- 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.
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