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ARMAGEDDON – Trevor Rabin

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In the all-spectacle, no-brains world of the Hollywood summer blockbuster, Armageddon became the antithesis of everything that people find wrong with commercial film making. Even the title – “commercial” film making – smacks of financial return being held in higher esteem than artistic merit. Everyone hated it, from the critics at Cannes who laughed during the premiere, to the newspaper hacks who decried the banal dialogue, Bruce Willis’ wooden lead performance, and the glaring implausibilities in the plotline. Despite this, audiences loved it. For all its shortcomings, Armageddon was an out-and-out crowdpleaser, with genuinely spectacular special effects, plenty of action and romance and, in the shape of Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler, two cover-story attractive protagonists.

In the film music world, similar amounts of critical scorn were poured on Trevor Rabin’s original score, which many saw as the final straw in the so-called decline of the quality orchestral soundtrack. South African-born Rabin’s background was as a guitarist with the successful rock band Yes, and he only entered the film music fray in 1996, providing the guitar riffs for Mark Mancina on Twister. Three years later, and Rabin was scoring one of the biggest event pictures of the year, despite having no formal music training and only two or three scores under his belt – this at the expense of other composers who are arguably more talented but fail to get the breaks. Personally, I felt that both movie and music achieved their aims admirably – the former being successful audience entertainment with no pretensions of being anything other than a fun night out, the latter being am enjoyable musical thrill-ride which accentuates the emotional peaks and troughs with user-friendly, easily accessible tunes. As pure, old-fashioned “experiences”, I loved them both.

Basically, there are three styles of music in Armageddon: blow your brains out action cues, soft romantic cues, and wild ‘n wacky “comedy” cues to lighten the mood. These three stylistic variations are generously draped around a powerful central theme plucked straight from the customary Hans Zimmer/Jerry Bruckheimer “heroic anthem” bin which also yielded Crimson Tide, The Rock and many others. The thing that makes all the difference between those other scores and Armageddon, however, is the structure of the resulting score CD, which eschews the epic cue layout in favour of more digestible snippets, and the fact that, in my opinion, Rabin’s melodies are far more attractive than any of Zimmer’s earlier efforts.

The ‘Armageddon Suite’ which opens the album is one of the best cues on the CD: deep bass synth lines and a staccato rhythm slowly gives way to the first performance of the main theme by lots of strings and a male voice choir. Rabin’s vibrant electric guitars enter shortly thereafter, before returning to perform a final rendition of the main theme. The main theme gets further repeat performances in the soft and delicate ‘Harry & Grace Make Peace’, the loud and spine-tingling ‘AJ’s Return’ and ‘Launch’, and the stupendously exciting finale in ‘Long Distance Goodbye/Finale’, while the bluegrass, country-flavoured comedy cues, complete with harmonicas, feature in ‘Oil Rig’, ‘Armadillo’ and ‘Demands’. The pulsating synth ostinato is regularly heard again, especially during the driving ‘Harry Arrives at NASA’, ‘Back In Business’ and ‘5 Words’, while cues such as ‘Evacuation’, ‘Short Straw’ and the massive ‘Death of MIR’ are nothing less than aural battering rams to beat your senses into submission.

The haunting, Irish-sounding violin elements in ‘Leaving’ and at the beginning of ‘Launch’ are actually the work of Harry Gregson-Williams, who was called in to provide an extra bit of emotional oomph that Rabin’s testosterone music was felt to be lacking. Although none of the characters is remotely Gaelic, this music is intended more to add a wistful flavour and, although Harry’s work goes uncredited on the album, the decision to include it is a good one. In fact, the only thing missing from this CD is Aerosmith’s fabulous rock ballad “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”, written by an Oscar-nominated Diane Warren and which game Steve Tyler and the boys an unexpected smash hit. Normally, I don’t advocate the inclusion of songs on score albums, but in this case I disagree with myself: the song has become so inextricably linked with the film, I feel its addition would have made the album even better.

So what if Armageddon was a dumb movie. So what if Trevor Rabin adheres to every genre cliché invented in his score. As an accompaniment to the ultimate popcorn movie, it sounds wonderful, and sounds every bit as emotive and inspiring when its pumping out of your speakers. Leave your analytical brains at the door and simply enjoy it.

Buy the Armageddon soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Armageddon Suite (5:20)
  • Harry & Grace Make Peace (1:43)
  • AJ’s Return (4:27)
  • Oil Rig (1:59)
  • Leaving (2:30)
  • Evacuation (3:43)
  • Harry Arrives at NASA (1:00)
  • Back in Business (1:37)
  • Launch (7:54)
  • 5 Words (1:37)
  • Underwater Simulation (2:10)
  • Finding Grace (1:06)
  • Armadillo (1:15)
  • Short Straw (3:46)
  • Demands (1:26)
  • Death of MIR (1:32)
  • Armageddon Piano (0:35)
  • Long Distance Goodbye/Landing (6:31)

Running Time: 50 minutes 21 seconds

Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax CK-69689 (1998)

Music composed by Trevor Rabin. Conducted by Gordon Goodwin. Orchestrations by Gordon Goodwin, Bruce Fowler and Trevor Rabin. Additional music by Harry Gregson-Williams. Featured musical soloists Lou Molino, Hugh Marsh and Trevor Rabin. Recorded by Steve Kempster. Mixed by Steve Kempster, Alan Meyerson and Trevor Rabin. Edited by Will Kaplan and Shannon Erbe. Mastered by Joe Gastwirt. Album produced by Trevor Rabin, Paul Linford and Steve Kempster.

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