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VERONICA GUERIN: SOUNDTRACK

Review by Brad Green:
Bono gave it up, and Sinead O’Connor has claimed it back. The Irish lilt. Don’t get me wrong, U2’s frontman will go down in the annals as one of the few singers to have emoted all the way into melodrama land and gotten away with it. On the other hand, he hasn’t exactly been a warbling advertisement for the modulations of his homeland. Instead, he hit upon a kind of transatlantic tone and stuck to it. While the last couple of decades have seen a handful of pop stars cash in on Celtic brogue as a kind of trademark -- gratingly in the case of Scotland’s The Proclaimers, and gorgeously in the case of The Emerald Isle’s Enya, from all corners of the planet, singers with rich accents have followed Bono’s example and squared their larynxes so as not to risk offence to conservative American ears. 

But Sinead O’Connor, who for extensive periods has been happy to exhibit her bare scalp, has never been frightened to expose her native voice; and her lilt as its loveliest here, as she opens the soundtrack with one of those melodies that finds sublimity inside a framework of simplicity. Based on a theme in Harry Gregson-Williams orchestral score proper, the song’s effectiveness lies in familiarity with artistic trimmings. The first notes invite us on board, the melody eases along into comfortable terrain, and then just when we think we know exactly where we’re going, the resolution of the title phrase “One More Day” takes us somewhere unexpectedly special. Until, at the very end, a more obvious resolution takes us home again. O’Connor’s voice, full of breathy pensiveness and the warm chime of her accent, is the perfect vehicle for such a graceful tune. A straightforward drum pattern adds oomph in the second half of the song, propelling the string arrangement, and in every respect this is the most effective pop ballad to be fashioned directly from a score since Celine Dion’s chart buster from Titanic -- much to the chagrin perhaps of James Horner who has been trying, unsuccessfully, to contrive a similar result ever since. If anything, this song has the advantage of a lyric that if not exactly high poetry is still far superior to Will Jenning’s cliche-ridden effort, and O’Connor’s controlled emoting is never in danger of Dion’s flirtations with sentimentality. 

The score itself is also a triumph of balance. Gregson-Williams’ motifs and lean arrangements develop a gentle melancholy without ever threatening to bury us in gloom. A far more appealing approach than the portentous heaviness that a true story -- which the audience knows ends in tragedy -- invites. At regular intervals, things even takes a turn for the jolly with Irish jigs simultaneously providing cultural backdrop and emotional respite. Paradoxically, these cues both contribute to the contoured mood that makes the score effective as a whole, and also tempt immediate repetition for the sheer entertainment value of their lively, heartfelt fiddling. Where necessary, Gregson-Williams relies on electronic device to amplify the sense of doom, allowing the strings to maintain their measured poignancy. His interweaving of effects that wouldn’t be out of place on an underwater creature feature, Celtic idiom and sad but beautiful motifs is seamless.

In the midst of evoking Belfast with refined instrumentation, Gregson-Williams presents a cue based around the solo voice of a child. The recording of this track has its own true story: the composer happened to hear a homeless 12-year-old boy singing in a Dulbin lane and was so inspired that he went back a few days later to record the performance in situ. The voice we hear is gifted and captivating but not angelic. It is a an unbroken, nasal, burst of trills presented at first without accompaniment and then augmented and extended with an orchestral arrangement fashioned by Gregson-Williams back in the studio. The sensitivity of the harmony and instrumental design stand out even among the many other fine cues. 

The score concludes with O’Connor reprising the theme of the opening track under the title “The Funeral”, but with a Gaelic lyric. Although this is a more economical version of the tune, the Celtic cadences further illuminate the nuances of O’Connor’s voice, and provide compelling evidence that instead of treating it with caution, even mainstream recordings should embrace the Irish lilt as one of the world’s great treasures. 

Published January 22, 2004


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REVIEWS

TITLE: Veronica Guerin
ID: 206 162 398-2
Hollywood Records
SCORE: Harry Gregson-Williams
VOCALS: Sinead O’Connor
TRACKS: 15







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