- Composed by Daft Punk
- Walt Disney Records / 2010 / 58:36
I’ve been reviewing film music albums for quite a long time, now. I repeat myself a lot. I am predictable. I repeat myself a lot. I am predictable. I repeat myself a lot. (I have a tendency to force home a fairly unfunny joke so hard that it loses any vague hint of humour.) Some people will have been reading what I’ve written for years and those people have probably got quite good at knowing what I’m likely to say about something. So here we are, Tron: Legacy, written by somebody called Daft Punk. Apparently he is quite popular in the charts and a specialist with the keyboards. This is about as “un-Southall” as a film score album could get.
In my defence, I would say that if I have become a little predictable, then that’s because film music itself has become (more than) a little predictable. Very few scores are written which are genuine surprises – whether due to an over-reliance on temp-tracks from directors (who then want the score to sound very similar to whatever has been used as temp) or a lack of creativity on the part of film composers, there are few times today even with the most talented composers where I see a film and recognise that the music composed for it is uniquely for that film and couldn’t be used in any other. It happens, but not particularly often. At one time it was the norm.
Then, all of a sudden, the hiring of Daft Punk to score Disney’s long-awaited Tron sequel begins to feel like it may just have been inspired. Of course I don’t really think it’s a gentleman who’s popular in the charts – the French two-piece became enormously successful in the late 1990s with their brand of house music; clearly they inhabited a musical world which would be more than consistent with Tron: Legacy. On hearing the score, the decision to hire them seems more than just inspired, it seems to be a moment of genius.
The biggest surprise is the amount of orchestra in the score – a lot. Needless to say, there’s a lot of electronics too – and the resulting fusion is genuinely exciting. The score was written over a very long period, reportedly two years, a luxury afforded to very few film scores – and it shows. Daft Punk worked very closely with orchestrator Joseph Trapanese and the quality of the orchestral writing is tremendous. This is blatantly not music where the melody was written on a keyboard and then sent off to an orchestration factory to be turned into something usable, which is what happens on so much orchestral film music today “written” by people with no orchestral training – this is music which has plainly been written using pencil and paper.
That alone is clearly not enough to elevate the score to some higher level – what does that is the way the orchestral side is incorporated with the electronic. Actually, one doesn’t listen to this music and even hear the two sides, because they are integrated so beautifully. The electronic music is written by people who genuinely know how to write electronic music, the orchestral music I’ve already discussed, and the resulting mesh is stunningly organic and natural-sounding.
Influences run far and wide – everyone from Aaron Copland to Philip Glass to Vangelis and, perhaps most blatantly, Hans Zimmer. Indeed, the stylistic similarities to Zimmer’s scores for Christopher Nolan (and in particular Inception) are hard to ignore, but also hard to explain when you consider that this score was actually recorded before Inception. Perhaps the two were independently made and ended up at similar places (on several occasions this score sounds like an extension to – and almost infinite improvement over – Zimmer’s Batman music, which is also what Inception sounds like); perhaps there was even a little conversation at some stage, or even more – Zimmer is one of several prominent film composers thanked in this album’s credits.
Regardless of all that, what matters is the music, and it’s just fabulous. Whether the haunting beauty of the orchestral “Adagio for Tron” (fans of Zimmer’s “Journey to the Line” style will be in heaven), the Koyaanisqatsi-like minimalism of “Disc Wars”, the trance-like state induced by the electronic “Derezzed”, or so many other highlights, this is music with a degree of sophistication and an intelligence of construction that frankly goes beyond what Zimmer might conceive except when at the very, very top of his game (which I would say has happened precisely twice). Add to that, there is enough confidence in the writing that the orchestra is allowed to sound like an orchestra (none of that nonsense way of recording brass to make it sound fake even when it’s real that Zimmer employs) – this music is fresh, it’s exciting, it’s energising. It has probably overtaken Inception as my own favourite score of the year. (If somebody had told me at the start of 2010 my top two favourite scores of the year would be by Daft Punk and Hans Zimmer respectively, I’d have seriously questioned their sanity.)
The only downer is the controversial, seemingly highly-cynical way in which the score has been released. There’s a standard album, available in stores. There’s also a 2-CD album, also available in stores, with a second disc of bonus tracks which could all have fitted onto the first CD. Then there’s an Amazon download version with its own bonus track, not available even on the 2-CD physical album. Then there’s an iTunes version with two bonus tracks of its own – again, completely separate ones. And, of course, none of these bonus tracks is available to download individually – the whole album has to be downloaded. This is an atrocious way of treating the buying public – shameful. If it leads to anything, it is likely to be a vast increase in illegal filesharing and downloading of the bonus cues. The standard album is brilliant and I’m happy with that, but I daresay plenty of people would love to have all the bonus tracks. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again.
Not wanting to end on a sour note, I can only repeat that this is seriously impressive music. By the end of the moving “Finale”, I suspect that many listeners will – like me on my first run-through – scarcely be able to believe what they’ve just heard. For all its myriad influences, Daft Punk (and whoever else) have managed to craft something which is genuinely perfect for, and unique to, Tron: Legacy. I applaud them and hope that some day another film comes along which will allow the magic to happen again. Who would have predicted that? *****