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JOBS – John Debney

September 12, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

jobsOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Steve Jobs, who died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 56, has been called by some the greatest American inventor since Thomas Edison. As the head of the Apple corporation, Jobs and his team of genius engineers gave the world not only the Apple Macintosh computer, which helped kick start the personal computer, but by the early 2000s has begun the personal entertainment revolution through his series of “I” devices, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, as well as the various retail outlets designed to facilitate the peripheral software and hardware for use on his devices. It’s safe to say that over the last decade or so Jobs and Apple – alongside the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin – literally changed the way the entire world connects with each other and stores its information; it will be interesting to see how future generations view their contribution to humanity, and whether they are seen as equals with other such communication pioneers as Johannes Gutenberg, William Caxton, Guglielmo Marconi, John Logie Baird and Alexander Graham Bell.

Jobs is a film about the life of the entrepreneur; directed by Joshua Michael Stern it stars Ashton Kutcher in the lead role, with Dermot Mulroney as Apple’s original investor Mike Markkula, Josh Gad as Jobs’ long-time business partner Steve Wozniak, Lukas Haas as Jobs’ friend and colleague Daniel Kottke, and J. K. Simmons, Lesley Ann Warren, Ron Eldard, John Getz, James Woods and Matthew Modine in supporting roles. The film basically charts the early years of Apple, from its original inception in Jobs’ parents’ garage in 1976, through to 1997, when Jobs returns to work for the company several years after being fired, a few years prior to the launch of the iPod. Interestingly, it makes no mention of his time at Pixar, during which he oversaw the development of the first Toy Story movie, and finishes just before Jobs actually started becoming known to the general public: the launch of the iPhone and other consumer electronic devices, the rise of Apple’s domination of the American market, and Jobs’ very public illness and subsequent death are not mentioned at all, leaving the film’s narrative curiously unfulfilled – anyone who is not familiar with Jobs’ life story could be forgiven for thinking that he was still alive and well up in Palo Alto, running his company as he always had. The film also suffers a little by the way it veers slightly towards hero worship of Jobs; Ashton Kutcher is sincere in the lead role, and tried to convey some of Jobs’ more egotistical and arrogant traits, but by the end of it all you can tell that this movie is something of a love letter to Apple and its mercurial mastermind.

The score for Jobs is by John Debney, who also had to work very hard not to fall into the trap that the film did by making Jobs seem more beatific than he was in reality. Debney also had to work very hard in finding the right tone and musical approach for a film which has no geographic location or obvious time period to influence it. The Social Network – another film which tackles a similar subject matter – went down the ‘boring ambient drone’ route and won an Oscar for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and it must have been a temptation on the part of the producers to try recapture that musical lightning in a bottle, but thankfully Debney went down a slightly more traditional route with his score, combining a standard symphony orchestra with some more upbeat moments of rock and jazz to capture the wild, haphazard and unpredictable nature of Jobs’ persona, as well as his own taste in music.

Debney’s music falls pretty much into two camps: warm, appealing Americana for the portions of the film that deal mainly with Jobs’ nobility, and more contemporary instrumental pieces with a percussive beat, lighter touch, and jazzier attitude, which seeks to capture Jobs’ indomitable spirit. In the liner notes of the CD, Debney says that he specifically “decided to concentrate on Steve’s ultimate effect on mankind” and the notion that “Steve’s desire, above all else, was the betterment of his fellow man”, and he captures that idea with his main theme. A beautiful, soaring piece for the full orchestra, it appears in several cues as the score develops, first appearing on a hesitantly optimistic solo cello in “Dawn of Computers”, and in the second half of “For Everyman”, before receiving its first truly rousing performance in the lovely “1984 Commercial”. There is a heartfelt, touching performance featuring an expressive solo piano in “Father and Son”, setting up its fullest reprise in the conclusive “Steve’s Theme” (which actually underscores the film’s first scene, the launch of the iPod). Interestingly, some of these more melodic cues remind me greatly of one of Debney’s more obscure early-career scores, the beautiful Not Since Casanova, which anyone who knows that score will know is a great compliment.

