Review Summary: Around the World... with Jeff Bridges
Inevitable conundrum arisen of two worlds collided: the kinetic of techno and the visual of film scoring. The problem inherent in both is in terms of listenership, that is, the value of listening outside of proposed context. The club of techno; the silver screen of film. Daft Punk are the explorers of the field and Tron: Legacy OST
is their platform. The collision is not entirely unheard of, take for example electronic acts such as Amon Tobin or Underworld, both of whom have leant their expertise to the big (or even little) screen. These acts, however, already possessed a cinematic quality to their soundscapes and atmospheres that leant naturally to film–Daft Punk do not. Such is the interest in the employ of the robots as the great purveyors of sound and mood for the sequel to the 1980's cult film Tron
. Will the marriage of two, seemingly disparate (or, perhaps not so) genres unite in glory, or split asunder?
Ultimately the answer has to be the always ambiguous, and thus frustrating: to some degree, on either side. The question itself concerns two individual questions, the first being ‘is it quality?’, the second being ‘what does the splicing create?’. They both concern quality, one implicitly and the other explicitly, and both questions are the only real ones needed to address the album entire. Essentially, these two questions map out more concentrated ones. Does this sound like a Daft Punk record? Does this sound like a quality Daft Punk record? Does this work as a quality film score? To repose back to the latter, we should first examine what this marriage does.
The initial release of two tracks, “Derezzed” and “TRON Legacy (End Titles)”, stoked increasing interest amongst the nerd and Daft Punk fan communities alike. With good reason, both tracks seem to be the fullest realization of a sound that could excite the average music fan beyond what the typical film score could. Why Daft Punk are so well respected in the electronic and general listening community has always been, above the excellent beats and samples, their ability to find space and breathing room in their robotic compositions. Do not mistake this for a cinematic quality, though, and what these two previously released tracks offer is that cinematic sweep and grandiosity above the programmed synths. For example, the epic strings attached to the second half of “TRON Legacy” lifts it to a vast scope. If only they would carry this idiom across the entirety of this twenty-two track set.
The robots aren’t able to, and for all intents and purposes Tron: Legacy is a film score through and through. Ironically, the increased popularity in film scores out of context (ie. as individual entities) seems to coincide with the rise of compositions that rely heavily upon a visual aid. Whereas the golden era of Hollywood brought classically trained composers such as William Walton and Samuel Barber, today’s typical action flick (no matter how nerdy Tron is, it is indeed an action flick) mires itself in Zimmerisms; grandiose chord progressions, crescendoes galore, and epic string and horn arrangements. In the context of the film it works great, I dare you not to get a little bit excited with the score at the end of The Dark Night. The problem with Tron: Legacy
is that it is exactly this type of score, and a very well done attempt I might add. “Outlands” propels towards its hairy, horn led climax; and “Adagio for TRON” is lamenting and mournful enough with its strings and rather lovely progression. Yes, the score works as a score and surely these moments meet touching love scenes and tension soaked moments where colourful lights cut other bike riders in half.
But where’s the excitement of Daft Punk’s touch in this? Outside of those two aforementioned tracks, they appear more often than not as a low pulse behind propulsive string movements, or warm synthesizer tones that accentuate thunderous timpani. “The Game Has Changed” does offer some glitchy, drum n’ bass stuff to all the forlorn and seriousness of the affair. Indeed it’s all rather serious business in here, from the echoing bleeps “Nocturne” to the very awesome voice of Jeff Bridges opening things after “Overture” (which, coincidentally, is totally a unnecessary opener). But, again, where are Daft Punk in it all? They’re here in flashes–sometimes brilliant flashes–as with perhaps the most fulfilling piece “Disc Wars”, with its arpeggio synth line and soaring crescendo. There just is not nearly enough in Tron: Legacy to make it stand out.
Which is really unfortunate because the good moments in here are very good. It may also be harsh to criticize Tron: Legacy
for not being what Daft Punk fans want it to be, but this ultimately leads to the greatest problem with the score. It sounds like a multitude of other scores, that is, outside of some far flung moments, anybody could have composed this soundtrack. That isn’t to say that the score in any aspect fails at what it’s trying to do. With the visual aid it will surely be a very well rounded and acceptable score. But this is being released prior to the film, which means it is meant to be heard outside of the context of the silver screen. In that case, there is nothing here to warrant a more studied interest beyond the casual. It sounds good and it sounds like a 21st century action film score. No risk. Therefore there is ultimately no great gain.