A series which seems to cross the closing shots of Raiders of the Lost Ark with The X-Files and a splash of Doctor Who, Syfy’s Warehouse 13 deals with a team of secret service agents who are assigned to the top-secret “Warehouse 13”, which houses supernatural artifacts including, but not limited to, Lewis Carroll’s looking-glass and the guillotine blade that separated Marie Antoinette’s head from her body. The job of the agents is to track down more such artifacts, all of which have supernatural powers, battling (among other things) a female H.G. Wells along the way. As usual with Syfy, the premise is enhanced by a fair dose of contemporary, tongue-in-cheek flippancy (for example, one character uses the Carroll looking-glass to play ping-pong with himself), and this side of the show, more than anything else, carries over into the score for the series’ second season.
Musically, Syfy is best-known for introducing the talents of Bear McCreary to the world via the rebooted Battlestar: Galactica series. McCreary is currently lending his talents to another Syfy series, Eureka, but for Warehouse 13 the compositional duties fell upon the shoulders of relative unknown Edward Rogers, a man with only a handful of previous TV work to his name (most prominently ABC’s long-running cop drama NYPD Blue). A brief liner note from Rogers inside Milan’s album case contains the usual sentiments about how a show with such an inventive premise allows him to “push the musical boundaries”, and while this is as wise and true a statement as it is an obvious one, it doesn’t necessarily reflect what you’re going to hear on the album.
For the most part, the general sound of Rogers’ score for Warehouse 13: Season 2 will probably sound quite familiar to veteran TV score listeners. Most of it is built around a framework of tight, synthetic rhythm-setters and wet, echoing, keyboarded effects, often vaguely reminiscent of Thomas Newman’s signature sound. His main theme is a workmanlike idea consisting of two three-note phrases, introduced straightaway in the frustratingly short and abruptly-ending “Warehouse 13 Main Theme” (it’s a shame Rogers wasn’t given the opportunity to compose a lengthier, more satisfying variant). It is referenced fairly often throughout the score, often in subtle mutations. While the motif is catchy enough to be instantly recognized, it’s also too short to really be enjoyable or serve an emotional purpose on its own. A few other motifs are sprinkled throughout the score, such as an upbeat progression heard at 0:39 of “Hugo and the Babel Stones,” but none of them are mentioned very frequently.
This Newman-lite tone is very consistent from start to finish, with only a few moments of comedic spirit or reference to a recognizable tune causing a cue to stand out. For example, a piano ostinato very reminiscent of Charles Gounod’s “Ave Maria” occupies much of “Soul Test”, modernized with a few synthetic overlays. Occasional flute flourishes in the humorous “Fargo is Smitten” and elsewhere are a clever touch reminiscent of vintage 60s spy music; more of this spirit would have been welcomed.
One thing that also prevents Warehouse 13 from reaching its full potential is the obviously sampled nature of its orchestral sections, most likely due to a low budget. Probably the worst offender in this category is “The Iron Shadow”, where the thin, synthetic brass at 1:05 and especially 1:26 (performing a cleverly disguised minor-key mutation of the main theme) detract from what would otherwise have been a strong action cue. Ditto goes for cues like “Remembering Philo T. Farnsworth” and “H.G. Wells’ Time Machine”, but this time it’s the unconvincing snare drum samples that let Rogers down. A few of the softer underscore cues, such as “MacPherson’s Watch” and “The Orchard”, suffer from emotional detachment due to the sampled sound of the strings and woodwinds. These cues are all promising in their composition, but ultimately suffer in their execution.
The exception to this rule comes with the highlight of the score, the pairing of “Christmas at the Warehouse” and “A Christmas Waltz”, two cues from the season finale. The former is a reprise of the main theme, but with added stereotypical Christmas bells and glockenspiel. There’s even a reference to “Joy to the World” at the outset of the cue and a cleverly twisted “dark version” of “Deck the Halls” at the end. “A Christmas Waltz” features a lovely – and acoustic, as far as I can tell – fiddle performance of a melody which incorporates the main theme, but extends it into a lilting, Irish-tinged slow waltz. The end credits music which follows is a rock version of the main theme.
All in all, Edward Rogers’ score for the second season of Warehouse 13 is certainly a competent piece of work, containing no obvious flaws and a handful of entertaining moments. However, it’s a somewhat difficult prospect to recommend this music on album, especially when compared to some of the other music emerging from the TV world recently. Warehouse 13 doesn’t have the leitmotivic intricacy of Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica or Michael Giacchino’s Lost music. Nor does it have an ambitious orchestral scope on the level of McCreary’s Human Target or Murray Gold’s excellent Doctor Who scores. Rogers is clearly a young composer with great promise, however, and perhaps he simply needs some more time and projects to really spread his wings. If you are a fan of the series, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this album - but it's not a blind buy.