Latest reviews of new albums:
Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2004 / 63m

A straightforward biopic of legendary golfer Bobby Jones who in 1930 became the first – and so far, only – man to win the grand slam of all four majors in a calendar year, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius – starring Jim Caviezel in the lead role – was released to little acclaim in 2004, taking barely $2m at the box office and seemingly ending the career of its director Rowdy Herrington.  Even those who don’t find watching golf boring seemed to find it boring, which some would say is quite an achievement.

Early in his career, director Herrington worked on Roger Corman’s Humanoids from the Deep – which was of course scored by James Horner- and I think it’s fair to say that the Horner/Herrington collaboration wasn’t quite as successful as the one the composer forged with the other Corman alumnus he went on to work with, James Cameron.  What the film did have – and presumably what attracted him to it, or the filmmakers to him – was a whole load of Scotland.

James Horner

James Horner

The score starts in “St Andrews”, which is on the east coast of Scotland, but as in his previous (much more famous) musical trip to the country, Horner’s inspiration comes from over the sea to the west of Scotland.  After a beautiful shimmering string phrase (from Braveheart), in come Eric Rigler’s pipes – the effect is rather dazzling, like light breaking through a foggy morning, and Horner’s decision to use Irish rather than Scottish pipes is understandable (as the quip goes, the definition of a gentleman is someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, but doesn’t).  It’s a beautiful cue, growing in warmth as it progresses, the opening melody growing in strength and feeling as the brass appears; then out springs the lovely main theme, full of determination and decency.  Then from nowhere comes a little Celtic jig whose best feature is that it ends.  Well-intentioned, but not for me (and sadly it crops up again throughout the album).

And that, really, is the story of the album: many absolutely lovely moments (often straying not far from Braveheart) occasionally interspersed with interminable Irish jigs.  “Baby Strokes” focuses on the theme most similar to Braveheart and even throws in a couple of hints of Titanic, and is particularly warm and appealing.  “The First Lesson” has a youthful naïveté to it, a childlike simplicity to the melodic construction that’s clearly deliberate (and is effective).  A much more intimate feel runs through “Not Just a Game Any More”, a really magical cue which again hearkens back to Braveheart, this time the wedding.  The first half of “Destined for Greatness” is much more up-tempo, the pipes back again (unfortunately) but they don’t stick around and the piece develops into something superb, an extended passage of inspiring music from the top drawer.

The score’s darkest moment comes in “The Painful Secret”, strained and dramatic and impressive; “A Win, Finally!” then does the typical sports movie thing where joy springs from doubt, in this case with the diddly-eyes all over the place (it makes me wish for a moment that the film had been about a golfer who always lost so Horner hadn’t been able to do that).  “Playing the Odds” is much more serious, the kind of string-led dramatic music that the composer always did so well, at least until the final minute when the inevitable happens and it launches into a happy jig (it’s easily the best of the score’s moments like that); “He’s On a Roll Now” continues the exuberance, throwing some fife and drum into the mix.

The last three cues come together to form an excellent twenty minute plus finale.  “The Shot of a Lifetime” is full of a dignified reserve but even so Horner manages to tug at the heartstrings, particularly when the strings swell midway through.  Then, “Living the Dream” is a masterclass in applying an emotional sweep in music, the best cue on the album as it goes on a journey through grit and determination to triumph.  Finally, the end title piece opens unexpectedly with a lilting guitar solo which is truly sublime – and the piece as a whole is deliciously heartfelt and touching.

Bobby Jones is a hard one to really evaluate; despite the few bits I don’t like, in general it’s very fine music, often superb in fact.  The problem is that it’s so obviously, so frequently so close to Braveheart and it’s one of the few Horner scores where that sort of thing is a bother for me, because it doesn’t have nearly the depth nor breadth of that earlier score.  If I’d never heard that one then I’d be raving about this one, but I have; and you almost certainly have too.  Still, it remains a perfectly pleasant and often very beautiful way of spending an hour.

Rating: *** | |

Tags: , ,

  1. Christopher (Reply) on Monday 7 September, 2015 at 00:06

    I feel exactly the same way about this score, except for your gripes about jigs and pipes, which I don’t mind. Usually I don’t mind him reusing themes, but this score and Bicentennial Man do bother me a bit. They’re fine scores, even wonderful scores at times, but the percentage of those scores that remind me of other scores – and it’s definitely Braveheart in this case – is so great that it does end up making the listening experience a little worse.

  2. tiago (Reply) on Thursday 24 September, 2015 at 05:13

    Coincidentally or not, I was just listening to this the other day. It has a lot of excellent moments, especially on the first and the last two tracks, but the appearances of the Braveheart theme are really distracting. Anyway, I heard somewhere that the reuse of theme was a request by the director, which may explain this case – or maybe it was just Horner, who recorded Braveheart in London with the LSO, felt guilty that the american musicians never had the chance to play his masterpiece.

    And I’m really happy that I’m not the only one who don’t like those Celtic jigs. It may seem weird for a Horner fan, but, to be honest, I find them rather annoying (perhaps ’cause I’m not, um… celtic?).