Latest reviews of new albums:
For Greater Glory
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2012 / 78:25

Famed visual effects supremo Dean Wright’s directorial début For Greater Glory tells of the struggle of Catholics in Mexico in the early decades of the 20th century against attempts by the state to combat the influence of the religion in Mexican life.  With some familiar faces in the cast (including Andy Garcia and Eva Longoria, and the legendary Peter O’Toole) it was probably hoped to be a kind of sleeper hit; but it wasn’t, with mixed reviews and very little box office to speak of outside Mexico itself.

For the music, James Horner continued his recent habit of scoring only films that really appeal to him rather than just scoring the kind of blockbusters that dominated his filmography a few years ago.  This type of film seems right up his street – the opportunity to score sweeping drama, write big themes, bring ethnic touches – and his score is just what you might expect, with long-lined themes put through advanced levels of development, an emphasis always on emotion, the orchestra joined by guitars and ethnic flutes.  But the worst of Horner is here too – there is widespread repetition of music from earlier scores.  I often find myself defending Horner against these charges – by and large he is no worse than any other major film composer and indeed rather better than some – but every now and again he pulls one of these scores out of the bag and frankly it’s hard to say much in his defence.  Your enjoyment of the score will likely depend almost entirely on your tolerance for the musical recycling – I’ve read many people, even staunch Horner fans, express their dismay at this score and say they just can’t enjoy it.  On the other hand, few could deny the actual quality of the music itself.  So – you have been warned.

James Horner

James Horner

The score opens with the portentous “Entre La Luz y El Pecado”, notable for its vocal performances (a distinguishing feature of the score); at first the theme is heard in a vocal version (with lyrics) sung by Clara Sanabras before later being taken up by children’s choir.  It’s an enjoyable theme, the vocal arrangements are something new for Horner (as is the melody).  The second main theme is introduced in “We’re Cristeros Now”, full of hispanic flair thanks to its guitars, flamenco trumpet and some ethnic winds; there’s a playful air to it and again it’s delightful.  The third main theme is the one that will have people groaning – Horner introduces it in “Goro and Tula”.  It’s romantic, sweeping, with that epic lyricism that the composer does so well.  It’s quite ravishingly attractive; and it’s also the main theme to The Four Feathers.  Ah well.

The second track, “The Death of Padre Christopher”, represents Horner at his absolute best, ten minutes of sweep and power and emotion.  And the four-note danger motif.  Horner’s calling card is in fact out in full force throughout this score, playing its part in almost every track and being a cornerstone of the considerable amount of action music.  To be honest I don’t mind the frequent reuse of that motif so much; it’s only a little melodic fragment and it works very effectively.  You could find chord progressions from Miklós Rózsa or Alfred Newman used just as frequently by those composers in their scores and few have a bad word to say about that (and while we’re on the subject, Newman in particular was not above using the same thematic material in multiple scores either).  Perhaps less successful is the three-note descending phrase laden with doom and used almost as frequently throughout this score; it’s a bit too clichéd and often sounds somehow too murky, particularly when played against the fresh-sounding choral music.

Perhaps what attracts me most to Horner’s music is his ability to infuse it with such a massive scope; despite the familiarity of the melodic material, the epic sweep of “Men Will Fire Bullets, But God Decides Where They Land” is immense, so much so that I find myself drawn towards it fully in the knowledge that there are various people out there who would take one listen to it and reel off the list of previous Horner scores it draws from.  (If you’re in that camp, do not even think of buying this album!)  The epic feeling continues into much of the action music – the use of choir in “Ambush” is brilliant, ditto the guitar.  It’s a piece as full of flavour as it is thrills.  The pomp continues in “A Bullet on the Floor”, which has echoes of the composer’s action scores of the 1990s (and a large hint of The Missing).  Snares carry the score’s main theme forward in continued sweeping style in the wonderful “Jose’s Martyrdom”.  Probably the pick of the action comes in the eight-minute “Cristeros”, thrilling from start to finish; and as usual Horner brings his main themes together brilliantly in the lengthy end title cue.

Even if you can get over all the familiar music – and as well as that already mentioned, there are passages here either minor or major from Avatar, Braveheart, Glory and The Legend of Zorro, and quite possibly others too – there’s about twenty minutes of music in the central section of the album which adds very little and prevents it from being near the level of Horner’s previous two scores, the superb Black Gold and The Amazing Spider-Man.  And, of course, there’s no getting away from the fact that I’ve named a long list of previous scores that can be heard in some way or other in this one.  So it’s fairly sheepishly that I must say that I can still derive so much pleasure from this album – the composer’s sense of drama is so acute, the quality of composition so high.  You’ll know where you fit on the “Horner forgiveness” scale; and that should be the driving force behind any purchasing decision.

