Review Summary: New age instrumentals with some notoriety. Probably best appreciated by fans of novelty pop electronica.
Although the majority of the tracks from Czech-born Jan Hammer's Escape from Television were featured prominently in the slightly cheesy and very dated 1980s television cop drama Miami Vice, the songs themselves tend to lean on the timeless side.
This album contains what is arguably one of the best instrumentals of the 80s (a decade rich with the instrumental spirit) in "Crockett's Theme", even beating out fellow synthster Harold Faltermeyer's "Axel F." as best cop theme. "Crockett's Theme" is a super smooth example of the unique strain of pop instrumentalism that Hammer showcases here. The songs on Escape from Television all sound like muzak versions of pop songs. But that's actually not a bad thing; instead, it's a trick that works incredibly well. While the album can feel moody and ambient, it is not experimental in any way. Instead, it follows straight-ahead pop conventions of catchy hooks and tight, concise structure and length. Kenny G does this, but he only does it with a saxophone. Jan Hammer does it with a delicious array of fascinating sounds and no sax in sight. Even more incredible is Hammer's awe-inspiring mastery of sounds and instrumentation. Although the drumming is pure drum machine throughout, the rest of the instruments on display feel warm and even organic at times. "Theresa", for example, features a gorgeously melancholic but simple piano lead. "Colombia" perfectly captures exotic South America with multiple layered pounding drumbeats, xylophone rhythm sections, and pan flute chords. How it manages to be listenable, even catchy, is, like any complex track, a testament to the power of its creator. Contrast the subtle synths and structural shifts of "Crockett's Theme" with the sterile and overt noises of Faltermeyer's "Axel F." and you recognize Hammer as the more expert musician.
Escape from Television is most stunning because the material easily surpasses it's application. The songs work just fine without the neon-soaked visuals of the television show; in fact, mixed so well and in "Top 40" format, they're arguably better appreciated here. It's also noteworthy that the album never tires or gets repetitive. "Rum Cay" is dreamily tranquil, "Tubbs and Valerie", which in the liner notes Hammer admits gives him goosebumps, is an incredibly somber and bluesy track that manages to develop some hope in its strong beat. "Last Flight" and "The Trial" are both wonderfully menacing, the former erupting into a searing-hot electric guitar solo, the latter with one more funky but no less ripping. "Night Talk" is another fine track that signals the nearing end by developing a lovely late-night groove. "Forever Tonight" is the only giveaway to the decade, as it's a glossy upbeat dance track, but it does posses an extremely catchy hook. Although there are a diversity of sounds and styles on the album, an undercurrent of cool ties it all together - one aspect of the album that's not unlike the television show.
Jan Hammer did a lot of things before and after Escape from Television, but I have never found his work more interesting, compelling, and memorable as it is here. He's at his most imaginative, and he's also having a lot of fun.