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  • Composed by Hans Zimmer
  • Water Tower / 2013 / 65m

Motor racing has never translated quite so well into “inspiring Hollywood sports movie” as some other sports – there have been a few high-profile efforts along the way (John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, Le Mans with Steve McQueen, Tony Scott’s risible but successful Days of Thunder) but nothing that quite sits alongside the likes of Rocky or Hoosiers in people’s affections.  Ron Howard’s had a go now, with the intriguing-sounding Rush chronicling the rivalry between two great Formula One drivers, British playboy James Hunt and clinical Austrian Niki Lauda, focusing on the 1976 season.

It doesn’t get much more rock and roll than being a Formula One racing driver, so it seems entirely appropriate that Hans Zimmer’s score for the movie is a rock and roll score.  The composer has been as busy as ever during 2013, and as controversial; it doesn’t seem that long ago that I wrote a lengthy dismissal of his appalling Man of Steel, but just because he was entirely the wrong composer for that film and wrote entirely the wrong score shouldn’t make people forget that when he works on a film for which he is well-suited – like Rush – he’s one of the most stylish and satisfying film composers around.  Of course, there’s nothing of great compositional complexity here, but there’s a surprising emotional depth to it and a strong dramatic arc running through it.

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

The score opens with “1976”, sound effects gradually fading before a subtle piano figure with sampled strings and eventually a synth organ creating a distinctive, colourful sound world which screams that excitement is coming; this leads, surprisingly, into a soulful cello theme (actually somewhat reminiscent of one of the themes in Transformers of all things) later taken up by a sampled horn which is heroic and somehow manages to convey both the mutual respect and great rivalry between the two drivers.  This leads directly into “I Could Show You If You’d Like”, which is where the rock begins – for now fairly laid back, electric guitars and drums rolling forward initially in pretty languorous – and very attractive – style.

“Stopwatch” sees the sound palette expanded considerably, introducing the wonderful racing theme for the first time (electric guitar again), very detailed synth textures somehow conveying the excitement perfectly.  “Into the Red” has a little ostinato pattern that repeats for a while before leading into a more hardcore guitar riff, Zimmer now raising the dramatic stakes by adding an unmistakable air of danger.  As the piece progresses there is a real feel of Inception to it – the music’s vibrant, vital, energetic.  It’s interesting how vividly Rush brings Inception to mind at times – the instrumental similarities are fairly superficial, but Zimmer has managed to create a kind of rock and roll version of what is one of his most serious (and best) scores.

“Budgie” sees more grunge-like synths creating another fine atmosphere, again superbly capturing a rush of excitement; the brief “Scuderia” offers a sound that borders on the ethereal.  It’s back to straight rock in “Oysters in the Pits”, deliciously glamorous and sexy.  Then you’d swear you’d fallen into a Jerry Lee Lewis instrumental in the brilliant, thrilling “20%” – it’s a rock instrumental of great quality.  “Watkins Glen” is one of the most impressive pieces of all, ripping forward with an incredible energy, including a barnstorming performance of the racing theme.  It’s Zimmer at his very best.

“Loose Cannon” is a more subtly dramatic interlude before the pounding percussion and wailing guitars of “Car Trouble” and then the soulful “Glück”.  “Nürburgring” ushers in the final act, and it’s another tremendous piece of music, a passage of desperately strained emotions being wrung from the simplest of keyboard patterns introducing the piece before the drums come back, now accompanied by a very simple sampled string and brass figure that again brilliantly captures the tension and danger.  Inception returns by the end of the piece, this time the relentless percussion pattern from that score’s “Mombasa”.  The dark, emotional “Inferno” is the score’s dramatic high point, an impassioned snatch of the main theme working its way around strained tugs on the emotional strings of the listener.

