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Red 2 (Alan Silvestri)

August 4, 2013

Cover_red2RED 2

Alan Silvestri, 2013, Lionsgate Records
24 tracks, 58:48

Bruce Willis returns in the action-comedy sequel “Red 2”. Along for the ride is composer Alan Silvestri, master of both action and comedy. He delivers a score that should be taken with a pinch of salt, or two… or so I sincerely hope.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Unsurprisingly “Red 2” is the sequel to the 2010 action-comedy “Red”, starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Anthony Hopklins, Helen Mirren, Catherine Zeta-Jones amongst others. The film is directed by Dean Parisot, who made the hilariously funny “Galaxy Quest” back in 1999, but has done little of interest since. This sequel sees “retired C.I.A. agent Frank Moses reuniting his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device“. (Yeah, I’ve just taken that straight off iMDb!) These films don’t take themselves too seriously; and neither do their respective soundtracks. “Red” featured a score by Christopher Beck that was rich with jazz and rock elements (and very little orchestra), creating a distinct ‘caper’ sound. It was quite a slick little score. For its sequel, the filmmakers turned to Alan Silvestri and (seemingly) asked for a more action-packed score that features a sizeable orchestra as well as plenty of electronic elements.

What does it sound like?

Let me be clear from the start (well, two paragraphs in) that I am a big fan of Silvestri’s work; and that he is in fact the reason I got into film music in the first place. Yet, putting “Silvestri” and “electronics” in one sentence worries me. He is not great with them, in my opinion, and his usage of synths often ends up sounding amateurish. Luckily “Red 2” is as much a comedy as it is an action film, which means the cheesy drumloops and out-of-the-box synth sounds are probably all part of the joke… right?

The album opens with “Main Title”, which itself starts with a gated synth sound, which initially made me wonder whether my copy was damaged. Synth arpeggios and cheap drumloops are soon added, along with some brass stabs (typical for the composer) and a quick 7-note string motif. There is no real theme here; and the whole style and atmosphere reeks of spy- and cop shows from the 1990s (UK hit-show “Spooks” came to mind a few times). Though as it turns out, those arpeggios and that string motif recur several times throughout the score; effectively making them the score’s key elements.

Generally speaking, all the action or tense moments are scored with synth basses, retro percussion and the composer’s trademark brass chords and choppy strings. The lighter moments are often accompanied by a jazzy organ; and maybe a marimba, a guitar and some bongos on occasion. It’s all incredibly clichéd and often sounds like one of those demo songs you get on cheap keyboards. The trouble is… it’s neither funny nor energetic. Quite a few times it recalls old synth-driven scores by Silvestri such as “Delta Force” (without the rollicking theme) or “Cat’s Eye” (and that one was bad, even for its time). The orchestral elements try to hark back to the days of “Eraser” and “Judge Dredd”, but “Red 2” doesn’t hold a candle to those two. There may even be a touch of “Shattered”, but that’s not one Silvestri’s finest either. Oh dear…

Now, it’s not all bad; and overall the score is by no means terrible. The up-tempo “Paris Chase” is a highlight, albeit one of very few, with Silvestri’s typical chord changes and driving snare drums. “London Chase” tries to recapture the excitement of “Paris Chase” and succeeds in some parts; but ends up sounding like background music for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” in others. The orchestral finale to this track is redeeming. “Dasvidaniya” contains some reasonably engaging orchestral action writing, before another keyboard demo-song “Bomb Sunset” closes the album.

Is it any good?

It’s not terrible, but that’s about as good as it gets. As a fan of Silvestri I wanted to like this; and I wanted to give the cheap-sounding synths the benefit of the doubt, as I’m sure the composer’s intentions are parodic. The trouble is that Silvestri has gone past ‘parody’ and ended up making the score sound amateurish; and I suspect that was not his intention. It disappoints me to see this talented composer churn out these life-less action scores lately (i.e. the last decade or so). Scores like “The A-Team” and “GI Joe” were not much better in my opinion; and to think this is the guy who used to set the benchmark with “Predator” and “Judge Dredd”! One could argue (and I certainly will) that Silvestri is not great with synthesizers. I don’t know whether he’s simply not that interested in them, or he’s not keeping up to date with the latest software, or whether he simply doesn’t know what to do with them. It always sounds like he’s a decade behind the times. That’s not a problem in itself, seeing as his orchestral writing is phenomenal; but it does become an issue when his scores start to rely on electronics as heavily as this one does.

The score is consistent and coherent though, if only through means of repetition. It may not offer any strong themes, it does have a number of elements (such as a synth arpeggio, a specific drumloop and a short string phrase ) that form the building blocks of this score. It certainly helps to create a uniform sound throughout the album, though it doesn’t offer any variations on these ideas. I think the album would’ve benefitted from a shorter running time, as I don’t think there is more than 30-35 minutes of original material here.

On a positive note, it is great to see Silvestri getting these high-end gigs. He may be off making wine for most of the year, but Hollywood has not forgotten about him. “Red 2” may offer few true highlights, but if you don’t mind the parodic synth sound, you may well enjoy this one. For most casual listeners, I think it misses the mark.

Rating [2/5]

Tracklisting

1. Main Title (1:20)
2. Safe House (1:40)
3. Speaking of Sarah (1:43)
4. Pentagon (2:26)
5. Han (1:30)
6. Marvin At Work (1:31)
7. Victoria Calls (3:10)
8. Han Plane Gone (1:20)
9. To Paris (2:45)
10. Paris Chase (2:42)
11. I Need You Frank (1:45)
12. Dressed To Kill (1:02)
13. To London (2:46)
14. To Moscow (4:28)
15. Hole In the Wall (3:22)
16. Sarah the Guard (2:47)
17. Catacombs (3:48)
18. Bailey Escapes (1:52)
19. Hangar Fight (2:22)
20. Entering the Embassy (2:55)
21. Plumbing (2:37)
22. London Chase (3:53)
23. Dasvidaniya (2:28)
24. Bomb Sunset (2:33)

Availability

Available digitally and on CD.

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