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Black Gold by James Horner

Black Gold

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Black Gold (Soundtrack) by James Horner
Black Gold (Soundtrack) by James Horner
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Gold (Soundtrack) by James Horner

Black Gold
Composed by James Horner
Varese Sarabande Records (2012)

Rating: 10/10

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“BLACK GOLD is a spectacular score, one that expertly captures that majesty and infinite splendor that will forever be remembered through the magic of cinema.”

Glittering Gold
Review by Richard Buxton

 

Consistency. If there’s one area in which JAMES HORNER is stronger than anyone else it’s surely consistency. Not in the overanalyzed use of his various signature themes and motifs, but in his ability to squeeze out every ounce of aching beauty from within a film’s story and sprinkle it over a group of world-class musicians. When given the chance, it’s abundantly clear that HORNER’S is unable to tame the romantic within him, providing sweeping scores of unrivalled splendor. His consistency is such that many a fan, such as this reviewer, waits with baited breath upon hearing of any new release, craving another dosage of that sweet consistency and not even contemplating the potential for disappointment.

It’s just as well then that his latest creation is the flavoring to one of cinema’s most evocative locales, the desert. BLACK GOLD, despite having a director and cast more than familiar to international audiences, has seen limited pay time across the globe and as a result comes the unfamiliar territory of a film score being more likely to be heard than the film is to be seen. An unfortunate and perhaps unforeseen outcome for the film is a fate rarely shared by a composer of JAMES HORNER’S standing and thankfully his wonderful score has traveled beyond the oceans of sand into the wide world.

BLACK GOLD is a score for JAMES HORNER fans. It’s as simple as that. If you find yourself frequently returning to HORNER’S scores of the past for an injection of his unrivalled mastery of lyrical themes and deep textures, BLACK GOLD is simply a must-have. For those somewhat less certain in their feelings for his music, BLACK GOLD is a fine score to look at should you be wishing to fall under his spell. For those looking to hold their annual “Spot the Horner Score” competition, BLACK GOLD will also provide some entertainment with its occasional reference to a score of the past, but never does this become a chore, as can admittedly be the case. Yes, the “Danger Theme” does surface once in a while, and there are nods to some of HORNER’S prior compositions, and thankfully these nods are to some of HORNER’S most well received scores. The “criticism” that HORNER’S scores are somewhat interchangeable is arguably an acknowledgement that those signature motifs he crafted so long ago are so impressively effective and emotionally all-encompassing that they can be used in such a wide range of contexts. The ability to interject a motif composed potentially decades ago into an entirely unrelated score with such ease is a skill that is perhaps unrecognized in a section of the film industry whose fans consistently demand originality and innovation. HORNER’S scores are not interchangeable due to any limitations in his ability, rather because his music is so potent through his masterful ability to evoke and manipulate the emotions of an audience with such ease. In BLACK GOLD that ability is flaunted time and time again in a score that will surely be remembered as one of HORNER’S modern bests.

BLACK GOLD’S musical landscape is largely dominated by two themes, the main theme and a more romantic theme that will conjure memories of HORNER’S wonderful scores for the ZORRO films. The main theme, introduced in “Main Title – A Desert Truce” (1), is echoed throughout the soundtrack and is surely the highlight of the entire score. The instrumentation employed for the recording of the main theme switches between both strings and piano, providing starkly contrasting performances. Regardless of the instrumentation however, the theme is a stunningly evocative descending motif. The main theme is often complimented by ethnic vocal performances that only add to the immense flavour. The heat pours through the speakers with the aching vocals, each strike of the piano whips the light winds through the dust, as the aching strings illustrate the vast empire of golden sands. The final track on the soundtrack, “A Kingdom of Oil” (14) is a perfect summary of the entire score and the main themes heard throughout. Coming in at almost nine minutes, and thus acting as a suite for the score, “A Kingdom of Oil” is an impressively ambitious summary of BLACK GOLD, and displays HORNER’S the far-reaching and all-encompassing compositions HORNER has become known for. Opening with delicate and light-hearted echoes of the two main themes, the track soon erupts into a majestic sweeping performance of the main theme that will summon arresting memories and feelings of the great deserts, regardless of whether you have actually experienced them or not. Cooling down, the conclusion to the score again echoes the main theme, this time with an emphasis on the haunting vocals. The ending of the track can be likened to that of a sunset, the light falling behind the rolling sand dunes, the final embers fading into the night with breathtaking beauty.

