What is James Horner to do? This very skilful, in demand composer continues to be denigrated by a very vocal section of the film music fan community and to be truthful, most of us can at least understand the reasons why, even if we don't entirely agree. The big question that remains is has he got anything at all left in his bag of tricks that we haven't heard before? The recent, in some circles controversial, Troy, was a considerable disappointment, but then what should you expect from a rushed, by the numbers assignment? Here however, Horner is working on something far more intimate and potentially emotional, a triumph of the spirit story based on true events.
Opening with the lengthy 'St Andrews', this is a familiar mixture of Gaelic (read Scottish) sounding flute and lush string sections, the string work in particular so quintessentially Horneresque as to almost become a brand in itself. It's all good stuff nonetheless and possesses a grandeur that is a Horner speciality. The contrast between the at times almost religious portent of the strings and folksy percussion and flute provides a certain amount of interest (as typified by a track like 'Baby Strokes' ) and everything is as polished as you might expect. But the distinctive sound that Horner has created for himself can be as much a curse as it is a blessing and this inevitably leads to charges of self-plagiarism and a game of spot the lift from his previous credits. Even so, a low-key melodic piece like the elegiac 'The First Lesson' does have charm and integrity, as is the case with all of this composers best work - and cues such as 'The Painful Secret' achieve a dark intensity that help to add valuable shading. The ten minute plus 'Living the Dream' attempts to pull out all the stops and while it has its moments, the cue can't quite sustain the required dramatic resonance to fully captivate the listener. Really this track encapsulates the overall score with its proficient yet modest qualities.
The truth is that a soundtrack like this will win James Horner no new fans. Those who are weary of his self-referential motifs will see this as no more than a production-line exercise, while fans will take it at face value as a solid, accomplished piece of film composition by an established master of the craft. Personally, I can see both sides of the equation. But I'll try very hard not to get lodged on top of a precarious fence. Horner at his best is a force to be reckoned with. Sadly, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius is not anywhere near his best. I look forward to the day that he returns with a Field of Dreams or a Man Without a Face, but until then I suppose this will just have to do.