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David Newman The Spirit Review

Soundtrack. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Collection of sundry cues masquerading as a soundtrack.

Michael Quinn 2009

David Newman’s admirable gift for super-charged pastiche is not enough to redeem this disappointing collection of sundry cues masquerading as a soundtrack.

But perhaps that’s the point of this 18-track compendium from the much-anticipated Frank Miller-directed adaptation of Will Eisner’s cult comic-book classic. Miller is said to have wanted ‘1940s’ jazz sound married with iconic heroic music and even a touch of the spaghetti western’ and Newman delivers that, albeit in a manner that veers between over-emphasis and understatement and largely fails to survive the absence of Miller’s intensely graphic images.

A scion of a Hollywood dynasty – son of Alfred, brother of Thomas, cousin of Randy – David Newman echoes all three and several other film composers here in a lacklustre attempt to engage with Miller’s dystopian, neon-dark concept.

The Spirit theme and Main Title echoes the brass-led bravura of Newman’s father, but you’ll also hear Danny Elfman’s Batman in the lowering use of bass-heavy motifs. The haunting piano theme and dancing strings in Egg on My Face owes much to brother Thomas’s halo-like luminosity and comes closest to producing its own memorable turn of musical phrase.

Throughout there are direct and indirect borrowings from others (Jerry Goldsmith prominently, Dimitri Tiomkin glancingly) with the clumsiest reference being the use of a harmonica in Spirit Finds Sand/Falling/Hung Up that spectacularly misses its target by being more John Barry than Ennio Morricone.

If the use of a drunken, blowsy saxophone in Enter Silken Floss/Octopus Kicks is intended to deliver the ‘1940s’ jazz sound’ Miller was looking for, bereft of the accompanying images it falls considerably short of the mark.

Conducted by Newman himself, the uncredited orchestra plays with a conviction that this rather messy, unfocused and uncertain score really doesn’t deserve. You may be pleased or outraged, perhaps, to know that Christina Aguilera’s cover version of the Marlene Dietrich classic, Falling in Love Again, isn’t included in this release.

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