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Swinging 20s music from Newman
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Universal Studios; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall
A romantic comedy set against the backdrop of 1920s American football, Leatherheads is George Clooney's third film as director, and quite a change of mood from his previous two, serious efforts. With swinging jazz called for, Clooney turned to Randy Newman for the score, only his fourth this decade which isn't for Pixar. Newman is of course no stranger to scoring films set in this time period, with Ragtime and The Natural already on his filmography.
Somewhat mystifyingly, early reports said that the music is like an amalgam of those two fine scores, but there are neither the gentle hints of ragtime from the former nor (aside from a couple of moments) the Copland-ish heroic extravagances of the latter. Indeed, much of this album sounds more like source music than a dramatic film score, typified by the opening "The Princeton Tiger", a great piece of big band swing. Things get more serious in "Good Old Princeton: The College Game", a charming piano theme making an appearance; but it's quickly back to the swing, and that dominates proceedings towards the beginning of the album. Interestingly, despite this very particular style, the music sounds like nobody but Randy Newman - he has such a distinctive musical personality that even though his music has been successfully applied to a variety of different films, it all fits together so well - and even though this sounds like Randy Newman music, it also sounds entirely authentic to the period.
There is some genuine dramatic material here too, particularly in the middle of the album - the second half of "Lexi" introduces the love theme on clarinet, and it's a charming piece. "Ich Gebe Auf" is more serious, with some tense material covering the first half before a hymnal trumpet soliloquy takes over for the second. The main theme is developed further in "Carter is Blue", a really great, jazzy piece; and the love theme, in "Ah, Love", a charming cue. A gorgeous passage for solo violin is the highlight of "Pool Party". The beautiful theme first heard in "Ich Gebe Auf" is given a lengthier reprise in "Up Close and Personal", one of the album's clear highlights. Probably the first time the score moves into traditional "sports movie" territory is in the exciting "The Ambiguity of Victory", with predictably rousing results (and not tempered somewhat, despite what the cue title implies).
This is a fine album, but one which will probably appeal more to Randy Newman fans than a wider film score audience. It is not without its frustrations - while there are twenty cues indexed here in the 44-minute album, the majority of those are made up of two or more shorter pieces combined together, so there can be a bitty feel at times (particularly in the more dramatic tracks). But if this sort of music is your thing, it's certainly recommended - and it's great to have a new score from Newman - they're all-too-rare.