September 7, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, subtitled On Stranger Tides, came a little belatedly, four years after the conclusion of the well-received third entry in the record breaking series, At World’s End. Although Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush return at the strutting Captain Jack Sparrow ad his nemesis Barbossa, gone are co-stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, as is director Gore Verbinski. In their place is new director Rob Marshall – whose last film, the musical Nine, couldn’t have been more different – while the new supporting players include Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane. The story follows the search for the mythical Fountain of Youth; Cruz plays Angelica, one of Captain Jack’s old flames, while McShane plays the legendary Blackbeard, Angelica’s father and Jack’s rival in the hunt for eternal life.

Also returning to the fray is composer Hans Zimmer, writing his fourth entry in the series (Klaus Badelt was credited with the first score, but we all know that Zimmer wrote it really). Despite their clear anachronisms and lack of anything remotely like the music heard in the original Disneyland ride, Zimmer’s themes from Pirates of the Caribbean have become enormously popular amongst the general public. This music is one of the most unexpected soundtrack success stories of the new millennium, and despite all their flaws, I thoroughly enjoy them, especially the bold and robust third score, which I consider one of the finest scores of Zimmer’s entire career. Imagine my disappointment, then, when not only did I find the music in On Stranger Tides a little on the weak side, but the soundtrack album released by Disney contained no less than seven remixes of score cues by artists who have nothing to do with the film at all.

To add something of a Hispanic flair to the score, Zimmer enlisted the help of the Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero, collectively known as Rodrigo y Gabriela, who shot to fame in 2006 after being discovered playing brilliant, astonishingly fast guitar pieces on the streets of Dublin in Ireland. When their involvement with this film was announced the prospect of their music combining with Zimmer’s power anthem excited me greatly, but puzzlingly their contribution to the score is as underwhelming as Zimmer’s.

In fact, one of the most disappointing things about the album is how unoriginal a lot of it is. The opening cue, “Guilty of Being Innocent of Jack Sparrow”, is basically a set of variations on the primary and secondary Jack Sparrow themes which everyone knows. “Mutiny” restates the thunderous Black Pearl motif from the original film, mixing it with the ‘dirty biker’ vibe that accompanied the Crew of the Flying Dutchmen from the second film, while “Palm Tree Escape” contains restatements of the familiar action music ostinatos from the first two films, albeit with Rodrigo y Gabriela strumming away on their guitars as part of the percussion section. Similarly, the “End Credits” piece is little more than a restatement of the Jack Sparrow theme, again with Rodrigo y Gabriela in a guest appearance, bringing the score to a close before the remixes kick in.

Three new main themes for this score are for the two new main characters, and one of the score’s unsettling set piece elements. “Angelica” is the score’s main new theme, written for the Penelope Cruz character. It’s a fiery Latin effort, a pasodoble-inspired dance piece for Martin Tillman’s low, throaty electric cello chords and a Rodrigo y Gabriela guitar melody which strums flamboyantly over the top. To match the nature of the character, it is simultaneously antagonistic and romantic, clearly alluding to the love-hate relationship that Jack and Angelica share throughout the film, and also cleverly mirroring the traditional setting for a pasodoble, which is between a Spanish bullfighter and his bovine quarry. Blackbeard has a threatening-sounding march which is clearly a cousin to Davy Jones’ theme from Dead Man’s Chest, but with more swirling guitar writing, hammered metal percussion, and an unusual end to the main melodic line which (very oddly) reminds me of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

Finally, Eric Whitacre’s cue “Mermaids” is probably the most interesting new cue on the album, a moody, vocally-inflected cue which acts as a clever representation of the beautiful siren song which lures unwitting men to their doom on the jagged rocks upon which the mermaids sit. Whitacre’s cooing, ghostly vocals emerge out of bed of fog-like synthesized chords, and initially have an inviting and alluring quality, before lonely brass counterpoints and slightly disturbing echoing effects begin to give the listener pause for concern, and then outright chills. The orchestra-only recapitulation of the theme in “On Stranger Tides” is also very effective. Harry Gregson-Williams and Lisbeth Scott did something similar to this in his pirate movie, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, back in 2003, to equally excellent effect, proving that the approach is a sound one. For those who don’t know, Eric Whitacre is popular, successful and critically-acclaimed American classical composer whose choral music is especially lauded by the contemporary classical music literati.

Rodrigo y Gabriela contribute their talents to three additional cues – “The Pirate That Should Not Be”, “South of Heaven’s Chanting Mermaids” and “Angry and Dead Again” – some of which do contain passages of quite vivid guitar duet writing. The first and third of these tracks contain a couple of clever variations on the familiar Jack Sparrow themes, while their Mermaids cue takes Whitacre’s new melody and re-arranges it for solo guitar, giving it a quite interesting spin. However, although they are clearly massively talented, and I actually quite enjoy some of their performances, it’s almost as though a lot fo that which makes them so wonderful – their originality, their unpredictability, the complexity of their writing, the speed and energy of their performances – was sucked out of them, another casualty of Disney’s corporate conformity. Rather than contributing anything truly original to the project, their cues play rather like cover versions of Pirates music, not really adding anything new to the series musical canon.

Oh, and as far as the remixes are concerned, let me say this. I listened to them all, once, the first time I listened to the score all the way through, I have absolutely no desire to listen to any of them ever again. Make of that what you will.

