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Fable III by Russell Shaw

Fable III

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Fable III (Soundtrack) by Russell Shaw
Fable III (Soundtrack) by Russell Shaw
Buy Fable III for the Xbox 360










Fable III (Soundtrack) by Russell Shaw

Fable III
Composed by Russell Shaw
Sumthing Else Music Works (2010)

Rating: 5/10

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“...despite solid live performances by the Slovak National Symphony and Pinewood Singers, SHAW’s score fails to muster much energy or distinctive appeal.”

Not All There
Review by Marius Masalar

For the first time in the series’ history, the FABLE III score is no longer graced by the presence of Danny Elfman’s hallowed name. To be fair, even in the first two scores his only contribution was the main theme, but even so, this latest game in the trilogy is our first glimpse of RUSSELL SHAW working without any outside assistance for this series — he’s on his own here.

The game, like its predecessors, is a quirky fantasy story with memorable characters, a good sense of humour, and an attractive and vibrant art style. It’s something of a dream for any composer to have such a colourful palette of visuals to compose to. SHAW is Lionhead Games’ in-house composer, which is why many will recognize him as the maestro behind Dungeon Keeper and Black & White. Unfortunately, despite solid live performances by the Slovak National Symphony and Pinewood Singers, SHAW’s score fails to muster much energy or distinctive appeal.

This has been a perennial issue for me with the Fable scores. They always seem to have such potential, but despite a few excellent tracks on each album, the overall experience has always been a letdown. The music is just too forgettable. Sadly, FABLE III does little to break out of this formula, beginning with the anemic “Fable III Theme” (1). Some of Elfman’s mannerisms return to tickle the senses like a phantom limb, and they do a good job of enhancing the opening, yet by the end of the track’s diverse moods, you’d be hard-pressed to hum a theme, except perhaps for the rising scale figure that lingers on the solo violin.

Some redemption comes in the form of the friendly and vaguely comical “A Hero Awakes” (2), where light woodwinds and hovering strings introduce the protagonist very appropriately. Tension arrives with “Keyhole” (3), as tremolo strings and low woodwinds growl toward a meandering string recap of the main thematic elements. Character themes tend to be good places to look for quality, and this luckily holds true for FABLE III. The first is “Elise” (4), a string-led theme of some nobility and grace that leaves a good impression despite its brief length and seemingly abrupt ending.

That cue also leads very nicely into one of the score’s few five-star tracks. “Escape” (5) is a spectacular piece of tense action scoring that exhibits a great sense of patience in its build from a simple string ostinato to a grand, multilayered piece of orchestral minimalism. Interestingly, it never grows too intense, maintaining the tension through restraint and ending with a dip in energy rather than a huge climax. The second character theme, “Theresa” (6), is less interesting than Elise’s, though it brings back the glorious Pinewood Singers for some choral accents…only to silence them far too soon.

“Fight or Flight” (7) is an embarrassing example of how to write uninteresting action music. It ticks off all the elements — taikos, stick clicks, low piano notes — but manages to assemble them in a way that is almost entirely devoid of tension or musical merit. The dorky stabs leading to contrived risers just trundle along until finally giving up. It’s a good thing too, because “The Dwellers” (8) is another one of the album’s standout tracks, featuring a stirring violin solo exploring the main theme over a quiet bed of strings. The texture could have used some further development considering the 4-minute length of the cue, but as a gameplay ambience it exhibits a refreshing sense of sophistication and emotion.

Speaking of ambience, it continues in a less compelling fashion with the synth pads and guitar strums of “Sanctuary” (9). It’s a peaceful combination, but there’s not much to focus on if you’re doing nothing but listening to the music. Leading into the middle stretch is another good character theme: “Sabine” (10). Her lilting waltz is very attractive, and leads into “Brightwall” (11). This track has a similar feel to “Escape”, except it features a strong thematic statement and is slightly shorter. Nevertheless, it’s a keeper and the presence of a theme is a nice change from the anonymous meanderings of the majority of other cues on the album. Right at the halfway point, “Reliquary” (12) offers an elegiac and church-like gameplay ambience with a moving choral texture. It is thin and uncomplicated, but truly beautiful to listen to.

