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THE WICKER MAN
Impressive, distinctive horror score from Badalamenti
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Asymptotote Music; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
This completely ill-advised seeming remake of the British classic, The Wicker Man certainly has a few surprises in its personnel department, not least the fact that it's directed by Neil LaBute, but also because it is starring the impossible-to-imagine Nicolas Cage. For his score, director LaBute turned to composer Angelo Badalamenti for the first time (in fact he has never worked with a composer more than once), in what seems like an inspired choice - while the folk music of the original has become somewhat iconic, perhaps having a strong dramatic score is one of the few things Hollywood money could actually improve upon.
Badalamenti is no stranger to horror, of course (just last year he scored the ill-fated Exorcist prequel, before being replaced by Trevor Rabin of all people when it got re-shot) and he hits exactly the right tone here. I suspect that in the hands of a more "mainstream" Hollywood composer, this would have ended up in sub-Marco Beltrami slasher music territory, but Badalamenti embues it with his own unique voice for a compelling score.
Speaking of a voice - it's that device which the composer uses to marvelous effect through his score, with the solo vocal heard during the Overture ratcheting up the tension until it reaches fever pitch, but doing so in a way which makes things approach fever pitch. Badalamenti uses the female voice as an instrument to be manipulated, in much the same way as Ennio Morricone has done so many times (though this music sounds nothing like Morricone!)
The main body of the score is more atmospheric than anything else, with the composer using every trick in the book to raise suspense and create a brilliantly mysterious, spooky ambience. He frequently employs a wash of strings, cleverly-orchestrated to create a feeling of unease. When Badalamenti releases the tension and lets the full orchestra explode, there's a wonderful effect - the tail end of "The Barn" is one example. He doesn't do it particularly often, which only means that when he does do it, it works all the better. "Kiss of Bees" is a dynamic, powerful piece; "Trapped in Water" conjures up a brilliantly effective picture of sheer terror, with its distant choir and bursts of dissonance. The concluding pair of tracks, "The Confrontation" and "The Burning", are particularly fine, once again building up a kind of frantic energy which consumes the listener.
The music is really compelling, there's a real energy there, and Badalementi has done well to avoid all the usual cliches and come up with something that really does sound quite fresh. I'm not convinced by some of the electronics, and indeed the atmosphere is so dark that it's unlikely to be an album many people will stick on repeated play, but it's a billion times better than most modern-day horror scores and it's good to see this talented composer get to work on a high-profile film for once.