Saturday, April 11, 2009

Independence Day (David Arnold)


I've been listening to an incredible amount of sci-fi and fantasy scores lately. Mostly sci-fi, but my commutes and gym excursions have been lightly peppered with the likes of Horner's Willow, Eric Serra's Arthur and the Invisibles, Steve Burke's Kameo: Elements of Power, among others, and I've also revisited Buckley's charming The Forbidden Kingdom; but by and large, lately my music of choice has been from the science fiction realm. Partly because sci-fi, like fantasy, has the wondrous scope and breadth and expansive sense of adventure which can easily result in a fantastic score, but also partly because JJ Abrams' Star Trek reboot is imminent.

I will likely be disappointed in the film (yet am perfectly willing to be surprised), but Giacchino's score for the same is what really has me salivating. So in anticipation of what I fully expect to be a brilliant sci-fi score, I've begun another of my semi-annual Trek score marathons/sprees, and along for the ride has been Star Wars II: The Attack of the Clones, The Matrix trilogy, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Alien 3, Dark City, Wall-E, and a massive host of others. What an infinite pleasure, then, to add to this list one of David Arnold's most beloved and truly mind-blowing scores, his no-holds-barred, all-guns-blazing piece of over-the-top, cinematically patriotic tour-de-force known as Independence Day.

Here in MN as I write this entry, the sun is shining and the temperature is an amiable 55 degrees, almost exactly the same, weather-wise, as the day I bought Independence Day on CD back in 2005. I had biked to the local thrift store in search of bargains, and boy did I find one! Arnold's score was right on top of the stack of CDs for sale, still factory-sealed, and priced at an attractive 80 cents. As you can probably bet, I didn't waste too much more time in the store, but biked back home in the lovely sunshine, thrilled as always to have the chance to explore yet another new score, with this particular instance being infinitely embellished by 1) The easy price, 2) the absolutely tiny size of my collection at the time, which was absolutely begging to be expanded, and 3) my incredible fondness for the only piece of music from the score I'd heard up to that point, which was the nice suite on Telarc's The Big Picture album, featuring Kunzel and his infamous Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. My prayer was that the full score would live up to the inspirational, whirlwind heights that I'd experienced in that 6-minute Telarc suite.

I needn't have worried.

(Not that I really DID worry, but YOU know...)

Four years later, my love for the score has only grown. In fact, the only thing that's really changed in any detrimental way regarding my feelings for the score is that I ended up finally seeing the movie... twice. Ugh, ugh ugh... and a little bit of chuckle. Everything about that movie is so overblown and unreserved that I'm truly surpised at the returns it got at the box office. But at least we as film score fans are lucky enough that the movie was made at a time (the '90s, see previous post) when full-on orchestral scores were at the height of their magnificence and glory, and the best part is that David Arnold took the cheesy, overblown, over-the-top dramatics and apocalyptic premise as one heck of an invitation, and the result is an orchestral and choral masterpiece that puts Stargate (see previous post again) to shame. And that in itself is not something which should be possible in this universe.

Of course, all this talk of overbearingly dramatic and cheesy narratives becomes understandable when you realize that we're talking about Roland Emmerich here. Besides making an amazing amount of truly absurd movies (The Patriot probably being the lone exception), this is a director whose sense of heavy-as-lead melodrama and puzzling, questionable national loyalty has traditionally been suited for only one thing: generating fantastic musical scores, of course! (Which is of course a moot point since his breakup with Arnold after the cinematically disastrous but musically delicious Godzilla, and his recent, bizarre partnership with Harold Kloser. Only gosh knows exactly what these guys are still doing in the industry, but let's just say that pairing an incompetent director with an incompetent composer is potential damnation for both careers. I will not discuss Emmerich's apparent fetish for having American landmarks destroyed on camera time... and... AGAIN. Jeez.)