The aforementioned “romantic” theme is prevalent throughout BLACK GOLD, but perhaps nowhere more so than in “I Have Chosen You” (4). The descending-ascending motif is undoubtedly a product of HORNER’S previous work on the ZORRO films, and unsurprisingly he has managed to inject the theme seamlessly into the BLACK GOLD score. Similar in many ways to the other main theme of the film, this theme works well in both the quieter moments of the score and in moments of grand scale. The theme doesn’t get quite as much “airtime” as the other theme, but is continuously effective when called upon.

The truth about BLACK GOLD is that it lives and dies by the success of the two major themes. If they are not to the taste of the listener, the rest of the score is unlikely to provide any moments of potential reprieve. The themes are so unashamedly beautiful and emotionally manipulative that it is hard to imagine someone finding himself or herself unable to allow HORNER’S themes to captivate them in at least some capacity.

The score does have moments that stray beyond the sweeping nature of the majority of the score, and one such moment comes in a brief action statement that has almost become obligatory in a JAMES HORNER score. “One Brother Lives, One Brother Dies” (12) utilises endlessly descending strings before launching into an assault of sustained brass that will spark memories of his spectacular score for 2003’s THE MISSING. Sadly, the action section of the cue is all-too brief, but manages to have a bold impact nonetheless. Thankfully the emphasis returns to intensity and action in the very next track “Battle In The Oil Fields” (13). The intertwining strings, brass and marching percussion create a palpable sense of angst and imminent threat, whilst maintaining the great scope heard in the rest of the score. The other variation beyond the two main themes can be heard in the “Father and Son” (7), as the ethnic percussion drives a delicate repeating piano motif that hints at a more personal side to the film, shying away from the vastness of the desert and peering into lives of a few.

If HORNER had not been able to compose such a magnetic and enchanting main theme, BLACK GOLD would surely have become just another score, not worthy of any particular attention. Yet, he has managed to extend one major theme across an entire score and never does it show any signs of strain. The versatility of the main theme is shown with arrogant ease in the prancing glory of “Fresh Water” (11) and is eased to a relaxing and airy stroll in “Leaving As An Emissary” (6), and shows no signs of ageing despite HORNER’S continual reliance upon it.

It shouldn’t take long to identify whether you are destined to enjoy JAMES HORNER’S score for BLACK GOLD. If the score is a success to your ears, it is likely to be identified as one with great immediacy; such is the potency of the main theme. In mastering the theme and all its variations, HORNER once again shows unparalleled skill in extracting every last emotion from a composition. BLACK GOLD is a spectacular score, one that expertly captures that majesty and infinite splendour that will forever be remembered through the magic of cinema.
 

Rating: 10/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Main Title - Desert Truce 6:34  *****
2 Horizon to Horizon 3:59  ****
3 The Wonders of Wealth 1:50  ****
4 "I Have Chosen You" 3:23  *****
5 "You Were A Prince" 1:48  ****
6 Leaving As An Emissary 5:19  *****
7 Father and Son 1:51  ****
8 Phantom Army 1:48  ****
9 "So This Is War" 1:57  *****
10 The Blowing Sands 4:29  ****
11 Fresh Water 1:50  *****
12 One Brother Lives, One Brother Dies 6:45  *****
13 Battle in the Oil Fields 5:15  *****
14 A Kingdom of Oil 8:47  *****
  Total Running Time (approx) 55 minutes  

 

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