Bruno Nicolai: The Case of the Scorpion's Tail - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album Review
Written by Richie Corelli
Released by Death Waltz Recording Company
Composed by Bruno Nicolai
1971, 66 minutes
Released on January 18th, 2017
The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (Italian: La coda dello scorpione) is a 1971 giallo film that is fairly typical for the genre. Directed by Sergio Martino, the movie brings in all the staples that fans grew to know and love; a whodunit plot device, a shadowy killer wielding a shiny silver blade, a series of red-paint ghastly murders, a long and wordy title (with an animal reference for extra points), and a well-placed bottle of J&B Scotch Whiskey. The soundtrack, composed by Bruno Nicolai, follows traditional giallo formulas of its own. It's a work that reinforces the film in every way, moving from tense and atmospheric, to kitschy and melodramatic. The soundtrack, like the movie, is ripe with horror and romance.
The record begins with "Sequence 1". There is a starkness to it, an emptiness. The higher notes are mixed to the left while the sparse timekeeping low notes thump at the center. Twenty-five seconds into the song, the right side erupts with a grizzly roar of sound. It undulates and quickly fades. The left-side melody continues, undaunted. The growling returns again, fades again, re-turns again, fades again. The two sounds play off each other magnificently.
The second track, "Foglie Rosse", moves on to a completely different sound. Lush strings sweep to the top of the track. They float and flutter. Piano keys tap along as accent marks while loose bass-strings and a shaky snare drum keep the beat. The song swaggers forward with a soft-porn, bleached-out ambience.
After two outstanding songs, the album's minor shortcomings are revealed. The third track re-peats the melody of the first. The fifth track does it again. And then again with track 8. It soon becomes clear to the listener that a good chunk of this record is made from the same two or three melodies. This isn't a problem in itself. It's standard for a movie soundtrack to grab onto a strong melody and repeat it throughout the duration of the work. But The Case of the Scorpion's Tail suffers for its spacing. The reprises on this record are too close together. This is especially true during the first half of the album.
Of course, the movie's soundtrack was designed to support the film, not the other way around. And this repeated pattern of music is less intrusive when it's heard in conjunction with the movie. It works better on screen than it does in headphones.
Nicolai, to his credit, did what he could to minimize the redundancy. His approach is similar to how Andy Warhol designed his famous Marilyn Monroe prints; each piece of the repeated pat-tern is altered just enough to keep it fresh. Every time a melody reprises, Nicolai tinkers with it. Sometimes he adds strings and additional melodies. Sometimes he changes the timber and tone. He cuts notes off. He stretches them longer. He changes tempo.
The sheer number of songs on this soundtrack – there are 32 in all – also add much needed variety. Yes, the main themes show up over and over again, but when a track steps away from these motifs, it steps far. "Sequence 4", is a lighthearted Italian gigue, lively and fun, that guar-antees toe-tapping if not outright dancing. "Sequence 7" is a groovy lounge track. It's sleazy in all the right ways. "Sequence 13" is wild and unpredictable. It chokes and it tumbles and it changes tempo and atmosphere with little warning. "Sequence 20" is silky and scary. It's a slow, calcu-lated crawl fashioned to chill the listener's spine.
The last track, "Shadows", is a total departure. It's the only song with vocals, and after more than an hour of instrumentals, the sound of a baritone voice ice-skating into the music is unexpected. Like a Neil Diamond lounge act, the singer Audrey Stainton croons in a style that would sound cheesy if it didn't sound so sincere. The words are in English, but translation issues weaken the content as the lyrics seem to be missing a few pronouns. "Shadows / I'm still in love with / In spite of all I said before / Stay with me / sweet shadows / and make love with / once more." The track was clearly recorded for the end credits. It evokes visuals of a closing roll, accented further as the record ends and the speakers scratch gently as the needle rides the label.
Bruno Nicolai's The Case of the Scorpion's Tail soundtrack is a physical release. And it's a gem. The record sleeve design, done by an artist named Eric Adrian Lee, is true to the film. Giallo is Italian for yellow, and the artist works this literal translation into his layout. Within a yellow square is a circular photo collage from the film, black and white with a blood-red diagonal slash across the center. The vinyl follows a similar theme. Mondo / Death Waltz put this out as a double LP. The first record is split black and yellow and the second is split black and red. Mondo packed an exclusive reproduction of the original locadina poster inside. It's a small piece of nostalgia, and a fun bonus to the already solid packaging. The only thing that could have improved this would have been the inclusion of some written material about the movie or soundtrack. Mondo / Death Waltz has does this with previous releases. It is nice for the listener to have something to read while the record spins. Still, considering the music and the overall packaging, Bruno Nicolai's The Case of the Scorpion's Tail is well worth the $30 price tag.