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The Wolverine (Marco Beltrami)

August 12, 2013

Cover_wolverine THE WOLVERINE

Marco Beltrami, 2013, Sony
22 tracks, 59:41

Marco Beltrami is having a great year – and so are his fans! So far we’ve heard a couple of great action- and thriller scores, such as “A Good Day to Die Hard” and “World War Z”. There are a few more scores scheduled for release later this year. Right now you can feast your ears on “The Wolverine”… beware though, this is a surprisingly tough score.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

“The Wolverine” is (do I even need to…?) a spin-off from the “X-Men” series. Hugh Jackman stars as the title character. In this film, he travels to Japan. Probably to ‘find himself’, but ends up finding trouble instead. It’s directed by James Mangold of “3:10 to Yuma”, which was scored by Marco Beltrami; and the pair reunite on this one.

What does it sound like?

Tell you what it doesn’t sound like – it sounds nothing like what we’ve come to expect from ‘super-hero’, comic-book adaptations. Sure, it’s heavy on percussion, but light on themes or power-chords. Some have claimed that Beltrami’s approach resembles that of a Western. Personally I’d say it’s martial arts music. Beltrami incorporates a lot of traditional Japanese percussion instruments (most notably the taiko, but also various bells and bowls) and uses them in a way that sounds authentic and pleasantly acoustic (compared to the drum machines that dominate current trends). “Logan’s Run” and “Funeral Fight” are two early examples of this.

The percussive drive is something this score has in common with Beltrami’s previously released “World War Z“, though surprisingly “The Wolverine” is an altogether tougher listen! There are plenty of aggressive brass stabs and dissonant (crescendo-ing) chords. The music is tense, on-edge and never lets up, not even during the more ‘reflective’ cues. A 4-chord motif recurs throughout the quieter moments. Most of the time, the fourth chord sounds somewhat unresolved; and when the motif is repeated it even leaves the last chord out completely, emphasising the unresolved nature of this theme (listen to “The Offer” and “Two Handed”, for examples). These introspective moments are scored primarily for low strings, solo cello, brooding synths and a faded harmonica (e.g. “Trusting”).

The second half of the album sees the music packing a serious punch. “Kantana Surgery” features a nervous violin ostinato, in a way that’s so quintessential Beltrami. Title track “The Wolverine” builds tension through a series of brass-and-strings chords. Though harmonic, it’s not melodic in a way that would be gratifying. “Ninja Quiet”, “Silver Samurai” and “Sword of Vengeance” see Beltrami let rip with plenty of percussion (both acoustic and electronic) and aggressive writing for brass and strings. The last few tracks (“Dreams”, “Goodbye Mariko” and “Whole step Haiku”) offer a solemn finale, whilst “Where to?” turns out to be the album’s most traditional cue with a clear (and almost rousing) variation on the 4-chord theme.

Is it any good?

It’s not an easy listen; and the absence of any obvious thematic material will likely be off-putting for all but the most-hardened fans of Beltrami. As you would expect from the composer, the complexity and ingenuity of the writing are commendable. In fairness, this could easily have turned out sounding like any other Hollywood blockbuster, so it is quite refreshing to see a ‘super hero’ movie that doesn’t rely on power-anthems or chanting choirs; and instead dares to embrace a more challenging scoring technique; even if it is still chock-full of percussion. Having said that – the album is harsh! It’s bordering on (and sometimes crossing into) horror music. It sounds angry a lot of the time, which may well suit the character. The technique may be impressive but, a few exciting cues notwithstanding, the album on the whole is tiring and and too unnerving to warrant many repeated listens.

Rating [2,5/5]

Tracklisting

1. A Walk in the Woods (1:00)
2. Threnody for Nagasaki (1:13)
3. Euthanasia (1:35)
4. Logan’s Run (3:54)
5. The Offer (3:13)
6. Arriving at the Temple (2:08)
7. Funeral Fight (4:21)
8. Two Handed (4:04)
9. Bullet Train (3:02)
10. The Snare (1:31)
11. Abduction (2:10)
12. Trusting (1:53)
13. Ninja Quiet (3:39)
14. Kantana Surgery (3:49)
15. The Wolverine (2:20)
16. The Hidden Fortress (5:01)
17. Silver Samurai (3:26)
18. Sword of Vengence (4:31)
19. Dreams (1:20)
20. Goodbye Mariko (1:00)
21. Where to? (2:24)
22. Whole Step Haiku (2:07)

Album Credits

Album credits on Allmusic.com

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