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THE BEACH – Angelo Badalamenti

February 11, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

thebeachOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Throughout his career, Angelo Badalamenti has been dogged by the notion that he can only write “dark” music. In the past, I myself have been too quick to dismiss him as merely “that bloke who works for David Lynch”, but recently my perceptions have changed. Since being overwhelmed by his truly gorgeous score for The Straight Story (ironically also a Lynch movie), I have begun to delve into his career more closely, and uncovered some real treasures, finding Cousins and The Comfort of Strangers to be two of his most beautiful orchestral works. It is my sincere hope that his music for The Beach inspires more people to do the same.

The Beach, of course, was Leonardo Di Caprio’s return to the big screen since his transition from talented young actor to international heartthrob via some little movie about a sinking boat. Adapted from the novel by Alex Garland and directed by Danny “Trainspotting” Boyle, The Beach is the story of trouble in paradise. Leonardo plays Richard, one of a trio of international backpackers on holiday in Thailand who, by way of a lunatic Scotsman played by Robert Carlyle, are told how to get to an idyllic island with a perfect, sapphire lagoon caressed by an untouched, unspoiled beach. It’s a dangerous journey but somehow the tourists make it to the island – and discover a colony of hedonists led by Tilda Swinton, who have made the beach their home. With no responsibilities, no ties, and as much drink and dope as anyone could want, the trio find that they easily fit in with the carefree lifestyle their hosts enjoy. But, in true Lord of the Flies style, tensions arise within the party, proving that everything is never as perfect as one imagines…

With the exception of the remix track “Beached”, the mega-hit soundtrack from the film featured none of Badalamenti’s actual score, instead concentrating on the proliferation of pop hits that were “inspired” by the movie, including Mory Kante’s “Yeke Yeke”, Moby’s “Porcelain” and the All Saints smash “Pure Shores”. The fact that the compilation CD sold so well across the world was probably the major factor when the executives decided whether or not to release a score album to accompany it. Marketing strategies aside, the fact that The Beach has even seen the light of day is a testament to the foresight of the music moguls who decide these things.

So, six months after the film closed, London’s belated release of the score proper turns out to be an absolute godsend for all those who were swept away by Badalamenti’s theme. The glorious orchestral piece, which first appears in the second cue ‘Swim to Island’ is one of those tracks of music that leaves you reeling. With soaring strings, a solo piano, a children’s choir, and a truly beguiling melody, Badalamenti manages to relate the whole romantic notion of a fantasy island in one single musical moment – exotic, pristine, but almost untouchable due to its unparalleled beauty. Although the theme itself only appears in five of the fifteen tracks (the aforementioned ‘Swim to Island’, the ambient ‘Starnight’, the dreamy ‘Mythical Waters’, the slightly downcast ‘Mystery of Christo’, and towards the end of ‘Waterfall Cascade’), it is worth having this CD purely for these few minutes of music. It is, by far, the most attractive thing Badalamenti has ever written.

But The Beach is certainly not just a landscape score. To maintain the film’s vibrant, modernistic tone, Badalamenti worked closely with Orbital frontman Barry Adamson, a collaboration which is marked here by the cue ‘Bizarre City’, which pulses and throbs to endless undulating synth loops and a frenetic dance music beat that cleverly captures the garish, neon-lit madness of Bangkok at night. In addition, Badalamenti also contributes plenty of action to the proceedings, illustrating the constant dangers Leo and Co. face while trying to protect their tropical paradise from drug dealers, unwanted guests, and even sharks. ‘Vision of Fantasy’, ‘Killing Fields’, ‘Grassmark’, ‘Pure Victims’ and ‘Pursuit of a Shark’ leave especially positive impressions with their energy and vitality, most of which is generated by mixing the orchestra with Adamson and Phil Marshall’s augmented high-tempo electronic beats and clever, crushing dissonance.

It may have arrived late, but The Beach is undoubtedly a CD worth investigating. Although some of the electronic elements may prove to be a little on the harsh side for some listeners, the sheer ecstasy of playing The Beach Theme over and over again more than makes up for any potential quibbles one may have with the score as a whole. Angelo Badalamenti is yet another composer whose talents are sorely under-appreciated by the vast majority of the film music community, and whose work deserved to have been better treated in terms of CD releases. If The Beach goes some way to redressing that balance, I will be happy. If, as a result of this score, Badalamenti is offered another chance to write a theme similar to this one, I will be even happier.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Bizarre City (4:07)
  • The Beach Theme (Swim to Island) (3:24)
  • Vision of Fantasy (4:03)
  • Mournful Myth (2:11)
  • Starnight (1:45)
  • Killing Fields (5:41)
  • Blue Sex (2:38)
  • The Beach Theme (Mythical Waters) (1:59)
  • Grassmark (2:45)
  • Daffy’s Done (2:15)
  • Mystery of Christo (1:53)
  • Pure Victims (2:44)
  • Pursuit of a Shark (1:54)
  • Waterfall Cascade (3:56)
  • Dreamburst (2:46)

Running Time: 44 minutes 10 seconds

London 4344311362 (2000)

Music composed by Angelo Badalamenti. Conducted by Phil Marshall. Orchestrations by Angelo Badalamenti, Phil Marshall and Patrick Russ. Featured musical soloists Clem Clempson, Frank Ricotti and David Arch. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster and Barry Adamson. Edited by Phil Marshall. Album produced by Angelo Badalamenti.

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