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Composed by
JAMES HORNER

Rating
***

Album running time
79:14

Tracks
1: The Makings of a Fine Soldier (3:28)
2: The Dance (2:22)
3: Harry's Resignation (10:09)
4: Sniper! (1:27)
5: To Abou Clea (3:08)
6: The Martyrs (2:40)
7: The Mahdi (10:47)
8: The Letters (6:52)
9: Poison from a Friend (6:56)
10: Escape (6:45)
11: Ethne's Feather (4:21)
12: Ghost of Serenity (6:30)
13: A Coward No Longer (13:49)

Performed by
UNNAMED ORCHESTRA
led by
MARCIA CRAYFORD
conducted by
JAMES HORNER
Vocals
RAHAT USRAT FATEH ALI KHAN

Orchestrations
JAMES HORNER

Engineered by
SIMON RHODES
Edited by
JIM HENRIKSON
Produced by
SIMON RHODES
JAMES HORNER
TONY HINNIGAN

Released by
SONY CLASSICAL
Serial number
SK 89744

Artwork copyright (c) 2002 Sony Music Entertainment, Inc; review copyright (c) 2002 James Southall


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THE FOUR FEATHERS

Some of Horner's best stuff for years surrounded by yet more fluff
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL

The worst thing about James Horner's recent albums is how long they are. In even the most tedious (and there are countless pretenders for that throne) there are varying amounts of sheer class but whether the classy sections last for ten minutes or thirty (and I can't remember the last Horner score with more than thirty, but it probably came when a different George Bush was filling the office of POTUS), the album lasts for seventy-nine minutes plus a varying number of seconds. Arguments about programmable CD players are all well and good, but it's the job of the producer of the album to give the best album possible, and invariably that's shorter than the one they do provide. In no other comparable medium is the author of a work allowed such editorial freedom; even the most famous and successful film directors, writers of novels, journalists, have editors to clip down their work to a better length, yet film composers are allowed to produce their own albums and unless they're called Thomas Newman, they are not well suited to doing so.

Anyway, The Four Feathers. It's Shekhar Kapur's follow-up to Elizabeth, an excellent (if historically-challenged) film featuring an excellent (if highly-derivative) score by David Hirschfelder, who since seems to have disappeared. While the number of dollars it took at the box office could almost be counted on the fingers of one hand, The Four Feathers does seem to have sumptuous production values and a first-class technical crew, including Horner, brought on board to write the score.

It was a given that the album would be seventy-nine minutes long, the only unknown was how many of those seventy-nine minutes would be worth hearing. Well, probably about thirty, but at least that's about thirty more than in Horner's previous score, Windtalkers. The most striking (and controversial) element of the score are the wailing Indian vocals of the Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose name presumably made a huge impact on the Indian Birth Registrar's supply of ink. Quite apart from the rather questionable ethnicity given the film's setting, I must admit that these are not the turn-off I had at first feared (though I wouldn't recommend playing them to a potential sexual conquest, unless that is you are a farmyard animal, in which case it may well work as an aural aphrodisiac).

By far the score's most impressive passages are the ferocious action music that crops up in "Sniper!" and "Escape", Horner's most relentless such passages in years. Other cues tend to feature more romantic material (including a lovely, if wholly unmemorable, theme) or more tense material focusing on snare drums and rumbling brass, which is a cut above that on offer from most composers these days. The 13-minute finale rambles a little, but on balance is probably the best cue of its kind Horner has written in a while (of course, all his scores these days end with a marathon cue tying together all the thematic material, unfortunately serving no more purpose than to expose the paucity of that material more often than not).

In truth, the fifty or so minutes of filler music are far better than the equivalent passages in Horner's other recent scores. While a vast majority of this album is very low-key and withdrawn, it still retains an element of attraction and so interest is rarely lost completely. Compared with his recent scores, there's none of the awe-inspiring material of A Beautiful Mind but taken as a whole it's probably a better listen than the slightly flat Iris or woeful Windtalkers. While I think in every post-Titanic score by Horner there is a 35-minute album waiting to break out which would be at the least good, The Four Feathers is one of the few where the 35-minute album would be superb. It's the other 44 minutes that remain the problem.

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