LIFE OF DAVID GALE, THE: SOUNDTRACK
Review by Brad Green:
At the far end of a high shelf, in the darkest recess of my studio, reside a hapless row of CDs. Their fate will not be pretty. Every so often, this motley collection of unwanted gifts, dire promotional discs and occasional, personal brain explosions are packed up and freighted into town, to meet their destiny at the grime-encrusted, discount warehouse of The Executioner.
The Executioner is an imposing chap with the build of a mastodon; a beard thick and grisly enough to support multiple colonies of exotic microbes; and a penchant for T-shirts emblazoned with illustrations of medieval torture devices. I can hardly imagine how he came by his handle. Yes, those CDs will suffer for the sins of their creators. Cruel and unusual punishment is in order, and I have personally witnessed The Executioner toss such wretched recordings into bargain bin purgatory, to wallow in eternal shame amidst The Best Of Billy Ray Cyrus and William Shatner’s Spaced Out covers collection.
Even before the arrival of the CD currently under review, I had already cleared a special place for it on trash row. In theory, no soundtrack should be condemned without fair hearing, but even we critics are human and a myriad of signals was too doomful to ignore. It wasn’t simply that I had spied a couple of castigating opinions from overseas reviewers: I know from experience that my own sensibilities often compel me to swim against the tide. But when a score’s dud reputation comes on top of a film synopsis that reeks of heavy-handed moralising about the death penalty; when the co-composers are sons of the director; and when one of those composers has a background as a sound engineer and the other as an orchestrator, King Solomon would be hard-pressed to remain uninfluenced. Nepotism meeting postmodernism has a history of resulting in artistic misdemeanors of the Capital variety.
Thus, positioning the disc on the play tray, I assumed I was merely going through the motions. Yet the evidence presented to my ears proved otherwise, and with due apologies to Henry Fonda, I feel compelled to let rip with my best Juror No. 8 routine.
Certainly it must be acknowledged that the soundtrack’s pedigree is dubious. (And I’m not referring to the relation of composers and director.) At a time when the masses have lost interest in the classical tradition’s aesthetic purity, and the traditionalists are refusing to acknowledge the potential dimensions of the digital age, it seems an ounce too obvious to simply sling these musical extremities into the postmodern blender. Quite a few scores in recent years have gone down such a path, only to demonstrate that eclecticism alone can never suffice as a raison d’etre.
In this score, I hear something far less contrived and far more original. The tapestry of elegant strings and rhythmic electronica has been smoothly woven, and the resulting impression is mesmeric. Instead of giving itself away as an affected experiment, the score creates a palpable atmosphere, dependent upon all of its discrete elements. There are cues which are carried by knurly percussion samples and short burst of distorted guitar, and others comprised solely of refined string arrangements. The mark of success is that when the two meet there is not a hint of gratuity.
Alex Parker’s credentials in sound sculpture come to the fore in the background tonalities. No matter what plays over the top, the bass figures are distinct and warm, a difficult combination in any circumstance. Meanwhile, his brother eschews the Hollywood tendency to exploit density for drama, relying almost exclusively on pellucid string textures—which caters perhaps to a predilection of papa Parker, for whom even John Williams constrained his orchestral ostentation with the measured, string-laden score of Angela’s Ashes.
The absence of take-away motifs possibly lodges this score in the “ambience” category, but I find it far more entertaining than a merely well-crafted soundscape. The melodic contours of Jake Parker’s solo cello lines arch into shape with restrained poignancy and the three songs that punctuate the atmospherics provide highly entertaining variety. The first is a brilliant mosaic of beats and samples and guitar bursts, with a dry grunge-style vocal that alternative pop would consider a song in itself but is sparked up here with snatches of gospel. The second is an absolutely captivating slice of Spanish romanticism, and the third, a sweetly pensive tune from Toni Price that takes the heartfelt honesty of country music and rids it of all the usual hokey vulgarity.
I shudder to think of the fate I originally had slated for this exceptional soundtrack; but it does make me appreciate the fact that The Executioner delivers only a metaphorical death. It is far better that ten Billy Ray Cyrus’ CDs be rescued by achy, breaky, bleeding hearts with tin ears than for one recording as worthy as this one to be condemned with no chance of reprieve.
Published July 31, 2003
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TITLE: The Life of David Gale
SCORE: Jake Parker, Alex Parker
SONGS: Alex Parker, Toni Price
LIFE OF DAVID GALE, THE: SOUNDTRACK