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes... Overblown movies. Yep, once upon a time that meant getting a TERRIFIC score, unabashed in its emotional power and splashy, romantic style. Nowadays it mostly means one of Zimmer's students will play a keyboarded percussion sample for the director and even attempt a simple chord progression or two, but at least ID4 (the weird but accepted abbreviation for the score we're discussing) benefited from both a fantastically old-fashioned action/adventure score and a young composer who was fresh and innovative enough to be bold and blazing, not to mention unique. The result, as I said before and will likely say again before this entry is done, is incredible.

My review of Stargate (how many links can I make to that entry in one article?), light and casual as it was, hopefully conveyed the impression that I consider old-fashioned swashbuckling as insanely attractive. And while I doubt that anyone who has heard Stargate has not heard Independence Day, I will assume for the sake of increasing my word count here that such is the case with you. I hope I don't come across as patronizing.

Take the bombast, adventure and romanticism of Stargate and increase its intensity in all those areas about three or fourfold. Then spread on top of it a layer of brass-blazing, snare-ripping American patriotism, and add an extra helping of the aforementioned Emmerich melodrama, far stronger in this film than in his debut Stargate. Then factor in a series of richly-developed thematic ideas and turn the sound WAY up (it's an HDCD!!). As a bonus, watch this video, an old and probably misguided attempt by me to make a good fireworks display amazing, simply by adding the zest of this score's end title suite. Now tell me that doesn't stir your soul to its very core. No? Oh well, I tried... At least it's better than Emmerich's movie, eh?

It's truly hard to overestimate the sheer fun factor of this score. David Arnold rarely wrote anything quite as stylishly swashbuckling, stirring and adventurous afterwards, unless you count his extremely fortunate attachment to the James Bond franchise. (Which, despite the questionably trippy albums that resulted from The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day, has also produced Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, all of them amazing, and all of which I hope to discuss here shortly.)

Many fans of this score lament the lack of expanded treatment on album: admittedly, there's LOTS of great music missing on CD, there's plenty of room on the current 50-minute album for more score, and there's no sign whatsoever of the score getting officially expanded anytime soon. Speaking for myself, though, the commercial album is still dang-tastic and the reader is encouraged to seek the score out in any form. There are a few different bootlegs out there, I personally never really needed one.. The CD can be purchased for dirt cheap and it's got all the best parts, after all. I mean, I got mine for 80 cents...

And anyways you can hear it on my imeem playlist for free.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Stargate (David Arnold)


Late again! Sorry. Things... came up.

Anyways, now we're on to David Arnold. By rights, if I was strictly following my updated library spreadsheet, I'd be reviewing Craig Armstrong's World Trade Center today instead, but 1) it's actually owned by my younger sister and I just ripped it from CD to iTunes without her knowledge, and 2) I'm dying to review something a bit more stylishly romantic and rip-roaringly FUN than Armstrong's work tends to be. Let's be honest, as powerful and dramatic and moving as The Incredible Hulk and Elizabeth: The Golden Age are (and they are!), they're not exactly FUN. Driving? Inspirational? Invigorating? Pulse-pounding? Oh my yes.

But... "fun?"

I think I'm trying to say that there's a difference between "enjoyable/impressive/admirable" and "fun." Exactly how they are different is of course a topic for you English majors out there (more power to you, I would have likely been one had I attended college), but for now I think it's safe to say that Stargate, David Arnold's bold and brash explosion onto the film score scene, is a heck of a lot more fun in a lighthearted and accessible way than the more heavy-handed Armstrong dirges and elegies we've been discussing hitherto. You know, the same way Hans Zimmer is more "fun" than Michael Kamen. Oh, wait... Yeah, never mind. Disregard that simile.

Anyways, Stargate. This is really one which, like a good many Arnold scores, I needn't even discuss. Any proper, old-fashioned score collector will have learned to love it eons ago, and the only way this obscure blog entry is going to shape anyone's opinion is if they're so new to the hobby that they're just discovering (for whatever insufficient reason) the many merits of John Williams' original Star Wars, or, worse yet, Jaws.

