Latest reviews of new albums:
Where the River Runs Black
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Varèse Sarabande / 45m

It’s that age-old tale, told once again – a young boy is separated from his tribe when his half-human, half-dolphin mother is murdered by people trying to exploit the forest, and when he goes to the city years later he recognises a local politician as the killer. Enough already, Hollywood – give us something original.

James Horner loved scoring the natural world and so one would have expected him to be inspired by the dazzling visuals of this 1986 film, perhaps using it as a dry-run for The Spitfire Grill and The New World and those wonderful nature-inspired scores he did so outstandingly well later in his career. It’s not really that at all, though – instead being one of his few mostly-synth scores.

James Horner

Now, I think Horner fared a little better with such scores than most of the other great orchestral film composers who sometimes went the all-synth route in the 1980s – in particular, he seemed to be in tune with a sort of new age feeling to get some interesting colours out of his synths – but it would be a brave man who suggested a score like Where the River Runs Black truly stands up when placed alongside the more conventional music he was writing at the time, and through his career.

There are some acoustic sounds here – a few pipes and winds – and these have an earthy, very evocative feel suggesting the rainforest. The titular opening cue has little phrases for pan pipes upon a throbbing synth bass effect which is quite captivating in its way; later the mesmerisingly hypnotic “The Orphanage” adds a guitar and synth choir to this mixture and is easily the pick of the tracks. The end title piece offers a nice summary of that side of the score.

Elsewhere there is a sort of “fantasy for Casio digital watch” feel at times, including in the dancelike “Underwater Ballet” and “The Dolphins”. Those pieces are the score at its lightest; but there is darkness too, not surprisingly given the film’s subject matter, and I find that element far from engaging.

The score was actually released twice by Varèse Sarabande, with identical contents, once at the time of the film (in an album which went quickly out of print and would go on to demand absurd prices once Horner achieved great fame) and then years later in the CD Club. It’s intriguing enough in its way (strangely relaxing, like a more ethereal version of the later Vibes) but you’d have to be a real devotee to listen to it more than very occasionally.

Rating: ** | |

Tags: , ,

  1. ghostof82 (Reply) on Monday 30 March, 2020 at 16:02

    Have to confess, I quite like it and return to it quite often. It certainly has a freshness (likely from the orchestration, being sop electronic) compared to so much of his stuff.