“Mount Fuji” provides a release for all that tension, shimmering away with a slightly lighter, somewhat cathartic feel, especially when the main theme returns in its original cello setting.  “For Love” brings back the excitement and energy of the earlier racing music for a while before the most sweeping, romantic music of the score, the (sampled) strings really swelling for the first time.  That doesn’t last long – it’s immediately followed by the exciting “Reign”, full of passion and heroism – it’s a pretty typical Zimmer action track, really, but one that works so well in this context because of how effortlessly it seems to grow organically from what has gone before.  The lengthy “Lost but Won” continues the theme, the main theme now being injected with even more of that feeling of respectful rivalry heard earlier in the score; then “My Best Enemy” is a wonderful conclusion, sweeping and dynamic, before it fades away to the sound of cars accelerating off into the distance.

The album also includes some great songs by David Bowie, Dave Edmunds and others, though they do disrupt the carefully-constructed flow of Zimmer’s score if you play the album in the sequence it’s presented. Rush hasn’t received nearly as much hype as most of the composer’s – this time the music is allowed to speak for itself, and it does that quite brilliantly, capturing all the raw power and excitement and danger of motor racing and musically telling a story with great emotional depth.  Zimmer uses all his strengths here – some people might ask how I can like Rush so much when I disliked Man of Steel so much when superficially perhaps they share a similar sound palette; but really, that is only superficial, there is so much more going on here on every level.  It’s one of 2013’s most impressive soundtrack albums to date and easily in pole position when it comes to Zimmer’s work since Inception.

Rating: **** 1/2 | |

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  1. Craig Richard Lysy (Reply) on Friday 13 September, 2013 at 03:43

    Agreed! Your review hit all the right notes. I just love this score. Rock scores are so rare and Z-man really delivers!

    Life is good.

    All the best.

  2. Mikal (Reply) on Friday 13 September, 2013 at 08:04

    Ha! I was going to ask that *very* question, i.e., why is there a three-and-a-half star difference between ‘Rush’ and ‘Man of Steel’, when they seem to occupy the same sonic universe? Your review doesn’t make it completely obvious (or, maybe it does, and I’m just daft — in any case, you didn’t write this as a comparison piece), but at the end of it you say there is more going on. Could you qualify that a little? Does it come down to the score for ‘Rush’ being “busier”?

  3. mastadge (Reply) on Friday 13 September, 2013 at 13:24

    “I was going to ask that *very* question, i.e., why is there a three-and-a-half star difference between ‘Rush’ and ‘Man of Steel’, when they seem to occupy the same sonic universe?”

    Because one is great and one is awful. I don’t know about the “same sonic universe,” but I find Man of Steel boring and texturally uninteresting and offering very little of substance. (Also it didn’t work as a “paean to the simple folk” or whatever Zimmer was going on about in the publicity phase.) Even the vaunted “Flight” and “WWYDWYNSTW” fail to inspire. Rush, on the other hand, is pleasant and entertaining and sometimes exciting. I don’t know why Zimmer found so much more inspiration in one than in the other, or why he was able to deliver the goods with one but not the other, but I’d probably rate them 1 and 4 stars respectively.

  4. Gary Dalkin (Reply) on Friday 13 September, 2013 at 17:17

    Rush is a very entertaining, moving, uplifting and sometimes exciting score. It sounds engaged and alive, unlike Man of Steel. A very nice review James.

  5. Synchrotones (Reply) on Saturday 14 September, 2013 at 17:46

    The difference between Rush and Man Of Steel… there are many. I don’t think the ‘sound’ is even all that similar. But here’s the key: context. Zimmer’s style and sound makes sense in Rush. In MoS… not so. I was reluctant at first, but I’m beginning to hear that Rush is indeed very powerful (not just loud) and emotional in a way that no Zimmer score has been for a long, long time.

  6. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Monday 16 September, 2013 at 00:41
  7. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Monday 16 September, 2013 at 00:42

    still couldn’t really say it’s that much better (if better, period) than ‘Flight’ or ‘Terraforming’ from Man of Steel though.

