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  • duplicityComposed by James Newton Howard
  • Varese Sarabande 302 066 955 / 2009 / 50:40

An attempt at a sassy thriller, Duplicity never really works, despite the star presence of Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as corporate spies who (inevitably) are in love.  It’s a disappointing follow-up to Michael Clayton from director Tony Gilroy; that film’s score is arguably the most awful ever to have been nominated for an Oscar, but fortunately James Newton Howard fares a bit better here.Of all A-list film composers, Howard is probably the only one who seems completely willing to abandon his entire musical personality and write in someone else’s; and here, his mission was clearly to impersonate David Holmes and John Powell.  This begs the obvious question – why not just hire one of them in the first place?  A James Newton Howard impersonation of David Holmes is almost inevitably not going to be as good as David Holmes himself.  In fairness, Howard has fashioned some good music here; and some parts are genuinely stylish.  It’s all very hip, with a small orchestra generally being used as an accompaniment to an array of electronics, which are all done very well.

The problems?  Well, it flits about all over the place – one of those scores that sounds like the composer’s had a brain dump of ideas and left them all in, rather than trying to fashion something coherent – and the other problem is that there’s nothing particularly distinctive about it, nothing that would make me put this on ahead of Ocean’s 11 or Mr and Mrs Smith.  That said, it’s all pretty enjoyable, and Howard clearly had a good time writing and recording it.  Its sassy nature is easy to like, and while there aren’t any particularly memorable melodies, they’re pleasant enough.  The frustrations don’t ruin the listening experience (though I’m sure a better album could have been made from this material) – but do prevent it from being in quite the same league as the scores it’s obviously modelled on.  Decent though it is, personally I’d rather Howard stuck to just being himself.  ***

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