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Rush (Hans Zimmer)

October 8, 2013

Cover_RushRush

Hans Zimmer, 2013, WaterTower Music
24 tracks, 65:06

Let the man do what the man does best. Let him play guitar with his friends! “Rush” is easily Hans Zimmer’s best score of the year. That doesn’t mean his music is  a crowd pleaser.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

“Rush” is Ron Howard’s (“Da Vinci Code”, “Backdraft”) latest film, about the 1976 Formula One season and the rivalry between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda; eventually leading to Lauda’s crash. Chris Hemsworth stars as Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Lauda. Bearing in mind that Howard is a bit of a crowd-pleaser, he is not known for challenging films, “Rush” has been (and continues to be) received well critically. Composer of choice is (once again) double Classic Brit Award-winner Hans Zimmer, fresh off “Man of Steel” and “The Lone Ranger“. One might expect, or even hope for, a return to his “Days of Thunder”, but that’s not quite the case.

What does it sound like?

The only thing “Rush” has in common with “Days of Thunder” (a 1990 Tony Scott film about car racing) is a largely non-orchestral and guitar-driven approach. “DoT” was very much a film of its time, including songs from its time. As a result, Zimmer too took a pop-tastic approach to the music. “Rush”, for starters, isn’t set in current times. It tells a story from nearly four decades ago. Songs are presents but these are mostly from the early 70s. It allows Zimmer to step away from musical trends and focus on narrative. Now, that’s not to say the composer isn’t aware of the songs in the movie or of trending sounds in general, but I think he is less bound by them (heck, he’s probably set more trends that he’s followed). Zimmer is and always has been a rock-and-roller at heart, with his own instincts leading him to guitars and percussion. And “Rush” is the perfect vehicle (pardon the pun) for Zimmer to exploit his rock roots, get a band together and just have fun.

The album opens with a mostly atmospheric cue, “1976”, which instantly brings back memories of a Zimmer from the early 2000s. Some subtle car racing sounds make way for the gentlest of string chords. All those times I bashed Zimmer for always over-producing everything… and here he proves me wrong within seconds. Faint guitar effects (like fingers gliding along strings without plucking them) come in followed by rhythmic guitars, in such a way you may remember from “Mission: Impossible 2”. So far it’s pleasant, it’s very well done but it’s also what we were probably expecting. Then, most surprisingly, out of nowhere a cello comes in with the most gorgeous theme. So warm and heartfelt, it could’ve come straight out of “Gladiator”. Some stark guitar chords and a brass rendition of the theme conclude the track. A lot of great things happened; and we’re only just three minutes in!

I have to say though that the brass let the track down a little. Throughout the album, orchestral elements are kept to a minimum; but where the brass is concerned I wish Zimmer had done away with it altogether. There isn’t much of it, but it is the score’s weakest element and personally I don’t think it needs it. The rock sound is so beautifully executed, the synth sounds so well placed that the album is a constant joy of sonic discoveries.

Via the bluesy rock of “I could show you if you’d like” and Dave Edmund’s “I hear you knocking” we arrive at “Stopwatch” an instantly familiar, likeable and exciting cue. It features Michael Brook-like echoing riffs, augmented by staccato strings and a killer guitar theme. “Into the red” takes it up a few notches nearly into hard rock territory. Nearly. Plenty of electric guitars and percussion here. Some of the chord progressions actually recall “Inception”. There is a genuine sense of speed in this track. And clarity! We can hear all these instruments clearly.  Zimmer’s scores so often get bogged down with layer upon layer of indistinguishable sounds that it’s wonderfully refreshing to have such transparency in this score.

“Budgie”, “Scuderia” and “Oysters in the pit” are somewhat atmospheric tracks. The rhythmic guitars are never far away, and the latter of these cues features some synthesized arpeggios. Steve Winwood’s “Gimme some lovin'” and Mud’s “Dyna-Mite” help cement this film in the seventies; though Zimmer’s own “20%” feels like it’s come straight from the era, with its Chuck Berry feel.

“Watkins Glen” sees the return of the stark guitar chords that ended “1976” and possibly serves as a danger motif of sorts. Percussionists get a chance to get absolutely nuts on this cue, and there is a reprise of the “Stopwatch” theme. “Loose Cannon” and “Glück” are brief, but welcome quietly introvert cues, whilst “Car trouble” is made up from fast-paced guitar riffs and exciting percussion.

“Nürburgring” is filled with dread. The first couple of minutes are eerily quiet, and when the action kicks off there is no excitement. Just impending doom, as the story moves towards Lauda’s accident. The chords again echo “Inception”, a little too much for my liking. I would say that the brass, which keeps fading in and out, somewhat resembles the sound of race cars going past, if it wasn’t a technique that Zimmer employs quite frequently anyway. “Inferno” seems to move in slow-motion as we witness the accident and its aftermath. Deep rumbling noises seem to resemble the sound of fire; and the main theme makes a subtle appearance. “Mount Fuji” and “For Love” maintain a very serious atmosphere, even if the latter does pick up the pace again with Zimmer’s typical percussion and the arpeggiated guitars. With “Reign” the score slowly returns to its energetic self again; and again features a very brief nod to the main theme.

David Bowie’s “Fame” offers a brief respite from Zimmer’s score, which has become a little heavy-handed at this point, if for very understandable reasons. “Lost but won” then is quintessential Zimmer. That lyrical main theme for cello returns, then the guitars and the brass. When the brass comes back in, and Zimmer shifts the underlying chords a little, the theme sounds nothing short of heroic. “My best enemy” closes the album on an orchestral note – superfluously, in my opinion. The racing car noises at the very are however, again, a nice touch.

Is it any good?

It’s easily amongst the best, and most satisfying, scores of this year. Certainly Zimmer’s best of the year; and arguably his best in many a year! I have been far from impressed with his ‘orchestral’ work off late, but when the man is allowed to return to his pop and guitar roots his music really shines. There is a genuine energy and enthusiasm here that I’ve been missing for some time. This, to me, is the Zimmer that did “Days of Thunder”, “The Fan” and “An Everlasting Piece” – not that “Rush” sounds much, if at all, like any of those. But what they do have in common is that you can hear the composer having fun with the material and with his fellow musicians. The result is that the audience can have fun with this score. The guitars and drums may not be to everyone’s taste; and Zimmer’s certainly not written this score to please his audience. However, in selfishly doing what he loves doing best, he has created one of the year’s highlights.

Rating [4/5]

Tracklisting

01. 1976 (02:59)
02. I Could Show You If You’d Like (00:44)
03. I Hear You Knocking (02:48) (Dave Edmunds)
04. Stopwatch (01:29)
05. Into the Red (03:15)
06. Budgie (01:28)
07. Scuderia (00:54)
08. Gimme Some Lovin’ (02:58) (Steve Winwood)
09. Oysters in the Pits (01:05)
10. 20% (01:00)
11. Dyna-Mite (02:57) (Mud)
12. Watkins Glen (01:49)
13. Loose Cannon (00:36)
14. The Rocker (05:14) (Thin Lizzy)
15. Car Trouble (02:37)
16. Glück (01:13)
17. Nürburgring (05:33)
18. Inferno (03:30)
19. Mount Fuji (03:44)
20. For Love (02:49)
21. Reign (03:06)
22. Fame (04:17) (David Bowie)
23. Lost but Won (06:16)
24. My Best Enemy (02:32)

Availability

Available digitally and on CD.

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