Not that Stargate is very close to those undisputed masterpieces (in a purely technical sense), but it's pretty nearly as classic, wonderful and old-fashioned by the standards of this waning age of the early 2000's. Stargate is an early '90s score, and if you know anything about the 1990s as far as film music is concerned, you know it was a darn fine time to be interested in that field. From Williams' own early-decade masterpieces such as Home Alone, Hook, Jurassic Park, Far and Away and Schindler's List, to James Horner's astounding maturation (and some would say eventual descent into self-plagiarism) with such fantastic classics as Legends of the Fall, Casper, Balto, Apollo 13, Braveheart, and of course Titanic, there were also the newly emerging, immense talents of Elliot Goldenthal, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, and of course, David Arnold.

Granted, it was a ten-year period, but to cast an eye over the many now-classic scores that came out in that decade is to invite amazement and struggle for self-control. And Stargate, for its sheer audacity and scope, is one of the finest large-scale debuts in film score history by any composer (for my money). Up there with Doyle's Henry V, easily.

So what of the music? It'd be a stretch to call it similar to the Hollywood-filtered classical style of John Williams (boy, his name will pop up in this post, won't it??), but it's certainly no stretch to say it's definitely that brassy, purely orchestral strain of sci-fi adventure music which is firmly rooted in the oldest, grandest Hollywood style. This is Korngold-style heroics at it's finest! Think of Debney's CutThroat Island... that stylish throwback vein mixed with a thoroughly modern sonic depth and dramatic flourish. Stargate is to sci-fi and fantasy what CutThroat is to pirate scores. Old-fashioned, swashbuckling and romantic in just the right ways, without sounding a bit out of place. And it's just modern enough to be permitted an incredibly bombastic construction.

The album I have (the original, not the coveted Deluxe Edition) begins with the grand "Overture," which is really just a terrific way to introduce the score. The themes are swelling, the chorus is massive, and the tone transforms from awe-inspiring and massively triumphant to dark and uber-ominous so seamlessly that it never, NEVER fails to impress me. It sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the wonderfully strong album.

Loud chants, blaring brass, thundering timpanis, and surging string washes are delightfully complimented by lighter cues with tingling percussion and swirling woodwinds. It's got a little bit of everything, and it never slows down or grows dull. It's a remarkably mature album for such an early David Arnold venture, and it has clear prototypes for musical ideas which he would later crystallize and perfect in his (even more famous) scores for Independence Day and Godzilla (and, to some extent, his biggest, baddest James Bond scores).

A track-by-track or even semi-track-specific review of the album (beyond that overture) is a bit of a silly notion: there are 30 tracks, and every one is dynamite. The best way to sum it all up is to say that it's a dern fine bit of adventure music, and it was the obvious watershed in Arnold's amazingly successful career. This is where it started, folks! And, if you're like me, you'll find this a terrific score to revisit every once in a while. Every *frequent* once in a while. It's fabulous. And, in this bland-as-oatmeal season where most new film score albums fail to muster anything more than a cursory glance and an unenthusiastic "Oh, ah..." from me, these classics are welcome tools for refreshing the mind and soul with some truly splashy and FUN orchestral mayhem.

If you don't have it, you can listen to the entire thing in my imeem playlist. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Armstrong/Rahman)


I really do realize that anyone paying the slightest attention to this blog is probably expecting me to get into some juicy David Arnold material by this time. But my necessarily rigid system is to go through my CDs in the order they present on my shelf: and right now Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the next score on my shelf. My CDs are arranged alphabetically by composer, and chronologically within each composer's section.

This is a recent score: 2007, I believe, is when it was released. My buying habits are of the wait-until-I-can-snag-it-for-cheap-as-free species, so I didn't pick this one up until a few weeks ago, when it leapt out from the Discland soundtrack section with an enticingly manageable $7.00 price label.