Rating: *** 1/2 |

Tags: , ,

  1. mastadge (Reply) on Sunday 30 December, 2012 at 17:55

    I actually prefer this to Spider-Man and Black Gold. While I agree with you that it sags in the middle, I find that despite its derivative qualities it’s an exceptionally well-crafted and engaging score. Spider-Man may be more innovative, and has numerous highlights, but it also has enough little things that don’t work for me (the comical basketball and subway rumble bits, the occasional wailing and grunting, the stingers that pierce my ears during the otherwise amazing Saving New York, the overlong penultimate cue that kills the score’s momentum between the climax and the denouement, and the album arrangement that, in this case, is actually less satisfying than a chronological order) that I find myself listening through it less often than I do with For Greater Glory.

  2. Kalman (Reply) on Sunday 30 December, 2012 at 19:16

    I agree with mastadge. This is the best Horner of 2012 for me. I don’t care of the familiar passages, they are not in the same context as in other scores, so I fully enjoyed this score. Actually it was one of those rare scores that I listened twice in a row.
    Thank God – and Varese – that it finally got a CD release!

  3. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Sunday 30 December, 2012 at 23:13

    I totally understand your rating for this, but personally, I’d switch yours for Black Gold and For Greater Glory. I seem to have arrived at a stage of Horner listening where counting the number of themes he rips off from previous scores is less important to me than the general impression left by the work, and following that criteria, FGG impressed me more than even The Amazing Spider-Man (which also makes my top 10 for the year; it’s been a kind one for Horner fans). There’s also the fact that I vastly prefer Spanish ethnic accents to Middle Eastern ones. And you didn’t even mention my favorite theme, the “rebel victory theme” that debuts at the end of “We’re Cristeros Now”!

    By the way, mastadge, I totally agree with all of your complaints about TASM (with the proviso that the stingers in “Saving New York”, though a pain on album, worked fantastically in film) – all those minor issues added up to prevent me from fully loving it the way so many seem to. Still a really good score.

  4. James Southall (Reply) on Monday 31 December, 2012 at 00:08

    To be honest, I’m over the self-referencing too. Like I hinted at in this review, people like Rozsa, Newman, Herrmann – they did it all the time, far more than Horner ever has. As long as there’s enough differences to keep things interesting, that’s OK for me. But I’ve read so many people – even those who usually like Horner – say their enjoyment of this score was ruined by it, I thought I had to make a deal of it to retain the small amount of credibility I may still have!

    I think Black Gold’s my favourite of the trio, but as Erik Woods would no doubt shout at this point, technically it’s a 2011 score so I’m left saying that The Amazing Spider-Man is my favourite film score of 2012. I think those two are vintage Horner; the slight sag in the middle of For Greater Glory is what puts it a notch or two behind them, I think.

    (With retrospect, I should have given Black Gold five stars. I hate star ratings.)

  5. Kevin (Reply) on Monday 31 December, 2012 at 17:37

    It’s been a great year for Horner fans. As much as I enjoyed Black Gold (even though the main theme is a bit overused toward the end) and Spider-Man (even with all the aforementioned gimmicks), I would put this slightly above them because despite all the recycling (which doesn’t bother me that much anymore), no other composer working today can match the epic sweep and earnest emotion that Horner can do with seemingly little effort and For Greater Glory is an example of that. “Men Will Fire Bullets…” is a proof of that.

    I think it’s his best score since Avatar.

  6. Josh (Reply) on Tuesday 1 January, 2013 at 21:24

    It’s interesting that he’s been culling so much from The Four Feathers lately (a score that I don’t find terribly distinctive in thematic material). I’m one of those people who can’t forgive Horner for his tricks in this score. Much more satisfied with The Amazing Spider-Man last year.

  7. Jostein (Reply) on Wednesday 2 January, 2013 at 13:45

    James Horner’s dramatic senses are so finely tuned that he could write a really effective score in his sleep. Which is why it’s always spectacular when he really goes for broke, something he doesn’t seem to have done here

    He’s still the best composer working regularly in Hollywood today.

  8. Pawel Stroinski (Reply) on Wednesday 2 January, 2013 at 23:09

    To Kalman, actually Men Will Fire Bullets… is used in exactly THE SAME context as it was used in Braveheart (a pre-battle speech).