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Man of Steel (Hans Zimmer)

June 25, 2013

cover_manofsteelMAN OF STEEL (DELUXE EDITION)

Hans Zimmer, 2013, WaterTower Music
24 tracks, 1:58:22

Hans Zimmer provides a modern twist to the classic Superman character. Whilst some of the key ideas are pleasant and promising, the overall result is a lot of sound and fury signifying… not a great deal. Relying heavily on a gimmicky drum circle made up off a dozen (give or take) renowned percussionists, the score’s composition is too simplistic to truly impress.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Superman needs no introduction. Zack Snyder revamps the hero with Henry Cavill in the lead. A modern tale on a classic superhero requires a modern score. Hans Zimmer was brought in (presumably by producer Chris Nolan, director of the recent “Batman” trilogy) to provide it.

What does it sound like?

Things are off to a reasonable start with “Look to the Stars”, with its ethereal soundscape and understated rendition of the main theme. It may be a simplistic tune, but at this stage it makes sense and is acceptable – provided it’ll develop throughout the score (which unfortunately it hardly does). The overly familiar aa-ee-oo chorus and choppy strings during the second half are less attractive, but by no means bad. “Oil Rig” introduces Zimmer’s circle of drums (after a rather disturbing glitch in the recording). A set of power chords follow. It’s a lot of noise without substance really. “Sent here for a reason” combines mysterious synth pads with a melancholy piano version of the theme. It’s pleasant, and even quite poignant when the main theme is played in the lower registers and then given back to the piano. “DNA” starts off with a mysterious, but hard to define theme before lashing out with percussion and stabbing chords. “Goodbye my Son” introduces a gentle new theme for voice and later brass. In spite of some staccato strings, the arrangement is quite minimal and ultimately fails to impress.

“If You Love These People” opens with a 2-note statement of the main theme, which here sounds too much like the “Batman” theme. It soon makes me way for heavy percussion and a guitar driven version of the secondary theme, including some quasi-classical chord progression that recall the Zimmer from the 90s. The composer closes the track with a cello performance, but heavy synth pads ruin it. “Krypton’s Last” continues with the exact same sounds the previous track ended with, so it baffles me why they weren’t joined to form a fluent suite (something Zimmer is otherwise known for). A solo violin offers a different sound to the proceedings, if only briefly, before we’re back in the drum circle and the over-produced brass sounds. “Terraforming” has become something of a fan-favourite and based on the opening ostinato one could see why. However, what follows is a barrage of noise that fails to either impress or entertain this reviewer. The brass and staccato strings are painfully synthesised and at nearly 10 minutes, this track takes a great effort to sit through.

“Tornado” offers more staccato strings writing and percussion; whilst “You Die or I Do” relies mostly on mysterious sound design, though offers some typical Zimmer action writing during the second half. If you haven’t already, then by now you’re starting to realise that the ostinatos and rhythms sound awfully familiar from other Zimmer (and Remote Control) scores. “Launch” treats (ha-ha) the listeners to an odd descending theme, which is striking through its choice of instrumentation (a screechy sound somewhere halfway between a string and a vocal), but is melodically uninteresting. As with many other cues, this one ends rather abruptly, making way for the battery of percussion that makes up the bulk of “Ignition”. “I Will Find Him” combines percussive stabs with the oo-ee-aa chorus and one of the score’s repeating motifs. Again, a lot of sound and fury…

“This is Clark Kent” offers a gentle piano version of the main theme as well as the secondary theme. This is genuinely nice, regardless of some similarities to older Zimmer themes – in fact, it is quite welcome! I must say though, it is this track where I keep expecting the main theme to turn into “Thunderbird” from “Thelma & Louise”. Percussion is kept low-key (for the most part) and works really well. Only in its dying seconds does Zimmer manage to ruin the delicate atmosphere with some unnecessary percussive jabs. “I Have So Many Questions” initially continues the style of the previous cue (and should’ve been mixed together to form a continuous suite), before turning much darker. Again it tries to be reflective with its simple composition and use of solo cello and voice, but once more it lacks real gravitas.

On to “Flight”, which is considered to be one of few highlights by fans and critics alike. The main theme is introduced by lower brass and slowly built upon until it’s grown into a full-blown Zimmer anthem. Not his best, and the all-too-familiar rhythms are a nuisance, but it does the trick. It doesn’t stop there though and “What Are You Going To Do When You’re Not Saving The World” offers a similar, if slightly more satisfying rendition of the main theme. Again, upon hearing the first two notes I keep willing it to turn into “Thunderbird”, which in its own right is a career highlight for Zimmer. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for the dummm-dummm-du-du-du-dummm rhythms to return and harm the cue with their unoriginality. “Hans’ Original Sketchbook” offers us a glimpse into the composer’s composing process as it contains his initial thoughts. Presumably wholly electronic, it astounds and annoys me that I cannot hear the difference between this and the (allegedly) orchestral tracks. To me, that doesn’t mean that Zimmer’s samples are really good, but rather that his orchestral recordings are overpowered and ruined by the inclusion of synths. Even the percussion sounds exactly the same; so unless Zimmer had already recorded his drum circle sessions, I really wonder about the purpose of hiring a dozen renowned drummers. At 28 minutes this is a tough listen. Some ideas are repeated ad nauseam rendering the whole thing quite unpleasant.

