April 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Life as a House  
  VARÉSE SARABANDE VSD-6297   [41:51]

Life as a House

Mark Isham has never really been a composer to come to the fore like Mr. Williams or Mr. Goldsmith or demand your attention like Danny Elfman or Elliot Goldenthal. Isham is a quieter, more subtle practitioner of the wonderful art of film music, but gradually, over the years, he has begun to win my affection. With his intimate, sensitive melodic work on A River Runs Through it (1992) and October Sky (1999) he has produced notable, striking soundtracks, but for me it was Of Mice and Men (1992) that really established him as a force to be reckoned with. If you haven't heard that beautifully realised score don't hesitate to track it down.

So here we are with a new Isham recording and an opportunity for him to reinforce my growing admiration.

Opening with the quirky rhythmics of 'If I Could Kiss You', this is very much Thomas Newman territory and really does little to inspire enthusiasm. It's not until his major motif appears on 'Tear it Down', a poignant piano based piece, that we get something that suggests the composer's true quality. This theme is heard in several other places in more restrained form ('A Promise', 'Leap of Faith' etc.), although other cues that are designed to create a sense of introspective emotion are merely workmanlike ('Love is Not Enough' , 'I'm Happy Today' ). Perhaps the most unexpected element of the score is the theme first introduced on 'A Leap' and recalled on 'Building a Family'. This is a dynamic string piece is the manner of Michael Nyman and adds a dash of welcome colour to the proceedings.

A real mixed bag with good work counteracted by just as many cues that are no more than middling, although at its best the music does demonstrate this composer's keen understanding of human emotion. My internal report will read 'Mr Isham continues to show promise'!

Mark Hockley


Ian Lace adds:-

A warm, sentimental, gently lyrical score, sometimes jazzy and minimalist; sometimes quirky; not without charm. It has something of the rippling outdoors freshness (the cue 'I'll take this one' for instance) that made A River Runs Through It so appealing. Coruscating, vivid coloured orchestrations (with much use of vibraphone), and colourful treble percussion, plus interesting harmonies and softly introspective piano solos lift this score above the average. Many cues are slow and idyllic (even prayer-like in 'Build this house with me' and 'Leap of faith'). Even the upbeat cues have a coy busyness - 'A leap' and 'Building a Family'. For me, Life As A House is Isham's best for some time.

Ian Lace


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