Hence this review, which is far too late for a relatively new score, and not quite late enough to match up with reviews for the likes of A Bridge Too Far, not to mention all those other golden oldies I plan to review: Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Sea Hawk, Rocky, Star Wars: A New Hope, and those syrupy-sweet John Barry albums. Gosh, if there's one thing that really discourages me in the writing of this blog, it's staring at my CD shelves and seeing all those favourites sitting despairingly towards the end, all those John Williams and Debbie Wisemans, those Howard Shores and Shirley Walkers, and even (whoa!) a Zimmer album or twain. I must content myself for now with early winners like Arnold, Barry, Elfman, Desplat, & etc. That's the consoling thing about all this: my collection consists almost solely of albums I really like, if not outright love. So this shouldn't get too boring.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Two unanswered questions strike me as I listen to E:TGA again: first, why have so few people noticed and talked about it? (Or am I not paying much attention?) Second, why do most of the few people who have mentioned it seem to regard it as merely functional?

A functional score, I submit to you, is one which is technically competent and does an adequate job of musically interpreting the action and emotion of the screen. Typically 2- or 3-star material.

A great score is one which not only supports its film to excellence, but also stands away from its visual context with remarkable strength and independence. 4- and 5- star stuff. The stuff of repeated playback. It helps if the score is somewhat novel, stylistically. And my point is, Elizabeth: The Golden Age is an extremely solid manifestation of all these characteristics. Hence I consider it a great score, even an excellent one, and I am in wonder that fewer people have not shouted its praises from the rooftops.

Of course, I may be blind or silly enough to be overlooking some glaring faults, and I may be even naive enough in this hobby to not realize that this score is utterly unoriginal and that there are better incarnations of the same concept elsewhere, but right now that is all by the way. Let us examine the album, and listen to it, and you may decide for your own self: my mind is already made up.

As the eye glances over the simplistic but bold cover art, it notes not one but two composers named: Craig Armstrong, whom we know well from World Trade Center and The Incredible Hulk, and A. R. Rahman, whom almost no one in the western hemisphere knew about until the functional and occasionally enamoring song-score to Slumdog Millionaire. The two composers are wildly different career- and style-wise, and their merging here is an instantly intriguing concept. I'm interested without even having heard the music, and here's why:

Armstrong's music, at least from what I've heard of it (only World Trade Center and Hulk prior to E:TGA), makes constant use of large orchestra, large, deep choir, and subtle (sometimes not-so-subtle) electronics in support. As a classical composer as well as a film composer, he is a talented, extremely capable composer who perfectly embodies in his music the styles and constructs of the WEST. His is elegant and respectful music, supported in its thematic solidity with engagingly complex technical mastery.

Rahman, on the other hand, is India's best-known film composer and Bollywood tunesmith extraordinaire. His music is pulsing, highly ethnic, deeply emotional and admirably wholehearted. In other words, he's everything to Indian film music that Armstrong is to Western orchestral music. The men approach their music with the same love, care, devotion and intensity, but from different cultural, religious, and technical worldviews.

So what interests me as I stare at the CD insert is whether two such consummate but different artists can create a cohesive score. I'm excited to say that they can, and that they did.

If there's any complaint to be made about the collaboration, in fact, it really has to do with the fact that you almost can't tell it was written by two men. They seem to have meshed so perfectly that one practically wonders why two composers were needed. But then all doubt is swept away with the realization that the score likely wouldn't have been nearly as rich and savory as it has indeed ended up being, had these two fine composers not worked together.

And a rich, savory score it is! (I've gone an awful long ways here without actually describing the music... got to remedy that...) All the elements in this score shine out bright and strong, yet no one element is inordinately dominant, or frustratingly underused. A perfect example is the aptly titled "Opening" (guess which track THAT is), which marches forth with an an appriately regal, powerful, and authoritative, yet exquisitely beautiful violin solo, supported by full string orchestra and percussion, and even an amazingly stirring male chorus, chanting massive dirges with giant bells gonging and clanging about. (And I'll have you know for whatever record you're keeping that I am a GIANT sucker for bells and gongs as percussion.) For a track only one and a half minutes long, it certainly makes its mark.