Back to the actual score with “Are You Listening Clark?” which contains a lot of sound effects (including some whispering, which is a nice touch) and another welcome piano performance of the main theme. Yet again, it’s pleasant but this arrangement for piano and soft synth pads is exactly the same as in earlier tracks. It offers nothing new; shows no progression and ultimately feels like a copy-and-paste job. “General Zod” presents a march-like ostinato, which over the course of a few minutes builds in intensity, but leaves you waiting for a theme to be played on top of it – yet there isn’t one. “You Led Us Here” may well be one of the most intelligent cues on this albums as it seems to combine a number of themes. It does so in a setting so dark and overpowered by rumbling brass chords that the result is not nearly as pleasant as one would hope. Zimmer’s drum circle gets its 4 minutes of fame in “This is Madness” (I can only assume this is Zimmer’s own excited description of the percussion group) when they perform without any additional backing. It proves that they are loud; and more disturbingly it proves that 15 drummers are 14 more than Zimmer can write for. Unless there is some 5.1 trickery here that is getting lost in a standard stereo mix, it just sounds like a whole bunch of percussionists playing the exact same rhythm is unison. In contrast “Earth” is pleasantly understated if simplistic – and, oh, we’re getting even closer to “Thunderbird”, stop teasing me! The album eventually closes with the ostinatos, percussion and odd selection of synth sounds of “Arcade”. Quite an unpleasant ending to a baffling score.

Is it any good?

There is a reasonably pleasant (but short!) album hidden somewhere in this onslaught of percussion and synthesized brass. There are a number of cues here that could be considered a (guilty) pleasure; that genuinely convey the ‘hope’ and ‘humanity’ that Zimmer wanted to infuse in his score. However,  the key problems with this score are its simplicity and the pointlessness of its orchestrations. Why record a live orchestra (and proclaim in interviews how much you love a real orchestra) when you then drown it out by synthesisers to the point where one cannot hear the difference between the fully sampled “Sketchbook” and the orchestral score? Why hire godknows how many percussionists when they all end up playing in unison – StormDrum would’ve sounded pretty much the same. It seems like the drum circle is just a gimmick; a cool idea, but it offers nothing truly substantial to this score. Just like the chanting in “The Dark Knight Rises”. (I understand the idea is that a group of instruments sound different that a solo one. A string section sounds entirely different than a solo violin. Personally, I believe this is only true for groups of instruments capable of playing sustained notes; therefore the experiment, if interesting, is lost on percussion.) If you want inventive percussion performances, go hire Stomp or The Blue Man Group (oh… John Powell already did that). I can’t help but think… give Elliot Goldenthal 2 trombones and he creates magic. Give Zimmer 8 trombones and you end up with bwaarrr. Over a pint of beer these gimmicks may sound like really cool ideas, and to most teenagers it appararently does to (so maybe I’m simply too old); but does it actually add anything to the narrative of the score or film? In combination with the simplistic and repetitive nature of the composition (something increasingly evident in Zimmer’s work), the album is ultimately a let-down. A handful of good tracks cannot make up for the vast majority of those that are merely ear-splittingly annoying. The record label too is to blame for the failure of this album. They created such a pre-release hype that it could only disappoint. Some key film music critics have slated this score; and whilst I will not rate this score as low as they did, I cannot honestly give it any more than a below-average rating. The album offers some genuinely promising ideas, but ultimately fails to deliver that promise.

Rating [2/5]

Tracklisting

1.Look to the Stars (2:54)
2. Oil Rig (1:31)
3. Sent Here for a Reason (3:46)
4. DNA (3:18)
5. Goodbye My Son (1:57)
6. If You Love These People (3:03)
7. Krypton’s Last (1:58)
8. Terraforming (9:46)
9. Tornado (2:47)
10. You Die or I Do (3:04)
11. Launch (2:29)
12. Ignition (1:12)
13. I Will Find Him (2:47)
14. This is Clark Kent (3:36)
15. I Have So Many Questions (3:21)
16. Flight (4:09)
17. What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World? (5:26)
18. Hans’ Original Sketchbook (28:11)
19. Are You Listening, Clark? (2:48) *
20. General Zod (7:21) *
21. You Led Us Here (2:59) *
22. This Is Madness (3:48) *
23. Earth (6:11) *
24. Arcade (7:25) *

* Deluxe edition.

Album credits
Link album on allmusic.com

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5 Comments
  1. joshnarwold permalink

    Like many others, I’ve developed a rather cynical attitude toward Hans Zimmer’s brand of film music. I can’t say “Man of Steel” changed my mind at all on that front; but I did find one element to enjoy.

    In some of the more introspective moments, such as Track 3 (“Sent Here for a Reason”), it almost seems as though Zimmer forgot trying to be clever or dramatic and focused on writing a simple expression of emotion. The synthetic elements produce a dreamlike atmosphere, holding your interest between statements of the main theme; and, in the case of that third track (and later in the score), the addition of harmony to the piano version of the theme (at 2:38) actually feels like a bit cathartic. The sparse, quiet nature of these moments offers relief in the midst of an otherwise oppressively dark album.

    Sound design also produces a palpable sense of anticipation in portions such as the first two minutes of Track 1, where the main theme is introduced in muffled intervals, building in intensity before its first full reveal.

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