Considering how wonderful the last Pirates score was, and despite how much I enjoy Rodrigo y Gabriela’s work on its own merits, and despite the cleverness of the Eric Whitacre cue, one can’t help feeling that this is something of a step back in terms of the quality of the music for the franchise. It’s as though Zimmer forgot everything that made At World’s End so good, and instead just rehashed the synth-heavy music from the first two films, drowning out his robust orchestra with the familiar electronic overlays that suck all the depth out of the music. However, having said all that, and having expressed my general disappointment about the whole project, I nevertheless find myself rather enjoying the 45-minute listening experience presented by the score, which puts me in a quandary. Does it matter if the music is good or not when I enjoy listening to it? How does that manifest itself as an overall? In the end I resorted to simple mathematics: it’s a four-star listening experience, minus half a star for the awful remixes, and minus half a star for rehashing too much music from films one and two.

Rating: ***

Buy the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Guilty of Not Being Innocent of Being Jack Sparrow (1:42)
  • Angelica (4:17)
  • Mutiny (2:48)
  • The Pirate That Should Not Be (3:55)
  • Mermaids (8:05)
  • South of Heaven’s Chanting Mermaids (5:48)
  • Palm Tree Escape (3:06)
  • Blackbeard (5:05)
  • Angry and Dead Again (5:33)
  • On Stranger Tides (2:44)
  • End Credits (1:59)
  • Guilty of Being Innocent of Being Jack Sparrow (remixed by DJ Earworm} (2:45)
  • Angelica [Grant Us Peace Remix] (remixed by Ki:Theory) (3:08)
  • The Pirate That Should Not Be (remixed by Photek) (6:26)
  • Blackbeard (remixed by Super Smash Bros & Thieves) (5:26)
  • South of Heaven’s Chanting Mermaids (remixed by Paper Diamond) (3:32)
  • Palm Tree Escape (remixed by Adam Freeland) (5:28)
  • Angry and Dead Again Remixed (remixed by Static Avenger) (5:49)

Running Time: 77 minutes 35 seconds

Walt Disney Records D000651192 (2011)

Music composed by Hans Zimmer. Conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith, Gavin Greenaway, Ben Foster and Matt Dunkley. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Elizabeth Finch, Walt Fowler, Rick Giovinazzo, Kevin Kaska, Suzette Moriarty and Ed Neumeister. Additional music by Eric Whitacre, Rodrigo Sánchez, Gabriela Quintero, Geoff Zanelli, Thomas Bergersen, Eduardo Cruz, Tom Gire, Matthew Margeson, Nick Phoenix, Guillaume Roussel, Jacob Shea and John Sponsler. Featured musical soloists Rodrigo Sánchez, Gabriela Quintero and Martin Tillmann. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster and Alan Myerson. Edited by Melissa Muik. Album produced by Hans Zimmer, Bob Badami, Melissa Muik and Peter Asher.

  1. September 8, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Too kind by half. In my opinion, there is absolutely no excuse for the incredible laziness Zimmer has shown here. I think the reason Zimmer stuffed the album full of remixes and Rodrigo y Gabriela covers is very simple: there is absolutely no substance to this score. The performances of the three new themes (“Angelica”, the first 2.5 minutes of “Blackbeard” and the first five minutes of “Mermaids”) offer maybe ten minutes of fresh, highlighting material, true (though it’s nowhere near as enjoyable as the theme suites in Dead Man’s Chest or At World’s End). But the rest of the score is cobbled together from bits and pieces of the first three scores with absolutely no regard to thematic significance. I don’t know whether you’ve seen the film, but Davy Jones’ motif, the Cutler Beckett ostinato and even a part of Will and Elizabeth’s love theme all make totally inappropriate appearances considering none of those characters are in the film. If any more of the score was on the album, it would just reveal what a rehashed hackjob this score really is. I’m willing to bet Hans wrote the themes in a day and just handed the rest off to Zanelli, Margeson and co. to throw together. Absolutely unacceptable.

    I’ve become really disillusioned with Zimmer lately…I’d rather have him do one or two projects a year and really devote his time to the score than write a theme or suite per film and have his assistants toss out such lazy, haphazardly assembled crap as Rango and On Stranger Tides. Seriously, things were better back in the Inception days, and that’s not saying much.

  2. September 8, 2011 at 2:16 am

    You’re too young to be jaded already. Come back when you’ve been actively doing this for 19 years 😉

  3. September 8, 2011 at 10:40 am

    I agree, Edmund!!

  4. September 9, 2011 at 6:15 am

    In what alternate universe do you live, Jon, where At World’s End was well-received?

  5. September 9, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    With the exception of Clemmensen, ever score review I’ve read by writers I respect, and pretty much every conversation I’ve had with fellow film music fans. What alternate universe do you live in where At World’s End was NOT well-received? 😉

    • September 11, 2011 at 7:43 am

      I think he was referring to the movie. You do make it sound like it’s the film that was well-received, which it really wasn’t.

      I loved the third score, though, and most people do at least like it. (Clemmensen is a great reviewer, but in the case of that score he can stick his review right back where he got it – his ass).

  6. Craig
    September 10, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    I liked the POTC3 score a lot, and agree with Jon. 🙂

  7. David Bastardo
    September 25, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    This is score is by far the least of the Pirates franchise. Great review as always, Jon!

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