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The Rum Diary by Christopher Young

The Rum Diary

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The Rum Diary (Soundtrack) by Christopher Young
The Rum Diary (Soundtrack) by Christopher Young

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rum Diary (Soundtrack) by Christopher Young

The Rum Diary
Composed by Christopher Young
Lakehouse Records (2011)

Rating: 6/10

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“Approach with caution, curiosity, and/or alcohol and prepare to be drawn into a bizarre but not unwelcoming dream world.”

"Where the Rum has Gone."
Review by Marius Masalar

No one remembers Hunter S. Thompson as an ordinary figure in the history of journalism, and the cultural contributions he is best known for — “gonzo” journalism, Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, and of course The Rum Diary — say a lot about what one can expect from the film adaptation of the latter book. While the film’s vaguely hallucinatory plotline meandered in a meaningful way on paper, the transition to film has been a difficult process, this being the third attempt since the book’s publication.

While critics have been ambivalent and generally unimpressed by this eventual cinematic take on the story, there is no denying its authenticity to the source material, for better or worse, and much of the atmosphere’s uniquely convoluted moods are contributed by film scoring veteran, CHRISTOPHER YOUNG. While most people think of CHRISTOPHER YOUNG as the king of horror scoring (which is understandable given his recent credits for Priest, Drag Me To Hell, The Uninvited, etc.), Young’s expertise reaches far beyond the frightening and macabre to encompass a variety of genres. It is thanks to this diversity of talent and considerable film scoring expertise that Young pulls off a successful score to a difficult film.

The album opens with 1958’s Grammy Song of the Year, albeit a cover of it sung by Dean Martin. “Volare (Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu)” (1) is a happy-go-lucky and tuneful song that imparts a sense of exotic longing and carefree spirit. Happily, it’s one of those examples of songs being used sensibly on an album; the vintage warmth of Martin’s voice perfectly draws us into the required context for properly appreciating the score. Young’s first piece on the album, “Rum Diary” (2) is a main theme, though it does not recur in any meaningful way throughout the score. The piece presents a pensive but upbeat motif that develops into a hummable jazzy affair that proves you can still have a saxophone in a score without it becoming insufferable. The right tools in the right hands go a long way. “Suckfish and Snake” (3) brings a vintage organ into the mix and emphasizes the guitar presence in Young’s eclectic Rum Diary musical ensemble. The halting phrases are comedic even without the doo-wop vocalizations that make an entrance midway through. Sadly, the track manages to feel fairly underwhelming and gives us our first glimpse of a problem that plagues much of the score: a certain zoned out vibe.

Of course, that’s perfectly appropriate given the story being told, but on album it results in many tracks that fly by forgettably with an odd detachment that secures them as fantastic lounge/background music but makes them slippery for active listening. “Mother of Balls” (4) is a perfect example of this effect, and it is scarcely diminished in “Chenault” (5), despite some very competent quiet jazz work — brushed drumkit, solo sax and all. For many of the tracks affected, it’s really not an issue, but “Chenault” (5) is the theme for the main love interest in the film, and the wallpaper transparency of the music confounds the significance of the character. The quiet vibe is developed more enjoyably in “Flagged Me Smiling” (6), a groovy cue with much more of a musical arc to lend it repeat listening value. The sleepy mood picks up again with “Pink Jelly Remains” (7), featuring a delicious tune on the sax supported by a pleasant tropical backdrop and energetic screaming trumpets. The trumpets get quite strident as the track progresses, but it somehow all fits into the delirium of the film.

The pace continues to pick up with “Rockin’ on Rooster (With My Dead Monkey’s Mother)” (8). If some of the music is sounding a bit too much like elevator music for your liking, you can always look to the track titles for consolation and amusement. They also serve to remind us that the music toes that line because of the comedic value it provides when married to the bizarre events occurring on screen. Either way, this piece is infectious and charming, without the frantic quality imposed by the trumpets in its predecessor. It also leads smoothly into the score’s standout dramatic cue, “Sweat Bee” (9), a quiet piano-led waltz wrapped in soft strings. There’s little room in the film for such moments though, and “Cock-Of-The-Rock” (10) kicks things back into motion with pokey guitar stabs and a somewhat goofy baritone saxophone. It’s worth stating that as hokey as some of the tunes sound, they’re all wholly authentic to the style and reveal Young’s comfort with styles that range outside his norm.

