Christopher Young's atmospheric score beautifully supports the film's breathtaking
photography of the Newfoundland coastline and fishing villages. Through steely,
wiry figures and swirling strings, you get a sense of thick blizzards, penetrating
chill, limitless dark blue/black seascapes and the isolation of this forbidding
hostile environment. But when are we going to move on from the Gaelic music
cliché? Once again we have a score dominated by Irish Uilean pipes, hurdy
gurdies etc plus drumming rhythms that might suggest Scottish pride. (Presumably
the area of Newfoundland, in which the film is set, was settled by Irish/Scottish
immigrants? But must film music composers persist on the easy option, the too
I will confess I groaned inwardly as I listened to how this idiom, drone-like,
dominated the opening titles music when I saw the film. Fortunately, Young uses
his basic harmonies and rhythmic patterns and Gaelic instrumentation (with additional,
sparingly used, but well-chosen plashes of colourful orchestrations) most imaginatively
to flesh out the characters of the isolated fishing community and to depict
their desolate yet beautiful surroundings. The music for the most part is slow-moving
and introspective, once or twice alleviated by more lively folk dance material.
Occasionally, there is a wryly humorous touch with the introduction, for instance,
of what sounds like cuckoo-clock chimes in 'Weather Rhymes', a fascinating cue
has a certain chinzy charm. The final 'Sail On' as the Kevin Spacey character,
grown in confidence from the wimpy character we had met at the beginning of
the film, is the most upbeat of the tracks at first serene and then clear and
A score that begins by irritating the listener and ends by almost enchanting.
Gary S. Dalkin adds:-
Hollywood's post James (Braveheart / Titanic) Horner obsession with
Celtic flavoured soundtracks continues with The Shipping News. For once
the now regularly overused sound is entirely appropriate, the film being set
around a fishing community in Newfoundland, the folk-traditions of which derive
largely from Ireland and Scotland.
Not having seen the film I can not say what this music does for its movie,
but on disc it is one of those tastefully produced releases which come out around
this time of year hoping their parent score has been Oscar nominated, with an
eye to crossing over to serious mainstream sales. Anyone interested in trends
in album cover design might want to ponder the virtually colour co-ordinated
issues of this disc, Horner's Iris and John Williams' Call of the
Champions. Grey and pale blue/purple are clearly this year's most fashionable
The album opens and closes with settings of Young's big main theme, and replete
with Uilean pipes, penny whistle, marching drum and Philharmonia in full flight
it is a big sound, passionate and surging like the sea, urgent, foreboding,
exhilarating. The melody crops up in variations throughout the score (notably
in "Death Storm"), while other cues take a more low key folk
approach, for example "The Gammy Bird" setting flute, fiddle
and accordion to a gentle percussive beat. "Weather Rhymes"
offers a more lyrically introspective mood also typical of the score, a harp
melody playing over strings in a manner reminiscent of Rachel Portman's Emma.
These then are the three main aspects of the score; settings of the rich and
appealing main theme, other rhythmic folk-based material ("Dutsi Jig"
- actually composed by Dermot Crehan) and under-stated atmospheric orchestral
writing, with sometimes, as in "Asleep With the Angel", a
subtle touch of electronics. The result is a highly appealing disc which sounds
gorgeous (try the glistening stillness of "One Kite Better")
and makes a richly melodic listen with occasional moments of more intense drama
(have a bite of "Seal Flipper Pie").
I am eager to see the film to discover how this music works within it, but
meanwhile it makes for one of the more enjoyable albums of recent months and
highly recommended to anyone who enjoys orchestral Celtic music, folk based
film scoring, or even the work of such indefinable modern musicians as Jan Gabarek
and Stephen Micus.
Gary S. Dalkin