- Composed by Hans Zimmer
- La-La Land Records / 2012 / 142m (score 74m)
Ridley Scott brought his trademark audiovisual panache to 1989’s Black Rain, a clash-of-culture thriller starring Michael Douglas as a New York cop transplanted to Osaka and landing himself in a world of trouble. At the time Scott still knew that sometimes you need more than audiovisual panache and it’s an entertaining film with considerable rewatchability. The film was an important landmark for someone who went on to become the dominant force in film music in the years ahead – many think as a direct result of his work on this film. I can barely mention his name without being told I’m an idiot.
Yes, Hans Zimmer’s score for Black Rain is frequently cited as one of the most influential of the modern era of film scoring. I always found this statement slightly puzzling having watched the film many times and never really noticed the music – but that’s a pretty decent return from a Zimmer score usually. Now, La-La Land Records has released the complete score for the first time (the old album featured a 20-minute suite). Listening to it, I’m not sure this is really the one that changed everything – that is surely Backdraft – but it does offer a kind of halfway house in between what at the time seemed the film music nadir (Harold Faltermeyer) and what has gone on to be the definitive film music nadir (later Zimmer).
One trick Zimmer did clearly pick up very early on was the ability to make a large symphony orchestra sound like a Casio keyboard – Shirley Walker is credited with orchestrating and conducting the music and 92 musicians are listed in the orchestra credits – but with the exception of the ethnic touches, at barely any other time over the course of the album do you hear anything which doesn’t sound like a keyboard. Of course there’s nothing wrong with electronic scores and indeed that’s entirely appropriate for this film – I just can’t quite understand how anyone could make an orchestra so invisible (or why they’d bother to pay for one if all they’re going to do is drown it out with a guy playing the keyboard).
The music itself sounds quite silly now, more like something a teenager might knock up in their bedroom than the score for a major film, with its lack of dramatic impetus and particularly cheap sound. There are a couple of slightly classier moments – the main theme (first appearing in “You Gonna Be Nice? / Sato Pt 2” and forming the basis of a song by Zimmer and Will Jennings, performed by Gregg Allman, called “I’ll Be Holding On”) is memorable and provides the score with its only real sense of drive or motion; parts of “Charlie Loses His Head” are pretty enjoyable, if unbelievably simplistic, action music. In between the performances of that, the action music is a big disappointment, a far cry from the entertainment that would come a few years later in scores like Backdraft and The Rock, silly little keyboard phrases alternating with synthesised percussion hits (apparently meant to evoke the sound of gunfire, but the synthetic nature makes it just sound daft).
With no emotion and no sense of drama, I’m not entirely sure what Black Rain is trying to accomplish as a film score, but while I usually find that even when a Zimmer score does nothing for a film it tends to make an enjoyable album, in this case I can’t really see what would make anyone want to listen to the score on album. In terms of its influence I guess it was a stepping stone up to the 90s action style that really thrust this composer forwards but really, it’s an incredibly weak piece of music which doesn’t hold up at all well almost a quarter of a century later. Producer Stanley Jaffe reportedly told Zimmer that his score was the worst piece of music he had ever heard; while I don’t agree with that sentiment (there’s plenty of music by Zimmer’s underlings in the years since that are even worse), even by Zimmer’s standards this is weak. He went on to write several pieces of music that I greatly enjoy on album, but this score would surely test anyone’s patience. The album release is impeccable but sadly you just can’t polish a turd.
(Quick note to people waiting to respond: because I don’t like the music doesn’t mean I don’t like you, and doesn’t mean I don’t respect your ability to like it.)