Sometimes you just know that a soundtrack album isn't going to make much sense until you have seen the film. Welcome to Monkeybone.
This is the other Brendan Fraser fantasy of the summer. The one that isn't The Mummy Returns. The one that cost $75 million and opened in America in February to take $5 million. The one no one has heard off. That failed to find an audience because it is a fantasy which to most casual observers appeared too imaginative, quirky and intelligent for children and too childish for adults. It is the product of one Henry Selick, who directed Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. It is based on the premise, perhaps best explored in Iain Banks novel The Bridge and somewhat akin to the recent The Cell, of a man in a coma trapped in a fantasy world of his own unconscious mind. Inevitably wild surrealism beckons, and Anne Dudley's score follows.
The opening 'The Crayon Game' is deceptive, being a catchy piece of orchestrated funk. Therefore most of the score is more conventionally orchestral with just the occasional electronic touch, though taking in such a wide and disparate variety of styles as to be almost overwhelming on the first few plays. In this particular instance the man trapped in his own fantasies is a comic book artist, and the world he struggles to escape is that of his own underground comic strip. Hence the music ranges from serious dramatic underscore to cartoon pastiche to all points in-between, often within the space of a few bars. There is something Herrmannesque about what is an extraordinarily rich and complex collage, evoking memories of the approach, though not content, of Herrmann's The Three Worlds of Gulliver, wherein an elaborate musical design is applied to something seemingly juvenile.
We are metaphorically underground, so Dudley adopts elements of film noir suspense writing, adding a dash of a close cousin to The Twilight Zone theme here, a hint of Vertigo there, a splash of Journey to the Center of the Earth here. Clever little details are everywhere, from glittering percussion to an ondes martenot (or sampled recreation of one) to a ghostly choir to sampled underwater bass to an hilarious brief song welcoming our hero to his own unconscious, a place called 'Downtown'.
You will find everything from snatches of orchestral jazz, to 'mickey mouse' circus comedy music to dramatic action and vibrant chases with playful percussion to waltzes to the odd catchy tune. It's interesting, reveals more details and points of references with every play, and is far more rewarding and sophisticated than anything I have heard from Anne Dudley prior to this. Doubtless it makes for excellent film music, though all the frenetic activity and changes of pace and mood can become a little wearing over 23 often short tracks. Danny Elfman fans will probably love it, some will admire it, some hate it, and you may be best advised to try to get a listen first, or see the film when it finally appears in the UK. It is a very difficult album to give a star rating. Suffice to say the performances and sound are very good and this is one of the more compelling eccentric discs to come my way this year. At least now we can all forget about The Full Monty.
Gary S. Dalkin