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We’re No Angels
  • Composed by George Fenton
  • Varese Sarabande CD Club / 1992 / 41:53

Considering the considerable talents on hand both in front of and behind the camera (directed by Neil Jordan, written by David Mamet, starring Robert de Niro and Sean Penn) it’s a surprise that We’re No Angels was released to such a lukewarm reception in 1989.  Based on Albert Husson’s play, the two leads (bizarrely described in the liner notes as being “often favourably compared with each other” – presumably meaning there were a whole host of people in 1989 who said “Robert de Niro is like a better version of Sean Penn, and come to think of it Sean Penn is like a better version of Robert de Niro”) playing a pair of escaped convicts who try to escape capture by posing as priests.

The film marked the third collaboration between director Jordan and composer George Fenton (after The Company of Wolves and High Spirits) – five years later, their next project together did not end well, with Fenton’s music for Interview with the Vampire being rejected at the last minute.  Surprisingly, it has been reported that they will team up again on the forthcoming Byzantium.  This score is eclectic, the composer using a number of different styles and pulling them all together in truly impressive style.  He seems to spend much of his time now scoring the wonderful BBC natural history programmes (and playing music from them round the world in concert) but Fenton has spent the bulk of his career writing brilliant music for dramatic films – and this is one of his finest.

George Fenton

The score opens with a pair of very aggressive tracks, the main title and “Escape from Northridge”, which feature much dramatic posturing from the large orchestra, the latter in particular being a fine piece of action music.  Things get turned round completely in the gorgeous “First Light” (a hint of Fenton’s nature music in its depiction of an idyllic landscape).  There’s more than a hint of European romanticisim to follow, with the lovely “By the Waterside” being an old-fashioned waltz and then the wonderful “Molly’s Theme”, which offers a feel of the 1930s setting of the film.  Quite brilliantly, the theme is given a completely different setting for the powerful finale (of which, more later).

Perhaps the most surprising element is the dark, dramatic suspense music which takes its inspiration from only one place – Bernard Herrmann.  It’s a bit odd at first to hear the little wind figures, the driving string runs with brass and percussion hits for accompaniment – Hitchcock music, essentially – suddenly appear after the calmness of the album’s middle portion, but from nowhere “Almost Home Free” emerges and Fenton somehow makes everything flow together as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.  That track itself is followed by a little piece of fiddle-led source music, “The Tavern”, and again nothing much seems amiss.

“The Dam” starts a remarkable ten-minute sequence of three tracks which closes the album.  The Herrmannesque style reaches its peak with some strident brass which is used to breathlessly exciting effect.  “Free Street” reprises the theme introduced earlier in “First Light”, this time in an even warmer setting, with some Vertigo-style romantic strings making a brief appearance too.  But the romantic conclusion to the track is pure Fenton, culminating with one of the most rousing passages of film music you’ll ever hear (think also of this composer’s Memphis Belle).  Then, the fantastic end title piece, which soars just as high before summarising all of the key thematic content.  This is just a magical film score, full of energy, creativity, emotion, wonderful melody – the sort of thing it’s very hard to imagine anyone not loving.  The score was released by the Varèse Sarabande CD Club in 1992 – there were only 1,500 copies pressed and they took over a decade to sell out.  How times change.  What doesn’t change is the quality of We’re No Angels, one of George Fenton’s finest.  *****

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  1. christopher (Reply) on Friday 30 March, 2012 at 20:19

    Awesome review, James. This score was totally off my radar. Glad to know about it. I will add it to my list of things to get!

  2. Mike (Reply) on Saturday 31 March, 2012 at 19:19

    I’ve never heard of this score…thanks for taking a look at these older releases.

    I do enjoy George Fenton’s “Valiant”. A very rousing war/patriotic score.

  3. James Southall (Reply) on Saturday 31 March, 2012 at 22:02

    Oh, I love Valiant! I’ve been listening to a lot of Fenton lately. There are so many gems there that few people seem to know about.