Latest reviews of new albums:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Composed by Brian Tyler
  • Atlantic Records / 2014 / 73m

After the three live-action films of the early 1990s and the CGI 2007 continuation, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have a cinematic reboot in 2014 courtesy of producer Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman.  Megan Fox stars, with support from Will Arnett, and the film has been an unqualified success at the box office in its opening weekend; a sequel is expected in a couple of years.

Brian Tyler has scored three of Liebesman’s previous films, including the one that really made me sit up and take notice of the previously-unknown (to me) composer back in 2003, Darkness Falls.  Last year Tyler showed Hollywood how modern action movies could still be scored with style and panache and be great fun in his two Marvel scores (including his career-best Iron Man 3) and I’m delighted to discover that TMNT is very much a continuation of that style – it’s no-nonsense fun and excitement, there’s a big and memorable theme, no angst-ridden joyless rumination (rumination which has depressingly been allowed – absurdly – to run all the way through far too many big action blockbusters in the last few years) – this is, in other words, exactly how it should be done.

Brian Tyler

Brian Tyler

The album springs straight into life with the wonderful opening cue, Tyler immediately setting his stall out that this is going to be fun.  The cue slowly builds, a little motif swirling away in the strings before being joined first by some electronic percussion, then a choir, then the brass becoming ever more present – and then the theme explodes forth.  It’s a close cousin to his Thor 2 theme, expansive and heroic, above anything else just great fun. It’s such a buzz when the theme explodes out – I’ve already read people saying it’s too simple, it sounds too much like this or that, but I couldn’t care less – this is what film music is supposed to be like.  Bold, brassy and exciting; and I’ll use the word again because I can’t overstate how important it is, fun.

In the amusingly-titled “Adolescent Genetically Altered Shinobi Terrapins” we hear the secondary theme, much calmer and with the choir taking on an almost heavenly appearance at times, a lovely piano melody emerging after another airing of the main theme.  In tone it’s a bit like James Horner’s amazing Amazing Spider-Man, memorable and unafraid to be emotionally direct.  The difference is that this score is far more action-dominated and that side comes straight to the fore in the fantastic, blisteringly exciting “Splinter vs Shredder”, a spectacular choral section joining the thrilling writing for the orchestra.

When the much-needed pause for breath comes after all the excitement, in “Origins”, the music remains constantly interesting; and even within this piece (which runs for six minutes) there are some bursts of action, including – admittedly briefly – a demonstration of how you can do a “drum orchestra” and not make it sound completely joyless.  In the brief “Brotherhood” that swirling string motif is back, much more expansive this time; and then it’s back to the action in “Turtles United”, dynamically driving forth through murky waters before a fantastic explosion of brass (a hint of John Adams, perhaps; and in film music terms it brings back great memories of Joel McNeely’s exceptional Soldier).

“Rise of the Four” sees a more sweeping melody emerge, dashing and heroic and leading into a sensational arrangement of the main theme, of which I can’t get enough.  In “The Foot Clan” the action is much darker, electronic percussion adding a pulsating energy.  This delineation of good guys’ music and bad guys’ music is exactly what this sort of film’s score should contain and I can hardly believe I need to draw attention to it when it happens, but it’s been so comparatively rare in recent times that I feel the need to.  The two sides of the coin are both in evidence in “Shellacked”, an entertaining piece of back-and-forth including one surprisingly moving passage with ethereal voices accompanying shimmering strings and another with a lovely splash of ethnic colour.

Another calm interlude comes in “Project Renaissance”, the gentle piano theme returning, before another spectacular action cue, the wonderful “Shortcut” seeing dazzling string runs and insane brass alternating with heroic statements of the main theme.  It’s just glorious.  “Shredder” doesn’t have the same range of colour, but it does have the same pulsating energy and some of the clustered brass writing in particular is very impressive.  “Cowabunga” sees the turtles’ theme fight back, leading into yet another thrill-ride of a cue in a score which features one after another; in this one, I just love the driving bassline which arrives in the second half and the brassy explosion of the theme on top of it.

The brief “99 Cheese Pizza” (which sounds like my kind of pizza) sees a darkness building before battle recommences in the appropriately-named “Adrenaline”, which seems packed full of the stuff.  The “Buck Buck” sees things really soar away and take off – a hint of Man of Steel‘s finale for sure, but a little bigger and more sweeping, hugely enjoyable.  Then the album is brought to a perfect conclusion with “TMNT March”, an enjoyable concise presentation of the entertaining main theme.

2014 has been a particularly strong film music year so far, with a number of very strong scores in the big blockbusters.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is another – bright, colourful, consistently entertaining, it’s just a blast from start to finish with the 73-minute album breezing past in no time.  Tyler can handle an orchestra with style and panache there’s always enough of interest going on here to sustain the thrills.  It’s just so much fun, one of the best things he’s ever done (just the slightest notch below Iron Man 3 I’d say).  I invoke the name of the great man with some caution, but I just wonder if Brian Tyler has picked up Jerry Goldsmith’s mantle as the master of Hollywood action music.  It’s modern and relevant, works perfectly in films today, displays orchestral mastery and when he’s on top of his game it makes for the most wonderful albums.  Cowabunga.

Rating: **** 1/2 | |

Tags: ,

  1. Spielboy (Reply) on Monday 11 August, 2014 at 01:53

    ” (including his career-best Iron Man 3)”

    and no review yet???

  2. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Monday 11 August, 2014 at 15:50

    Glad to see that at least something will be salvageable from the movie! Two thoughts:

    1. As Spielboy said, I’d love to hear your opinion on Iron Man 3.

    2. We need to get some score releases of the first three Turtles movies, which had surprisingly decent music by John Du Prez .

    • James Southall (Reply) on Monday 11 August, 2014 at 16:15

      I really don’t know why I didn’t review Iron Man 3. I will get to it some time…