July 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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High Road to China


The 'Main Title/A Nasty Headache' is another one of those pleasing, rather stirring uniquely Barryesque themes we have come to know so well, the kind that this composer produces with unfailing consistency. Add to this a latter section of equally classy dramatic suspense music and the CD gets off to a sound start.

'The Flying Lesson' comes along next and is more string based high tension and spectacle. Barry can write this kind of thing in his sleep but it's always enjoyable if perhaps just a little overly familiar. 'Look out Charlie!/A Hurried Exit' opens with his distinctive use of brass, backed up by busy strings to create a sense of anticipation. Some of the offbeat background drum work seems a little superfluous though, but as ever with Barry there is much to savour here. 'Onto Waziri/Khan' gives a brief nod to the main theme before 'Escape From Waziri/Eve & Struts' utilises his typically menacing brass sound, before the strings take over for another rousing action/drama motif.

'On to India/Arrival in Katmandu/Souls Approaches' gives us a very pleasant rendition of the main theme, while 'The Dogfight/Journey to China/Anymore Surprises/The General's Cannon' is a longish track with some more interesting dramatic lines, very much in the Barry mould and pleasing enough without containing very many surprises.

'You'll get your Money/One Eye Open' offers a soft, romantic version of the main theme with the flute and violin working in tandem. Finally 'Raid on Chang's Camp/Finale & End Titles' sees the return of that imposing brass before delivering a number of variations on the score's primary motifs, concluding with the inevitable reprise of the main title.

A whole batch of 'Source Music' is also included, although I'm not really convinced it was needed.

'Mohamet's Dance' and 'Waziri Source' are valid as they are Barry compositions, the first a simple middle-eastern styled rhythmic piece and the latter a similar if far more restrained cue, both of which would be used simply to establish location and atmosphere.

There are also pieces such as 'Charleston', 'Love me Tender', 'When the Saints Come Marching in' and 'Swinging at the Riverside' to name just a few, all authentic 1920s ragtime style tunes and are fun for those who enjoy such things.

But for my own part, I did begin to forget exactly what soundtrack I was supposed to be listening to after a string of these tunes. I have to say that the effect was not particularly welcome, although I suppose one should never complain at being provided with extras.

'Allemande from the Bach French Suite' and 'Number #5 in G Major' are even more of these additional cues, so there is certainly a wide range of music on offer.

To my mind, John Barry's music is always likeable. Even when his scores are (as is the case here) written for not particularly memorable films. Sadly though this is not untypical of Barry's work, as he has all too often chosen projects that would seem to be beneath his talent, leaving his score to stand as one of their few redeeming features. And indeed, another by-product of these kind of collaborations must surely be that inferior productions are unlikely to bring out the best in him as an artist. So, as is illustrated here, the music is only ever likely to be solid rather than truly remarkable.

This specially produced CD on behalf of the composer himself, is all very pleasant without really reaching the heights of his most notable work. Nonetheless it is still essential stuff for both Barry collectors and lovers of film music in general.


Mark Hockley


Mark Hockley

Reviews from previous months

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