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December 2005 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Four Brothers – Score from the Motion Picture  
Music composed by David Arnold
Orchestrated and conducted by Nicholas Dodd
Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD-6679)
Running Time: 37:17
Amazon UK   Amazon US

David Arnold has never been counted among my favourite modern composers. The empty bombast of Independence Day was unlistenable to me both in the film and out of it. His ongoing attachment to the Bond films has produced an interesting fusion of John Barry’s romanticism with modern electronic scoring (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough), though it has also resulted in arguably the worst Bond score since Eric Serra’s Goldeneye (Die Another Day). So it is with some sense of trepidation that I put on Varese Sarabande’s release of Arnold’s score for the latest John Singleton film, Four Brothers.

This marks the fourth collaboration of Arnold and Singleton, their dubious joint resume hitherto featuring 2 Fast 2 Furious, Baby Boy and Shaft. Possibly it also marks their last collaboration, the Varese promo jacket indicating that roughly fifteen minutes of the thirty-seven minute album were not used in the film, which featured uncredited replacement score by Ed Shearmur. Quite why Arnold’s music was deemed unsuitable for the tale of four brothers seeking revenge for their adoptive mother’s death, serving as possibly another example of late-in-the-day cue replacement similar to Spiderman II and An Unfinished Life.

Surprisingly the product is reasonably good, the kind of score one can imagine Arnold writing for that future James Bond film where Bond visits Harlem or South Central LA. The unused main title takes a leaf from the groovier sections of Chris Young’s Hurricane and Howard Shore’s The Score, with Malcom McNab’s trumpet and Dan Higgin’s soprano saxophone playing a gentle duet of Arnold’s seven-note main theme over a funky bass-and-drums rhythm, with the string section of the Hollywood Studio Symphony in relaxed counterpoint. Only a jarring keyboard (imitating an organ?) spoils the piece.

The dramatic cues consistently make for the better album experience. ‘Thanksgiving’ reprises the main theme on flute with harmonising vocals by Bobette Jamison-Harrison that are consistent with the groovier underpinnings of the score. Guitar and piano nicely emerge out of Robert Fernandez’ careful mixing, the trumpet returning before harp closes the cue. The saxophone solos and earnest strings return in ‘Surveillance Camera’, which presumably underscores a scene where a character watches his adoptive mother being killed on a surveillance camera.

‘Share Her Around’ is much darker territory – the low strings and dissonant brass set up a three note keyboard motif that leads into another soulful saxophone solo. The unused finale cue ‘Rebuilding the House’ (why is it all the critical cues that were unused?) allows a return of score’s sunnier opening grooves. Bass guitar and strings counterpoint eachother before the saxophone returns for its final extended performance of the main theme, the strings building again for a modest climax.

Where the score runs into more trouble is in the suspense and action cues. ‘Holding Court’ is fine enough – with a blend of orchestra and band instrumentation to build suspense reminiscent of music from Blaxploitation films. (Aided in no small part by Nicholas Dodd’s trademark orchestrations – as always, he lifts Arnold’s composition to another level.) Sadly the keyboard programming that marred the opening cue returns in ‘Ransack’ – drowning out McNab’s trumpet and Higgins’ saxophone contributions. It’s nearly indistinguishable from the distracting loops that listeners will recognise from ‘Hovercraft Chase’ from Arnold’s Die Another Day score, and they haven’t improved with age. The promising orchestral opening of ‘Shootout’ is soon abandoned for the same synthetic drum loops, distracting from Arnold’s impressive weaving of his theme throughout the orchestra in that cue. (The use of theme here is particularly reminiscent of the way Arnold uses his romantic themes in Bond action sequences.) The unused ‘400K Plan’ similarly gives far too much weight to the electronic resources, though there are some nice flute moments in there.

Ultimately the dramatic cues outnumber the action cues, and their strengths, while modest, are undisputable. Arnold has written some mature dramatic music here, and I wish that his action and suspense cues had showed similar restraint. His fans will find it a strong work in a fresh idiom (unless he mined this area in Singleton’s Shaft, which I haven’t heard). The less-devoted film music afficiando will find something to like. While it’s not John Williams’ Sleepers (the classiest recent urban revenge score), there is much to like here, and Varese Sarabande are to be credited again for releasing a score-only album that five years ago would have been proxied only by a compilation of popular standards. (Such a compilation is of course available for those so inclined.)

Michael McLennan

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