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Artwork copyright (c) 2004 JVC; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Delightful score for animated fantasy


An enormously-budgeted Japanese animation, Steamboy is also one of the most successful, with the film garnering rave reviews and big box office in its native land, though it's yet to be released in the West.  Providing the music is Steve Jablonsky, part of the Media Ventures crowd (though I don't think it's called Media Ventures any more).  Composers from that stable have scored numerous animations over the last few years, with Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell doing the most noteworthy, but this is something else entirely.  

If Jablonsky does not entirely shed his Media Ventures shackles during the action music, then he certainly does elsewhere, with some truly lovely orchestral writing in which synths are mercifully put on the back seat.  The scene is set in the opening cue, "Manchester 1866", a delightful theme which - while seemingly at odds with anything to do with Manchester in 1866 - is a really touching piece.  The score is at its best when Jablonsky returns to more emotional territory, like in the gorgeous "Scarlet".  Emotion of a different kind is to be found in "London World Exposition", a dark and harrowing piece which is surprisingly affecting.

The action music, when it comes, is boistrous and exciting.  As I said above, Jablonsky betrays his origins, though it comes mostly with the occasional oddly thin brass orchestration which always seems to come with Media Ventures music, rather than anything else.  Indeed, much of the music arguably has more in common with the action stylings of the late Michael Kamen (a regular employer of Steamboy's orchestrator Blake Neely).  Though there's nothing so intricate here as, say, Iron Giant, Jablonsky is trying to create that same kind of magical mood (and in large part succeeding).  Action highlights include "The Chase" and "Ray's Dilemma".

The second half of the album contains some wonderful music.  It is an almost relentless procession of impression action material.  The lack of deviation of tone may make it slightly difficult to listen to all that often, but its sheer quality is enough to counterbalance that.  There are pauses for breath in tracks like the sombre "Temptation", which are welcome, because the action of pieces like "Launch!" and "Fight in the Exposition Ground" is so full-on.  "Fly in the Sky", while brief, is one of the highlight pieces, full of the kind of life James Horner brought to The Rocketeer, a true delight to listen to.  

Steamboy is a real joy, a piece of energetic and vibrant orchestral music, the kind of which is rarely written these days.  Needless to say, you're more likely to come across Elvis enjoying a sweet-leaf salad in your local gym than you are of coming across a copy of the CD in your local record shop (unless you live in Japan, of course) but import copies are available from the Amazon link below.  It is certainly worth it, because the almost youthful exuberance and childlike spirit of much of the music will lift the coldest of hearts.

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  1. Manchester 1866 (5:15)
  2. The Chase (5:04)
  3. Unexpected Meeting (2:22)
  4. Scarlet (1:32)
  5. Raid by the Airship (2:29)
  6. London World Exposition (3:35)
  7. The Atelier of Ray (1:42)
  8. Crystal Palace Waltz (2:14)
  9. Ray's Dilemma (5:39)
  10. The Sortie of Scotland Yard (1:48)
  11. Fight in the Exposition Ground (3:46)
  12. Launch! (5:25)
  13. Temptation (3:50)
  14. Fly in the Sky (1:09)
  15. Two Delusions (4:02)
  16. Collapse and Rescue (8:26)
  17. Ray's Theme (2:53)