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Difficult horror music is very effective - so much so, it's impossible to enjoy
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
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Album cover copyright (c) 2007 The Weinstein Company; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
A Steven King horror movie is probably one of the last places you would expect to find Lebanese composer Gabriel Yared, but he entered previously-uncharted waters with 1408, his most high-profile movie since the controversial rejection of his music from Troy. The film has garnered surprisingly good reviews - it has a strong cast, with John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson taking the lead roles, and has even drawn comparisons with The Shining (though the sceptic in me suspects it won't be on the level of Kubrick's masterpiece).
Yared's score is a tricky one indeed. It begins with the composer using the subtlest methods to create an atmosphere of absolute fear, with a very small acoustic ensemble joined by an array of unsettling electronic effects. It's unbelievably effective - and extremely horrible to listen to. I'm surprised to find such innovative music from Yared - I would usually class him as a traditionalist - and I can certainly imagine how well this music would work in the film. The composer is so adept at creating the atmosphere here that I must return to the age-old question about this kind of thing - can anybody possibly enjoy listening to this on an album? My age-old answer: well, I can't. The only real exception (at least in the album's first half) is the lullaby-style "Katie's Theme", which uses a tried-and-tested device - that of interjecting a dissonant horror score with a sudden innocence using such a musical device - and this is pretty decent.
The score explodes to life in "Ship in a Painting", which is far more satisfying to the listener - immense orchestral and choral forces combine for some fine old-fashioned gothic horror music à la Jerry Goldsmith or Christopher Young. Great stuff! This proves to be a somewhat temporary measure, since the electronics-dominated, unsettling music returns for the next two (long) cues, but then "Mike's Fugue" provides something of a happy medium between the two, with Yared using more orchestral methods to generate the terror - methods which are rather more satisfying to this album listener, and would be for the majority, I guess.
"Olin in the Minibar" is the first warm cue of the score, with an elegant, European sound to it; it's also one of the few times when the score really sounds like Yared's other works (to me at least). "Sinking Ship" is another very fine large-scale action cue, with a fine performance by the London musicians, especially in the brass (given a nice recording by Andrew Dudman) - this time, the electronics join in too and the effect is very impressive. So, there are about 10-15 minutes of absolutely glorious music on this album - along with 40-45 more of very effective music which is surely unlistenable to all but those with the most avant garde tastes. An interesting new direction from Yared, and he succeeded admirably at his task - but I can't see me listening to this one very often.