July 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Perfect Storm

SONY CLASSICAL SK 89282 [79:10]
Crotchet  Amazon UK  Amazon USA

The opening track begins with uncreative music, full of roomy clichés and lacking any protean application, but almost two minutes in there is the musical symbolism of impending danger, a dark roll of low strings, timpani, cymbal and brass -- gathering storm clouds and thunder - that made me remember how great Horner can be. That first magnificent moment is hardly new compositionally (raise your hand if you've heard Hovhaness' Symphony No. 2), it is even old symbolically (Beethoven's Symphony No. 6; and you can put your hand down now), but like the whole of what is contentiously Horner's best score, "Brainstorm," it slices through complaints of undue referrals with at least the illusion of individuality. Horner's craftsmanship shines, if not his artistry. Themoment raises hope.

You know the expression "Hope floats." Well, "The Perfect Storm" ultimately sinks it.

I spent many of my younger days 'bashing' Horner, using terms that were at best brutally accurate and at worst indicative of teenage stupidity. Usually there were combinations of both. However, the basic dilemma remains for us to argue: James Horner is habitually not at his best.

Few listeners will be startled by the general lack of innovation. Some could thank Horner for compiling enough of "Apollo 13" and "Mighty Joe Young" that they can sell them for more shelf space. I would keep Mark Mancina's exceptional "Twister" score, though, as the quality of Horner's electric guitar use is questionable... Of course, all composers repeat themselves and others, but there is repetition that enhances, that is redundant, that plagiarizes, and there is that which doesn't bear repeating.

Interesting, then, how his soundtracks can be well acquainted, yet peculiarly inconsistent. There are more excellent moments than the one I fondly mentioned above awaiting brave adventurers, but "The Perfect Storm" basically panders to shallow musical standards. Let us start with the main theme. James Horner is the master of the complaining melody. It starts flatly in the middle range, moves up the scale to state a truly obnoxious phrase, returns to the tonal center, and then repeats its "I want! I want! I want!" styled refrain. It is a juvenile motif overused by track five (a patchwork cue virtually guaranteed to have those knowledgeable of classical music screaming, by the way), yet the orchestration shimmers! Shortly thereafter Horner introduces a secondary theme where it is the orchestration that dries and shrivels. He strips it down to the string section, accented horribly by arpeggios awkwardly played on piano. The action/tension music is uniformly exciting but ludicrously derivative... to the point of abstraction. Quiet moments and a handful of symphonic lightening bolts are what provide the core interest. Thus between a stormy sense of deja vu and the infrequency of themes meeting variations, the successes within the recording attract attention to just how washed-up it is overall.

Oh, and John Mellencamp sings the theme song.


Jeffrey Wheeler


Jeffrey Wheeler

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