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759 923 965-2

Artwork copyright (c) 1983 Warner Bros.; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Stunning score full of beauty, passion, excitement


Roger Spottiswoode's politically-charged 1983 thriller Under Fire starred Gene Hackman and Nick Nolte as US journalists caught up in civil war in Nicaragua.  Surprisingly brilliant, the film is informative and strangely moving.  It also inspired Jerry Goldsmith to heights unusual even for him.  Originally jazz guitarist Pat Metheny was approached to score the film but he didn't feel he could do the film justice and so suggested Goldsmith, who was approached and ended up making use of Metheny to provide the score with its brilliant guitar solos.  It is also the film Goldsmith always cites as one where the temp track (of traditional Andean music) provided him with real inspiration; OK, so you would never mistake his score for traditional Andean music, but it at least pushed him in that direction.

"Bajo Fuego", which opens the album, is really quite brilliant, a gorgeous piece for guitar and orchestra full of passion and excitement.  It's such a good theme, you could easily be hoping to sit back and enjoy variations on it over the remaining course of the album, but in fact Goldsmith crams this score so full of different themes, he could easily have based ten different scores on them; it is this rich diversity within the score that keeps it always sounding so fresh and exciting.  The powerful guitar performance of the opening cue is translated into a lilting, beautiful, restrained accompaniment to pan flutes in "Sniper", the second cue, which also introduces what could probably be classed as the main theme, a march.

Key to the score's success is Goldsmith's use of electronics.  The orchestra is actually fairly small, but Goldsmith embellishes it with such a dizzying array of synths that it seems considerably larger.  And here, he truly is using electronics as an extension of the orchestral palette rather than a replacement for it, augmenting the pan flutes with a kind of synth woodwind to make them sound fuller and richer; and sometimes, the electronics have the effect of making the orchestral sections seem even more stunning, a case in point being the brilliant "19 de Julio" in which a slightly off-kilter melody is played by keyboards before a sudden and delightful trumpet flourish which seems simply achingly beautiful.  "Rafael" is another highlight, taking the march theme to new heights; the piece is introduced by a haunting oboe line before the pan flutes (real and synthesised!) add energy and vitality, all the time while the march theme builds to a rapturous conclusion, played first by keyboards and finally by the full brass section.  Genius.

"A New Love" is an extended version of the score's love theme for keyboards, guitar and strings; it's another piece of unbridled passion, showing how much beauty can be suggested by a piece of instrumental music without the need for the full clichéd swell of an orchestra.  There's a fairly brief reprise of the "Bajo Fuego" theme in "Sandino", the only place the melody reappears.  "Alex's Theme" is more tender, a lovely piano theme followed by a keyboard reprise of the main love theme.  Another of the score's real powerhouse set pieces comes next in "Fall of Managua", another fantastic march, adrenaline-pumping and moving stuff.  Following the lovely guitar-based "Rafael's Theme" comes the stunning finale, "Nicaragua", unquestionably one of the highlights of Goldsmith's career, a magnificent concert arrangement of the main march theme.

Anyone watching the film might end up thinking that half of the score was dumped from it, since there are pieces on this album that you don't hear in the film, and others that sound substantially different.  In fact Goldsmith returned to the recording studio after the film was done to record a couple of concert pieces ("Bajo Fuego" and "A New Love") just for the album, but ended up remixing and re-recording much of the score, performing all of the electronic parts himself.  The recording, by John Richards and Bruce Botnick, is of beautiful clarity, which only adds to the listening experience.  A score featuring an array of electronics attached to a political thriller is not one you would necessarily expect to be one of the greatest ever written; but this is just that.  It's one of those scores that you could play to someone who doesn't usually like film music with a high degree of confidence that they will like this.

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  1. Bajo Fuego (5:36)
  2. Sniper (3:27)
  3. House of Hammocks (3:15)
  4. Betrayal (4:19)
  5. 19 de Julio (3:30)
  6. Rafael (2:38)
  7. A New Love (3:47)
  8. Sandino (3:39)
  9. Alex's Theme (3:41)
  10. Fall of Managua (2:30)
  11. Rafael's Theme (4:12)
  12. Nicaragua (4:14)