Album Reviews

Craig Armstrong – Film Works 1995-2005

(Family) UK release date: 24 October 2005

Over the course of the ten years covered by this retrospective, CraigArmstrong has established himself as one of Britain’s premiere soundtrackcomposers, one to rival current darlings Thomas Newman and HowardShore. However he has a crucial edge on these two in his willingness toincorporate electronic drum tracks into the mix, bringing a pop sensibilitythat no doubt appealed to Massive Attack, the fruits of theirlabours two tracks on the Protection album.

Neither appear here of course, although the ‘film works’ umbrelladoesn’t prevent the compilers from slipping in an advert at the end,Armstrong’s lush arrangement of Debussy’s Clair De Lune a homebanker for Chanel No.5.

In fact a fair proportion of Armstrong’s music is heavily perfumed,which is where the only true criticism lies on this album, in a tendency tolay on the strings like thickly sliced butter, such as the main theme toOrphans. After several numbers in this vein the texture cloys, andit’s a relief when the more economical setting of New York City from TheBone Collector takes over, a good example of his subtle way withpercussion, supporting the large-scale theme. A much bolder dance trackdominates The Ball from Plunkett and Macleane, a driving force thatsweeps all before it.

Having noted Armstrong’s way with string arrangements, it is to be notedthat his track record for romantic films is excellent. BazLuhrmann‘s Romeo And Juliet is chief beneficiary, along withLove Actually and a romance with a twist in Cruel Intentions– all expertly done, unhurried and genuinely moving. Romeo AndJuliet, however, has far more dramatic impetus in the post-Verdi choralrush of O Verona, a shot of adrenalin with which to open, and a piece ofmusic used by Adam F at the start of his KAOS album.

Moulin Rouge, another of Armstrong’s Luhrmann successes, featuresin the Bond-like pretensions of Nature Boy and the big budget orchestrationof One Day I’ll Fly Away, the composer just about getting away with anoverindulgence, the orchestra arriving in a big whoosh for the finalchorus. Meanwhile The Quiet American is the more economical side ofArmstrong, a soft piano line retaining a most impressive tension as itholds above the strings.

A most impressive canon, then, from a man held justifiably in highregard. It would now be interesting to hear him try some genuinely comedicmusic, or to break fully with an understandable reliance on stringtextures, given his aptitude in writing for them. With two previous popalbums in the bag, not to mention classical works, it’s quite clear thatgenre is no issue for this extremely versatile composer.

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Craig Armstrong – Film Works 1995-2005
Craig Armstrong: “Making a good film score is hard. To make a score that gets Golden Globes and Baftas is bloody hard!” – Interview