March 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Academy Award Nominated Score:-
Thomas NEWMAN and Source Music American Beauty .   OST   DREAMWORKS 450 210-2 [46:28]

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Unless there is another album in the pipeline with considerably more of his material for American Beauty, Thomas Newman's contribution fills less than eight minutes of the running time of this CD. Newman always creates interesting, arresting film music and this score is no exception. His resources are spare and his treatment unusual, if not bizarre.

From the scenes from American Beauty that I have seen in a British TV documentary on the work of its director Sam Mendes, Newman's music seems perfectly attuned to the sense of entrapment experienced by its characters. 'Dead Already' the first of only two tracks by Newman, that opens the album is dominated by a simple motif - da, dada, dada - repeated over and over but with subtle variations to sustain interest and mainly given to a xylophone and guitars over drums and a synth ground that sometimes gives a sense of eerie unease. This track curiously reflects some of what I feel is carefully chosen source music to parallel the characters and plot development, take for instance, the mechanical and restrictive feel of 'Free to Go' from The Folk Implosion.

Thomas Newman's other contribution is the concluding track, 'Any other Name' which is another extraordinary creation. The listener has an eerie feeling of being transported aloft above the clouds, a notion reinforced by the eerie sustained high synth notes and the chill remote piano meanderings. Heavy sustained bass chords give some anchorage - or reinforcement of height - and, at length the piano's seemingly random chords coalesce into something of a tune which one recognises as a variation of the repetitive note sequencing of the opening 'Dead already' cue, but now sounding like some long-forgotten and remote children's nursery song.

The source music includes Peggy Lee singing Bali Ha'I from South Pacific, Elliott Smith's Because, a smoky rendition of 'Open the Door' from Betty Carter, Bobby Darin singing 'Don't Rain on My Parade' and the Free's well known recording of 'All Right Now.' The deadening effect of the curious anarchic and mainly instrumental Cancer for the Cure from Eels seems appropriate.

For only eight minutes of Newman this is certainly not value for money unless you are drawn to the source music and I really do wonder why Newman was favoured this time around but passed over last year for his infinitely better score for The Horse Whisperer?


Ian Lace

Thomas Newman's original music  

another view from Mark Hockley

With only two tracks by Thomas Newman to consider, it's almost impossible to recommend this CD, even if you are a die-hard fan of the composer. That's not to say that his contributions are without merit, but is more an objection to this kind of pop compilation masquerading as a legitimate film soundtrack.Even with the inclusion of names like The Who, Free and Peggy Lee, there are very few songs here that generate much enthusiasm. Of course, if you are simply an admirer of the film and want to recapture some of its flavor through the songs, that's fine, but the musical heart and soul of American Beauty must be Newman's score and that is sorely under represented here.

The two items we are rewarded with bookend the CD, with 'Dead Already' kicking things off with a slightly off-centre rhythmic piece, slightly reminiscent of his earlier work on The Player. With its echoing background notes, it nicely sets the tone of disquiet that runs throughout the story.The final track, 'Any Other Name' is a very atmospheric piano based theme and promises much for the complete score. This is subtle, emotional film music similar in vein to some of Mark Isham's work, particularly the outstanding Of Mice And Men.

Although it seems a little unfair to Thomas Newman to give this CD such a low rating, I have to say that in good faith it's very difficult to take any other course of action. My advise would be to hold out for the full score


Mark Hockley


Ian Lace


Mark Hockley

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