Those very conflicting airs of beauty and strength, of delicacy and tenderness matched off with militant, awe-inspiring majesty, are what I think defines this score for me, in the end. Ethereal female choir and massively warlike male choirs trade off, and deep, soothing washes of strings with rapturous violin solos give way to thudding statements of electronic percussion. Passionate, despairing, even aching themes of longing resolve into magnificently determined anthems. The idea of Elizabeth the First as the virgin Queen, and as the sole leader of a tiny island against the Giants of Europe, is communicated amazingly thoroughly.

This score is not very period-sounding, I should mention. This is disctinctly modern film music. There are no attempts at historic instrumental accuracy or anything of that sort. It is the emotion and ideals of the film that are scored, and not the era and locale. With that admission, the score is very definitely suited to its film.

The score is even allowed a hint of far-off fantasy: the deep and resounding reverberation evident in the recording and mix gives the music a distant, but forceful, quality. It is this aspect of the score, among a few others, that helps the music retain its credibility despite its entirely modern nature.

All of the CD is solid: there's really no dull moment on the entire thing, although some moments do manage stand out: the infectious chanting male choir and towering bells from the opening get further treatment in the following track, "Phillip," and the militant nature of the score is best heard in "Battle" and "Horseback Address." The tenderness of the score is displayed quite lovingly in "Now You Grow Dull," "Possible Suitors," "Destiny Theme," "Love Theme" and "Divinity Theme" (which alone of all the cues betrays some of Rahman's Indian background). The power of the monarchy and the beauty of the female who holds that power are combined in the stunning "Storm," a choral work of immense size and inspirational value.

As I already mentioned, no one element is underused, and neither does any one element overstay its welcome. The violin solos are tastefully distributed, the electronics are restrained but impressive, the choirs employed at only the right moments. Each element is used where it will make the maximum impact. Just when you're thinking, "Gosh I love this choir piece, but what ever happened to that lovely guitar and violin idea?", it pops up again, and by the time it's over you're thinking, "That was so great! Now where was that percussion?" only to hear that percussion rear its militant head. In other words, as a listening experience, the album is incredibly well constructed, to such a fantastic degree that it may very well have been a deciding factor in my deciding to proclaim this score a true winner. It flows so well.

Of course, hearing it yourself will do a much better job of convincing you of this score's wonderful strengths than I can with type, but hopefully I've at least sparked your curiousity, and if you've heard it yourself already then you hopefully agree with me. If there's any weaknesses to be noted, the only one I can think of is that the score functions so well as a whole that it's actually quite hard to pick out more specific strengths and highlights. And since highlights are what everyone looks for in a great score, the difficulty in doing so with E:TGA could make it a functional score for less attentive and less perceptive types.

Every track here is a solid four-star cue: it's well-structured, stylish, eminently suitable for the subject matter, thematically innovative, masterfully orchestrated and innovative. It's not a typical blockbuster score by most standards, but it is wonderfully epic; huge; massive; romantic; sweeping; tender; thrilling. Everything I look for in film scores. It's not a score of undeniable perfection, but it's rare for me to find a score that grabs me so well right from the outset, and which I can so readily enjoy all the way through. Hence I love it. It might be a sign of laziness in me, but there you have it. Hear it for yourself and let me know your thoughts.

Listen to it here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Bridge Too Far - John Addison

Sorry I've been gone: as you can probably imagine, listening to scores is always more fun than writing about them, and lately I've been paying lots of attention to some old Bond scores by John Barry ('Moonraker' and 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' in particular), immersing myself in Shore's Lord of the Rings (again!), and paying attention to new works by Andrew Lockington and David Arnold ('Quantum of Solace' is a great score, trashy song notwithstanding). But here I am.

