February 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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21 Grams  
Music composed by Gustavo Santaolalla
  Available on Varèse Sarabande Records VSD-6527
Running Time: 38:15
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21 grams

How much does life weigh? This is the tag-line of 21 Grams, a drama starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. More to the point is does the soundtrack carry any weight?

The sleeve notes tell us that composer Gustavo Santaolalla conceived and wrote the music based purely on the script, and that director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu even played some of the music on set during production to inspire the actors and technicians. I recall being impressed by this creative notion when I heard many years ago that Dario Argento did the same thing with Goblin's music on Suspiria (1977). Unfortunately, there the similarity ends. Where Goblin's music was a tour-de-force of riveting, melodic invention, Santaolalla's score is minimalist, guitar based introspection, the kind of thing that garners attention in a movie for its ambience but fails to spark much interest when you are asked to just sit and listen to it.

Pieces like 'Do We Lose 21 Grams?' and 'Should I Let Her Know?' are minor, serviceable, low-key background cues and to be honest almost all of the work here is identical in tone and style. If there is meditative satisfaction to be gained from tracks like 'Does He Who Looks for the Truth, Deserve the Punishment for Finding it', I for one was unable to appreciate it and it's hard to imagine many average soundtrack enthusiasts who will warm to this score.

The only piece to create any kind of impression is 'When Our Wings are Cut, Can We Still Fly?' performed by The Kronos Quartet, but even this is only mildly diverting. There are also several songs on the CD such as 'Low Rider' performed by War and 'You're Losing Me' by Ann Sexton. Your enjoyment of these will be entirely down to your personal taste in pop music.

Verging on the somnambulistic, this is a rather dull, ponderous affair with very little musical colour. An attempt for contemplative minimalism that simply has minimal effect.

Mark Hockley

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