue isn’t the quality of music contained within, as it’s yet another hyper polished and gratifyingly nimble selection of intimidating ’80s maximalist electro that would elevate any soundtrack it found itself on, even though it’s been made clear these tracks weren’t specifically built for cinematic usage. The problem is, in a cultural landscape so obviously seeped in his slasher fierce aesthetic, it’s almost exactly what we’d come to expect from a Carpenter project, ultimately robbing us of any actual innovation or shock value.
The curse of being a pioneer in the creative arts is that once you break the mould, you tend to create a form of cultural shorthand that invariably gets diluted by the slew of imitators who follow in your wake, one that you then have to work extra hard to overcome, in order to prevent you falling into cliché. On his films, restrictive barriers, such as a minuscule budget and claustrophobic sets, all contributed to their purity and intent, forcing boundless creativity from Carpenter and his young crew. Once they became popular tropes, the public demanded a rehash of what they’d seen before, and the director rightfully bowed out, unwilling to compromise his artistic integrity. You can’t help but feel Carpenter, aided by his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, is now just giving the audience what they want, rather than making music for himself.
Yet you can’t fault Carpenter for his taste in deliciously evocative and campy song titles. Alive After Death is a suitable nom de plume for the preliminary instrumental, as methodically tracked layers of analogue dry ice fill the empty streets of his imagination, before a wall of cheesy screeching pop rock guitar announces the appearance of some spectral force awoken from its grave. Weeping Ghost places you in the POV shot of the antagonist, thumping mindlessly as it prowls the town looking for carrion. Elsewhere the track Dripping Blood revolves around a spooky hunk of dungeon synth, built from ambient dry ice and pubescent heartbreak. Dead Eyes is exactly that, haunted and without character but at the same time, strangely magnetic and recognisable. The bloodsucker inferred to on Vampire’s Touch may well be Angelo Badalamenti, such is its debt to that composer and his tangled take on the adolescent horrors of small-town America.
Alive After Death is a record interesting enough to satisfy those with a taste for the transgressively predictable, as long as you don’t scrutinise it too much. Each song takes you on a traditional hero’s journey, establishing some generic sense of location, making you confront some existential threat and emerge triumphantly. However, as with the outlier Season Of The Witch (the third and by far standout sequel in the never ending Halloween series), perhaps its time for Carpenter to step away, from the shackles of expectation, put this monster to bed and find a new folklore to unleash upon unsuspecting audiences.