Fable III Composed by Russell Shaw
Sumthing Else Music Works (2010)
More soundclips below provided by AmazonMp3
live performances by the Slovak National Symphony and Pinewood
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
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
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
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.