May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Thomas NEWMAN Erin Brockovich  SONY SK 89239 [35:10]

For Erin Brokovich, Newman appears to be in a hangover situation from American Beauty. Once more we have what on the surface seems to be a flimsy score with material based on simple musical figures endlessly repeated modulating through related keys and decorated with a variety of instrumental and synth colourings - as I said its American Beauty revisited and expanded. There is a feeling of musical meandering, music off the cuff, extemporisation (there is much jazz orientation); in fact, two or three tracks like `Pro Bono' have music that might have been composed by an Aeolian harp swayed by random breezes - pleasant meanderings.

This score has sufficient variety to sustain interest - just about. The opening track `Useless' blends synths with piano in a nicely laid back easy listening style. A number of tracks follow this pattern, one of the best of which is `Two Feet Wrong' that has piano with a syncopated mix of synths. Elsewhere, as might be expected, the music takes a more eerie and sinister turn in response to the unfolding drama. One track `Malign' even has Indian inflections mixed in its ascending eerieness. Strings and piano float softer, dreamy material seamed with poignancy for tracks like `Miss Witchita' and `Anabelle'.

'A pleasant, undemanding musical experience; but certainly not one of Thomas Newman's better scores. He seems to be treading water here.


Ian Lace

But Jeffrey Wheeler is even less enthusiastic:-

Thomas Newman currently holds the title of one of the most creative voices in the world of film music. (Note to the readers: Please do not ask me if a large gold belt or oversized trophy comes with that title. I honestly have no idea.) In trusting his thought and skill one suspects he would agree, if grudgingly, that not every innovation is a good one. His score for the fact-based law film "Erin Brockovich" is the sort of garrulous, dramatically lackluster electronic amble his father proscribed tooth and nail. I can only hope this is an isolated incident; Mr. Newman does better with orchestral soundscapes and atmospheric sounds than with gadgets and gizmos.

The Erin Brockovich theme is a snappy piece clearly styled by Newman. It is spicy and up-tempo... and wholly undermined by the so-called urban sound. It remains recognizable throughout, at least. Barely. Other themes steadfastly avoid memory cells. I am not exactly sure there are other themes. The parts muddle Newman's typical orchestral style into a circuit board, an all-electric scattering of acoustic ideas to form a mildly engaging wall of white noise. Samplers, drum machines, and electronic keyboards rarely form the ideal emotional arsenal, especially not when soft-core jazz provides the lone source of interest. As entertaining as it may sound, something other than variety must certainly act as the instigator. The delineation between tracks begins to blur after track five... or is track six?

The production for this disc is not much at about 26 minutes of original underscore. Two of Sheryl Crow's hit songs, 'Redemption Day' and the halfway decent 'Every Day is a Winding Road,' serve to verify the precise abrasiveness of Crow's mishandled voice and illustrate the historical insignificance of the Billboard charts. My attention wanders to the album insert, where the highlight of the release has little to do with the music: There are several motion picture stills of Julia Roberts in skimpy outfits. One of those outfits is leather. It's better than a Victoria's Secret catalogue... so I hear, of course... Now, why would I lie about something like that? 


Jeffrey Wheeler



Ian Lace

Jeffrey Wheeler

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