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February 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Pay It Forward  

Like many a Thomas Newman album before it, Pay it Forward is comprised of a large number of very short cues. In this case 26 of them, followed by a new recording by Jane Siberry of her own 1993 song, Calling All Angels. Coming off the highly acclaimed and hugely successful trio of American Beauty, The Green Mile and Erin Brockovich, it may be an understatement to say that Newman is on something of a roll. Less happily, with so many high profile scores so close together, one might suspect that Newman is starting to get a little complacent. Play the first track here to The Man on the Clapham Omnibus and he would probably say it's the theme from American Beauty. Not having heard that since the one time I saw the film in the cinema, if I didn't know better I'd be inclined to agree. The one time I saw The Green Mile it seemed to me there were some remarkable similarities between that score and American Beauty. With bass, drums, percussion, piano, strings and a whole artillery of the weird, wired and wonderful - electric autoharp, dutar, song bells, wave drum, processed loops, tap eko gate 1 (!), spit rhythms, processed glass, slow tube, phonograph, ewi (!), processed saz - Newman has crafted another same-but-different score. Though so much of the effect is down to the remarkable orchestrations that I'm inclined to think that a very large part of the credit should be going to orchestrator Thomas Pasatieri.

The cues sound decidedly off-the-wall from the synopsis of the movie; a drama about a boy who does good turns, expecting the recipients to 'pay it forward' to kick-start a revolution of kindliness and make the world a better place. It has to be said that there is much inventive, quirky and attractive music here, though it does help to be a fan of off-kilter rhythms and quirky sounds. In-fact, with a combination of haunting melody, moody textures and angular beats the score comes from a similar stable to John Ottman's rejected score for Cruel Intentions - now released by Varèse Sarabande and reviewed this month on Film Music on the Web.

The tracks are over so quickly - many last just over a minute - that picking favourites is a little pointless. That said, the distant glitter of 'Jaguar' is enchanting, while the mutant world-funkiness of 'Cereal Bum' sticks in the memory. The downside of all this strange invention is that a mood is no sooner established than it is replaced by something else equally intriguing, and that nothing has time to develop, pieces fading all too fast. There are actually only four score tracks running over 2 minutes, the longest of those being the mournful 'Sleepover', a piano-over-strings melody of early morning moodiness.

Is it any good? That is a difficult question. The music is enjoyable, but also frustratingly fragmented. Doubtless it will make much more sense to someone who has seen the film. If you have the American Beauty soundtrack, and unless you are a major Thomas Newman fan or a devotee of tuned percussion and strange sounds, I couldn't really recommend this. From my memory the best music here really is too similar to the former score - and yes, Pay It Forward also stars Kevin Spacey. Otherwise, this is really one you are going to have to hear for yourself. Some will love it, some are going to hate it on principle. Me, I can admire the skill, but I doubt I will be paying it forward too often.

Gary S. Dalkin


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