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Review by Brad Green:
Few can tiptoe along the edge of reality like Tim Burton and Danny Elfman. The director and soundtrack composer have been collaborating for more than a decade and in the process have established one of the most recognisable styles in contemporary cinema. Nearly every one of their films evokes either an earthly setting with a phantasmagoric veneer or a fantasy world with familiar trappings.

Elfman’s scores often invite us into surrealism’s darker dimensions, but here his music floats in the whimsical strata. For a Quixotic romp through the fables of a man who uses his imagination as an antidote to reality’s bite, the composer creates a shimmering atmosphere awash with chiming bells, delicate piano and iridescent guitar arpeggios, enhanced from time to time with the ethereal tones of a children’s chorus. 

Whilst evoking mythic ambience is the Elfman trademark there is less self-referencing in this work then many of his other scores, and instead of the signature string runs of Edward Scissorhands and The Simpsons’ Theme here he employs his fiddles for rhythmic chord figures and deft harmonic development, grounded in the unlikely idiom of bluegrass. 

The score is detailed and subtly motific with patterns and figures repeated and varied in different contexts. Most striking are the central romantic statements: Sandra’s Theme that represents the courtship of our fanciful raconteur’s real-life wife, and its minor-key counterpart Jenny’s Theme that symbolises the allure of his escape into a spectral perspective

In addition to the Elfman score, the CD includes half-a-dozen songs with an emphasis on 50s and 60s rock ‘n’ roll classics as well as Bing Crosby’s wonderful rendition of Dinah, in which the Old Groaner’s ability to introduce swinging scat to mellow croon still sounds extraordinary. The album is top and tailed by two original tunes that make the most unlikely bookends. Pearl Jam’s Man Of The Hour was written specifically for the end credits, and probably as a marketing tool for the album, but in fact it’s the only low point. Eddie Vedder’s rich vocal tone and a pleasant enough acoustic guitar can’t save it from coming across as a toss away effort. At the other end of the CD the Elfman-penned Twice The Love (Siamese Twins Song) is a warped show tune, completely incongruous with the rest of the album and completely delightful for its irresistible kookiness. 

Nevertheless, the score proper remains the highlight. It is one of Elfman’s most accessible works, reverberant with the magic of an adult fairytale and replete with nuances that will touch the dreamer inside the most hardened cynic. 

Published March 11, 2004

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TITLE: Big Fish
ID: SK 93094
SCORE: Danny Elfman
ARTISTS: Pearl Jam; Elvis; Buddy Holly; The Allman Bros.; Bing Crosby; Canned Heat; The Vogues; Bobbi Page and Candice Rumph 

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