This is going to be an inherently biased review. I've loved the movie in question ever since I first saw it at age twelve or thirteen. It was at that stage where a good war movie was just my cup of tea: I was an avid Call of Duty/Medal of Honor aficionado, free-time student of the M-1 Garand, a fan of Robert Mitchum, was reading any and all books I could find on Gen. Patton, Arnhem and Bastogne. Thanks to this phase of my life, William Wellman's 'Battleground' is a Christmas tradition.

And so this particular film, 'A Bridge Too Far,' a film detailing Operation Market Garden (the aAllies' attempted paratrooper invasion of Holland) fit the bill nicely when I first saw it: an all-star cast, directed by an extremely capable Richard Attenborough, and a terrific script by William Goldman (of 'Princess Bride' fame), delivered the goods without fail. Robert Redford, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Laurence Olivier, Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins... the immense collection of talent in this picture make it into one of the most severely underrated war pictures I've ever seen. It made quite impression on me.

And so did the music. I was not a fan of film music in any sense during this period of my adolescence, but every time I watched the movie I ended up humming the overture for days afterward. When I found there was an actual release of the score (albeit obscure), I finally tracked it down. Not easy to find, so you may find the Imeem playlist here to be you easiest bet for listening to it for now. I had never heard of John Addison before searching out this score, and I've never heard any of his other works. But this score is enough to make me admire him.

From Hollywood's silver age, the album shows a bit of age in the recording quality, but like any score for a favourite old movie, this only adds to its attraction value for me. In terms of orchestration, recording quality, and general mood of the score, I think the closest thing I can compare this to is Henry Mancini's 'Without a Clue,' parts of which are also provided on the Imeem playlist for you to compare. Maybe the similarities are a bit far-fetched, but 'Without a Clue' strikes me as just a slightly more comedic, English-sounding extension of the same style. Maybe I'm alone on that one, but it's the impression I get, for what it's worth. Let me know what you think...

There was only one theme I ever remembered (and was able to hum) after watching the film back in the day, and that was the grand march theme from the 'Overture.' It's a surprisingly upbeat and cheery march, given the tragic end of the film, but it never fails to hit that old sweet spot in my subconcious. The theme is basically ingrained in my memory, and it's the one that begins playing in my mind whenever I hear the words 'War Movie.'

There are at least two other themes which I've come to recognize since listening to the score on album, though. Actually, 'themes' is a misleading term here. They are actually just two variations on the march theme which are different enough to stand out as individual melodies. One is merely the B-theme for the opening march, a rising figure for brass which almost resembles a fanfare (heard in the second part of 'Overture', on woodwinds at the beginning of 'Before the Holocaust', in an inspiring extended treatment in 'Air Lift'). The other is a mellow, minor version of the march, which descends at the end of the statement instead of rising. It receives a wonderfully moving treatment on solo piano in 'A Dutch Rhapsody,' soon joined by woodwinds and light strings. A particularly tragic rendition of it appears in 'Arnhem Destroyed.'

Together the three melodies constitute the bulk of the score. Rarely is there a moment during the running time (about 39 minutes) when one of these themes is not getting used in some form or another, which partly explains my growing admiration for the score: Addison's endless manipulation of these three variations on a simple march never gets tired. The melodies sound fresh every time they appear, and they are (above all) MEMORABLE. I like nothing better in a good soundtrack than a distinct theme which I can remember and whistle, especially after hearing the score only once. Scores like THAT are getting fewer these days, even in fun, splashy orchestral powerhouses (Hellboy II...), so something classic and hummable like 'A Bridge Too Far' will fit the bill any time. This is a fun score for a classic movie, and I'm glad to have it on the shelves.