  8. Lakshman (Reply) on Wednesday 9 October, 2013 at 17:24

    I find myself going crazy over the Rush soundtrack. I find myself agreeing with most of the review over here. However, I find it quite surprising that Zimmer has not been criticized at all for incorporating tunes from Inception in this. The same notes of piano and violin of ‘Time’/ Main Theme from Incpetion can be heard right from the main track, ‘1976’. Zimmer has faced so much criticism for being downright ‘lazy’ in many of his scores. has been more vocal about it than this site, I guess. But, I’m surprised the same point hasn’t come up here. I found myself getting irritated when I heard the same notes from Time and Mombasa. He keeps reusing Inception tunes because they were hugely popular. ‘This Is Madness’ from MOS is very similar to Mombasa if not the same.
    Again, I love the tracks. ‘20%’,’Oyster In the Pits’,’Stopwatch’,’Into the Red’ are amazing according to me. I just have this one criticism that he resued the same notes from Inception.

  9. Clayman (Reply) on Saturday 12 October, 2013 at 22:09

    4 and half? Really? I mean, the score worked great in the movie, no questions about that. What irks me, however, is Zimmer’s unashamed referencing (or direct “stealing” from) his score to Inception. Pretty much every composer is guilty of that at one point or another but hearing pretty much the same chord progressions and drum rhythm patterns in a score that is supposed to be top notch (hence the 4 1/2 stars) is a bit too benevolent in my books.

    I enjoyed the film and the score in it but as a standalone listen, 3 1/2 is as high as I would go, given how much Hans tends to reuse his previous material.

  10. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Sunday 13 October, 2013 at 20:43

    I’m not justifying James’ 4 1/2 star rating Clayman, but show me anything on zimmer’s Inception that has nearly as much drive tempo excitement etc as ‘Lost but Won’.

  11. Clayman (Reply) on Monday 14 October, 2013 at 07:34

    I’m not arguing about the nature of the soundtrack — as I said, it worked really well in the context of the movie. I just wish Hans used some fresh ideas instead of reusing his Mombasa drums/Inception chords.

  12. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Thursday 17 October, 2013 at 18:28

    what one should PERHAPS always remember is the project the composer is working on. Fresh? Yeah, if we want to compare to two films, I’d say ‘Inception’ (and I haven’t even seen it, only what, 5-10min total of the combined trailers) is a BIT more fresh, original, inspired movie than ‘Rush’… and, in general, I’ll defend Ron Howard (I really like about half his movies, it seems). still, point stands..

    What are Zimmer’s best scores of recent (many) years? hmmm. maybe the scores he wrote for the best FILMS? 🙂 98’s ‘The Thin Red Line’ and ‘Prince of Egypt’ come to mind, of course.

    I wasn’t especially excited (tho my lazy ass hasn’t heard the scores in their entirety) about Zimmer’s stuff on Howard’s Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons (the former’s “Chevaliers de Sangreal” is good but startlingly#!% overrated, while I find — the first half mostly — of “Science and Religion” from the latter to be, well, STARTLING#!*t#!%)* and I don’t think either of those scores was as good as Zimmer’s first project for Howard, das Backdraft. dammmnnn, remember Kurt Russell?

    I’ve probably listened to ‘Lost but Won’ on this RUSHY score about 35 times though.

  13. Bernhard H. Heidkamp (Reply) on Thursday 21 November, 2013 at 22:06


    As much as I disliked MoS, you can’t say This is Madness! is thr same as Mombasa.

    Mombasa is one really simple rhythm with an even simpler strings/guitar figure above.

    This is Madness is a collection of a few, very intelligent, drum rhythms. Only drums, nothing else.

  14. Patrick Martel (Reply) on Wednesday 5 February, 2014 at 12:25

    I’m a big fan of Hans Zimmer. My opinion of his work on Man of of Steele differs from yours. I thought it was quite stylish and efficient. I do agree with you about the Rush OST. I’ve been listening to it for the past weeks and I considere it a rock album as mush as an OST. Great work by a great composer.

  15. tiago (Reply) on Thursday 5 March, 2015 at 02:54

    This is gonna seem bizarre, but the main theme that Zimmer created for Rush does sound a bit like the theme for Michel Legrand’s Summer of 42? I think the notes are the same, but while in Legrand’s score they’re arranged in a more romantic way, in Zimmer’s they’re more bold and heroic.