The opening cue, “Think Different”, is energetic and positive, with a definite Thomas Newman-ish vibe through its use of unusual percussion and woodwind phrasings behind the orchestra. This motif appears later in “Cold Calls”, “Computer Fair”, and “Recruiting Team Macintosh”, all of which chronologically appear in the film first, and provide a clever foreshadowing of Jobs’ entrepreneurial spirit and persistence in selling his product to the public.

“Hey Woz” and “We Got a Shop/In the Garage” sound like the intros to 1970s flower-power rock songs, and are infectious and fun, while “First Deal”, “More Inventory” and the optimistic “Seven Years Later/Steve Jobs the Gardener” have a can-do attitude with prominent guitar riffs underpinning a funky, jangly, playful piano-marimba combo. Interestingly, this musical combination is flipped into something darker in both “Steve’s the Problem” and “The Board Acts/Steve Makes Calls”, which illustrate the idea that the tenaciousness that made Jobs so successful is also his greatest personal flaw.

Other cues of note include “Going Public”, which directly speaks to Steve Jobs’ love of Mozart (or perhaps Rob Simonsen’s famous piano piece for the popular ‘Music Every Day’ iPhone commercial) with a full-on classical pastiche featuring a rhapsodic piano performance overlaid with a wordless operatic aria; “Golden Parachute”, which opens with a solemn and intimate piano solo before restating Steve’s Theme with dignified violins and oboes that reminds me a little of James Horner’s score for Glory; and “Jobs Returns/Tours Apple”, a rhythmic modern guitar-driven piece which was actually written by John Debney’s 21-year old son Josh Debney, who is an aspiring composer in his own right, having recently graduated from the music program at the California Institute of the Arts.

Jobs is a lovely score, with its heart in the right place and a sentimental, melodic core that will appeal both to fans of John Debney’s tender, intimate side, and the quirky orchestrations that Thomas Newman brings to his contemporary suburban scores. It could have been very easy for Debney to follow the lead of the movie and portray Steve Jobs as a modern-day saint, a messiah of the electronic age, but thankfully he has walked that delicate tightrope successfully, where he celebrates his undisputed genius and influence without pouring on the adulation too thickly. It’s a subtle, intimate work for long periods of time, not prone to too many orchestral histrionics, and which some may consider a little too slight when compared to the composer’s more beloved efforts; personally, however, I enjoyed it a great deal, both for its instrumental inventiveness and thematic strength.

Buy the Jobs soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Think Different (2:50)
  • Hey Woz/Dawn of Computers (2:36)
  • First Deal (1:16)
  • We Got a Shop/In the Garage (1:48)
  • More Inventory (1:05)
  • Cold Calls (2:13)
  • Jobs Fires His Girlfriend/Computer Fair (3:07)
  • Going Public (2:38)
  • Steve’s the Problem/Letter from Lisa (4:30)
  • Simpler Interface/For Everyman (1:42)
  • Recruiting Team Macintosh (2:58)
  • Jobs Gets John Sculley (1:04)
  • 1984 Commercial (2:03)
  • The Board Acts/Steve Makes Calls (3:24)
  • Golden Parachute (2:50)
  • Worst Mistake I Ever Made (4:28)
  • Father and Son (2:01)
  • Seven Years Later/Steve Jobs the Gardener (2:17)
  • Jobs Returns/Tours Apple (2:46)
  • Why Do You Stay? (2:04)
  • Resignations (1:33)
  • Steve’s Theme: Main Title (3:26)

Running Time 55 minutes 20 seconds

La-La Land Records LLCD-1271 (2013)

Music composed and conducted by John Debney. Orchestrations by Michael Watts. Additional music by Josh Debney. Special musical performances by John Debney, Josh Debney and Randy Spendlove. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes and Shawn Murphy. Edited by Jeff Carson. Album produced by John Debney, Mason Cooper, MV Gerhard and Dan Goldwasser.

  1. craig richard lysy
    September 12, 2013 at 10:52 am

    I fully agree. I really found this a pleasant listen, and a nice rebound from “The Call”.

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