Latest reviews of new albums:
Side Effects
  • Composed by Thomas Newman
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2013 / 39m

Steven Soderbergh seems to have made more films since announcing he wouldn’t be making any more than most directors manage in their whole career and this month’s new one is Side Effects, about a woman (Rooney Mara) who is prescribed a drug which has unexpected – wait for it – side effects, namely that she kills her husband.  Apparently this really, truly is the director’s final film – well, apart from a tv movie he’s got coming up shortly.  After the excitement surrounding Skyfall, Thomas Newman returns to more familiar territory in his third film for the director (after Erin Brockovich and The Good German).  There isn’t an orchestra in sight, the composer relying instead on his usual band of soloists playing all sorts of weird and wonderful instruments, this time including pregranite ambiences, e-bowed drones and arpeggiated hand bells.

The music is captivating – it feels hypnotic, at times kaleidoscopic, drug-induced.  The familiar Newman touches in scores like this are all out in droves – little rhythmic ideas which gather momentum and pulsate with energy, tiny melodic fragments which get explored in great depth.  The opening title, “Very Sick Girl”, is a case in point, a piece of beauty and mystery as electric guitar and processed female voice combine to create that great, hazy feeling.  The emphasis throughout is resolutely not on melody, but rather on atmosphere, and the composer is steadfast in the way he so carefully develops and maintains a level of tension – a cue like “Knife” is the sort of piece that leaves listeners without their fingernails, and it’s all so deceptively simple from a compositional perspective.  There’s nothing showy about Side Effects, it just goes about its job with great skill and makes for a very listenable album.  Those who love this composer for his dazzling orchestral prowess will find a completely different – and one suspects more personally rewarding – side here; those familiar with his wider body of work will know exactly what to expect and won’t be disappointed.  I suppose it’s “routine” in some ways for Newman and the star rating reflects that, but it’s an enjoyable and rewarding album all the same.

Rating: *** | |

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