“Black Note Blues” (11), with its walking bassline and growling vocals, is oddly uninteresting in its development. It ticks off all the boxes on the checklist for a typical blues tune, but the overall effect is flat and forgettable — especially unfortunate since it drags on for nearly four minutes. The closest we get to a return to the main theme is probably in the halfway track, “My Car The Cockroach” (12), where the same basic thematic material is referenced somewhat obliquely by an extremely similar ensemble. As was the case with the main theme, it offers one of the most memorable cues on the album and manages an effortless charm that eludes some of the more generic background tracks on the album. Thankfully, it sits right beside another track that captures that same charisma: “Neon Popsicles” (13). Gentle vibes and a quiet lilting rhythm propel the cue through its unhurried development and bring us to a satisfying conclusion before dumping us back into the realm of the blah. There’s nothing in particular wrong with “Hefti-Tefti” (14) and the jittery “He Must Be A Sadist” (15), but they feel hollow and lacking the conviction of the stronger tracks on the album. This is also true of “Puerto Rican Piss Off” (16), though this latter track makes up for it with some unusual sound effects in the mix that give it a unique feel.

As far as conclusions go, THE RUM DIARY’s is disappointing on album, at least in terms of Christopher Young’s material. The final three tracks start out interestingly enough with “Whacking A Salesman” (17) and its odd lead that sounds like a processed harmonica, but “The Biggest Crook In New Jersey” (18) feels interminable and distractingly disjointed throughout its lengthy 5:30 runtime. If nothing else, it makes a fairly poor transition into the final score cue of the album, “Desperate Drunks and Postcard Loo” (19). This final offering of Young’s music is actually pretty fun and has a celebratory feel to it, but it fails to recapture the vibe of the stronger opening track or any of the more unique five-star cues along the way. When it surrenders to the closing five source music tracks, we are hardly sad to see it go. Johnny Depp is credited for the instrumental version of “The Mermaid Song (Instrumental)” (20) as well as beautiful “Kemp in the Village” (23), which feels much stronger as a concluding cue than Young’s final track did. The two instrumental deviations by the JD Band in between are fun and make you want to dance, but they seem oddly sandwiched in the album’s otherwise moody concluding finale. The last word is had by Patti Smith, singing “The Mermaid Song” (24) a capella quite unenthusiastically. Most listeners will probably feel as bored as she seems to have been, which is unfortunate in light of the intelligent lyrics.

THE RUM DIARY is without a doubt a complicated item to critique. It is a prime example of a score that is hard to divorce from its visual context, but it isn’t entirely senseless without it either. CHRISTOPHER YOUNG must be commended for making the best of a challenging scoring opportunity, and succeeding in producing a perfectly appropriate score, even at the expense of independent listening value for many of the tracks. That being said, the material that is good on the album is often really good, and has enough personality and spunk to be worthy of any jazz lover’s playlist. Approach with caution, curiosity, and/or alcohol and prepare to be drawn into a bizarre but not unwelcoming dream world.

 

Rating: 6/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Volare (Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu) Dean Martin 2:59  *****
2 Rum diary 2:41  ****
3 Suckfish and Snake 2:32  ***
4 Mother of Balls 3:59  ***
5 Chenault 2:44  ***
6 Flagged me Smiling 2:55  ****
7 Pink Jelly Remains 2:41  ****
8 Rocki' On Rooster (With My Dead Monkey's Mother) 3:05  *****
9 Sweat Bee 2:19  ****
10 Cock-of-the-Rock 3:54  ***
11 Black Note Blues 3:56  ***
12 My Car the Cockroach 3:50  *****
13 Neon Popsicles 2:30  *****
14 Hefti-Tefti 2:42  ***
15 He Must Be a Sadist 3:37  ***
16 Puerto Rico Piss-Off 3:22  ****
17 Whacking a Salesman 2:32  ***
18 The Biggest Crook in New Jersey 5:30  **
19 Desperate Drunks and Postcard Loons 3:04  ***
20 The Mermaid Song (Johnny Depp) 1:34  ***
21 What About el Monstruo (JD Band) 2:38  ****
22 Roll Out the Roosters (JD Band) 1:58  ***
23 Kemp in the Village (Johnny Depp, JJ Holiday) 1:56  *****
24 The Mermaid Song (Patti Smith) 2:09  **
  Total Running Time (approx) 56 minutes  

 

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