Listen to the aforementioned Imeem playlist of the full score here. Enjoy!!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Incredible Hulk II - Conclusion


Well, this certainly didn't last as long as I hoped it would, but the truth is that the sheer mass of the music for 'The Incredible Hulk' (coupled with my decadent familiarity with the film) has kinda stunted my ability to write about it. A much more in-depth review can be found here, it deals with the score on a somewhat more technical level. Perhaps I'll come back and revisit the score when I've seen the film.

I must say I really enjoy the score, though. It's just a bit hard to take in large doses, as I said in my other post. My conlcusions? Heavy, kick-elbow, fiercely dramatic, occasionally soft, sparingly lovely, but very short on light moments. This is HULK the way he was meant to be scored, but with so much music on the album, you'll want to take it in doses.

I also gotta mention the respectful use of the original 'Lonely Man' theme from the TV show in the track 'Bruce Goes Home.' It's the kind of self-aware throwback gesture which would be the equivalent of Neal Hefti's "Batman" theme in the new Chris Nolan movies, although I have an idea that "Hulk" is a little more accepting of that kind of musical nostalgia than the new Batman films are. At least the way Nolan is making them. Maybe one day, if Frank Miller ever gets a chance to direct his own Bat-film...

Anyways, I do recommend this album, although you should be aware, it's bold and brutal. You have to be in a special kind of mood to listen to this stuff. You can hear it on my imeem profile here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Incredible Hulk I - First Impressions


First impressions? A strong score. VERY strong. Too strong? Quite possible.

The bleak, brutal opening in 'The Arctic' (a cue ultimately not used in the film) meshes nicely with the first real performance of the Hulk theme in 'Main Title', with basses and slamming drums building into a splendid cacophony of restless, rollicking rhythm. The theme itself is simple and (as many reviewers have pointed out before me) practically primal. Three notes, but it's just one pitch across two octaves, rising in the centre: bum, BUM bum. Or something like that. It gets all manner of variations throughout the nearly two-hour running time of the album, and it never fails to excite. (Except in the really, really lame sampled rhythms of the 'End Credits.' Gosh, that cue makes me cringe.)

This album is very loud and very propulsive: the brooding nature of the few quiet tracks just can't compensate for the sheer size of the remaining cues, and while there are certainly more themes than the Hulk's little signature tune, none of them are as memorable.

One kinda strange thing about this music is the way it's orchestrated and performed: sometimes it sounds so precise and amalgamated that it's VERY hard to tell whether you're listening to samples or live orchestra. In most percussion-related instances, I'm fairly certain it's electronic, but it gets fuzzy when we're talking about cellos, basses and stuff. It's not that annoying, but it certainly gives the score a ghost of a Remote Control flavour. This being Armstrong (a composer with whom I am only familiar on a cursory level), the approach does sound better than anything Zimmer & Buddies would have composed, but the execution has an uncanny similarity.

The album is a 2-disc job on CD-Rs, pressed on demand by none other than Amazon.com. The sound quality is professional, of course, and there are no complaints about the amount of music, but it seems kinda cheap. It's like a King telling a peasant he can have as much chocolate Malt-O-Meal as he wants, but in a paper bowl. The actual food is tasty enough, and the gesture is certainly generous, but it's hard to consume a lot of it at once, and who knows how well the vessel will hold up? It cheapens the gesture a great deal. Did this make sense?

As mentioned before, the sheer mass of powerful music here makes listening to it for any great length of time all but unbearable, but luckily, it also makes customizing your listening experience an easy task. How many times did you buy a score and wish that some cue not included on the CD had been included, and vice versa? With the complete, entire score available all at once (no waiting for years and years for a specialty label to get ahold of it), just pick your favourite cues and makes your own version of the album (or, as I like to do sometimes, a single suite). Balance it any way you want with quiet and loud tracks, and there you are! Granted, it will take a certian familiarity with the film and all the music on both discs to get a good idea of what to include in your own abbreviated version, but the music doesn't vary a whole lot. It shouldn't be hard.

More thoughts on 'Hulk' in a bit, stay tuned...