Another reminder of the score’s theme (we need it) comes cutely packaged in a 40-second phrase in “Music Box” (13), where the title instrument plucks it out childishly. It’s quickly followed by a largely synthetic ambience, “Driftwood” (14). Some sparkling textures and airy sounds make for an intensely relaxing atmosphere that brings us drifting to the album’s longest track by far. The 11-minute “Reaver Mansion” (15) is an interesting musical chimaera, liberally and unashamedly quoting everything from Greensleeves to Bach to a composition by the performing guitarist, Kostas Zarifis. The result is a very medieval sounding medley of music one would expect to find playing in a typical fantasy castle, and it’s an easy track to recommend.

Unfortunately, it is followed by two largely forgettable gameplay tracks, “Shadelight” (16) and “Desert” (17). The first is brooding and quite evil sounding in its mediocrity, but the second manages a bit more personality with its hesitant string statements of the theme modulated to Eastern scales and accompanied by ethnic percussion. That foreign feel is carried over into “Kalin” (18), then final character theme on the album. It features the haunting, slightly processed voice of Tanja Tzarovska and absolutely transports us to a different place. A creepy, but strangely beautiful place.

The album’s closing stretch suffers from a serious case of cripplingly short tracks. “Coronation” (19) sounds like it could be a climatic savior, but it’s less than a minute long — barely enough time to register the huge shift in texture from thin ambience to glorious choral fanfare. This is compounded by the immediate return to darker moods in “Logan’s Trial” (20) and “Execution” (21), which go hand in hand and express the seemingly inevitable demise of the character. “Execution” actually brings in a snare drum to emphasize this march.

The final tracks are a study in contrasting quality. “Death of Walter” (22) is easily one of the strongest offerings on the disc, with lovely orchestral statements of thematic beauty and drama. I wish it were the closing track, because the inclusion of “Farewell Walter” (23) and “Finale” (24) felt acutely unsatisfying. Their short length (less than two minutes put together) made it feel like someone yelling “and another thing!” and then walking away without saying anything else. Not a nice feeling at the end of a score.

Parting ways with FABLE III was a disappointment in more ways than one. Firstly and primarily because it simply fails to deliver the kind of vibrant, compelling music that seems necessary for this kind of game; and secondly because I keep expecting that they will transcend this anonymous middle-ground. I expected it for FABLE II and now for FABLE III and I continue to be disappointed. I understand not wanting to follow stereotypes and seeking a more subtle approach, but at least if you’re going to depart from tradition it seems a worthy concern to make the alternative better.

That being said, RUSSELL SHAW has put together a decent score. It contributes positively, if subtly, to the game itself, and the fact that it’s largely performed by a live ensemble helps inject some life into the otherwise pale tunes. However, if — like me — you’re waiting for the big break score that establishes RUSSELL SHAW as a powerful voice in the landscape of media scoring, well…keep waiting.

Rating: 5/10



Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Fable III Theme 2:55  ***
2 A Hero Awakes 2:23  ****
3 Keyhole 2:55  ***
4 Elise 1:17  ****
5 Escape 5:01  ***
6 Theresa 1:05  ****
7 Fight of Flight 2:43  **
8 The Dwellers 4:19  ****
9 Sanctuary 3:55  ***
10 Sabine 1:19  ****
11 Brightwall 2:55  *****
12 Reliquary 4:58  **
13 Music Box 0:40  ***
14 Driftwood 2:23  ***
15 Reaver Mansion 11:13  *****
16 Shadelight 3:18  **
17 Desert 4:55  ***
18 Kalin 5:00  ****
19 Coronation 0:56  ***
20 Logan's Trial 2:28  ***
21 Execution 1:24  ***
22 Death of Walter 2:47  *****
23 Farewell Walter 0:57  **
24 Finale 0:46  ***
25 The James Bond Theme (By Monty Norman) 2:20  *****
  Total Running Time (approx) 56 minutes  




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