- Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
- La-La Land Records / 2011 / 60:27
These days, while perusing film music messageboards and the like, it is easy to come to the conclusion that criticising Jerry Goldsmith is one of the greatest sins any man could do. He is – not without good reason – treated as a film composer of the highest order. It was not always this way – and I vividly remember the last 15 years or so of his career, when a large proportion of what he did was met with biting criticism. Few people had much good to say about First Knight, say – but its recent expanded release was greeted with the kind of adulation it richly deserved. I remember reading a review of his music for City Hall which described it as not just his worst score, but the worst score that had ever been composed for a motion picture. I never understood why this composer – admittedly not at his peak, but hardly a slouch – attracted so much of this kind of comment – and am pleased the reappraisal of this period of his output seems to have happened.
I make no apology for my frequent praise of Jerry Goldsmith. I think he’s probably the best film composer there’s been – at least in terms of mainstream Hollywood ones – as versatile as they came and consistently good for an incredibly long period of time. The point of all this long rambling (I had to get there eventually) is that I remember the reaction his score for Bad Girls got at the time of its release in 1994 – it was not pretty. Weak, limp, lacking energy, a pale shadow of his western scores of a quarter of a century earlier – that’s what people said. Not everyone, but most people. I say again – it is very hard while listening to it today to understand why anybody felt that way. OK, so it’s not Rio Conchos or Wild Rovers, but time had moved on and Goldsmith had moved on with it – and this, his final western score, is action-packed and exciting, with a memorable theme, it’s consistently enjoyable and it features sophisticated orchestral writing, played with panache by top musicians. That’s good enough for me!
Now, Goldsmith fans can for the first time enjoy an extra 20 minutes of the score, thanks to this newly-expanded, hour-long release from La-La Land Records. The brilliantly fluid main theme is the score’s best feature – simple, maybe, but highly memorable and with the kind of swagger so often found in the music written for films in this genre. (Speaking of which – there was surely no other genre of film which could have been as enjoyable to work on for composers of orchestral film music than the western – a pity that the genre all-but-disappeared so long ago.) Goldsmith sometimes presents it in a soft, pastoral, keyboard-led arrangement (as in the first cue, “The John”), which is always lovely; sometimes it’s more expansive, more that classic style which always conjures up images of riding horses across the plains (“The Hanging”); it’s rarely far away, even cropping up in a lovely little waltz arrangement heard for the first time on this release (“The Pleasure of Your Company”).
Elsewhere, the action’s the star. “Ambush” is worthy of particular praise – dynamic, dark, brass-and-percussion-heavy, with one particularly stunning moment as the whole brass section almost explodes with power, it’s a vintage piece of action music by the guy who was that type of film music’s leading practitioner. It’s as exciting as anything he wrote in the western scores done during his heyday. “Bank Job”, “Jail Break” and “Josh’s Death” (which features the most thrilling, heroic statement of the main theme in the score) are other top pieces in a similar vein.
This is one of those expanded releases where, even though it’s fairly plain that almost all of the highlights were on the original album, the extra material simply makes the whole thing a richer, fuller experience. I would highly recommend it to those who enjoy the older release; and of course to Goldsmith fans who don’t already own it. His western scores of the 1960s and 70s were pretty much all good and this may not quite reach the dizzy heights of some of them, but in truth it’s not all that far off. The package includes good notes from Jeff Bond which feature some fascinating insights from the film’s director, Jonathan Kaplan. ****