The Patriot proved something to me: no matter how popular, how accomplished, or how masterful John Williams has become, he is still capable of penning mediocre music. The bloated popcorn epic that has Mel "FREEDOM!!" Gibson unleashing absolute fury upon the evil Redcoats (crafted by the infamous duo who brought us such artful masterpieces as Godzilla and Independence Day) obviously contained little to inspire Maestro Williams, who churned out a tired retread of his early Americana scores, complete with a simplistic, "you'll-be-patriotic-and-LIKE-IT!" Coplandesque thematic monstrosity that makes something like the Star Wars theme sound positively Schoenbergian in comparison. The only aspect vaguely hinting at subtlety is the haunting solo violin theme that opens the first track - admittedly, one of the score's best facets. Reportedly, Emmerich & Devlin originally enlisted David Arnold for this score, and Williams' replacement actually sounds more like something Arnold would produce - huge and melodramatic yet light on intricacy, which is precisely what the film required.
In short, The Patriot is the auditory equivalent of the film, a nice turn-off-your-brain-and-enjoy spectacle heavy on style but short on substance. Fans of the film will doubtless swoon elatedly over the theme and Lost World-rip-off action music, but other collectors might want to sample the album before purchase. Hollywood Records' 72-minute release goes on seemingly forever - as much as I usually advocate lengthy albums, this gargantuan platter simply wears out its welcome about 1/3 of the way through - I still haven't managed to listen to the whole thing in one sitting. Those that worried that Williams has grown too mature for his own good, fear not - he can obviously churn out an amateurish score with the best of them.
Track by Track Analysis:
1. The Patriot (6:39)
Williams begins the score with one of his typical lengthy concert suites, introducing the main thematic material of the score. It actually begins promisingly with a subtle, rustic melody for solo violin with acoustic guitar accompaniment, a majestic calling card that binds the entire score together. Unfortunately, this is not the main theme - it comes into play shortly after the prelude comes to a close, introduced by a frenetic snare drum and piccolo duet. This banal theme is so simple, so bombastic, and so boring, that it nearly succeeds in ruining the opening suite as well as the score as a whole. Thankfully, a flute rendition of the quiet prelude closes the track.
2. The Family Farm (3:04)
A typical ominous Williams string passage forms the basis for this cue, as well as a cluster-laden Americana rendition of the prelude and main theme. Unfortunately, another blaring brass statement of the main theme rounds out the cue.
3. To Charleston (2:15)
After a minute of pointless, meandering strings, a stereotypical upbeat melody enters on horns that sounds almost Christmas-like, complete with sleighbells.
4. The Colonial Cause (3:15)
Not surprisingly, another hugely melodramatic presentation of the main theme opens this track, as well as the first of the composer's action music - mostly recycled from The Lost World with snatches of Americana madness thrown in for good measure, including a new section of the theme from the opening suite.
5. Redcoats At the Farm / The Death of Thomas (4:59)
A positively EVIL double bass note begins this track, soon joined by ominous snares and trombone blasts. Some of the composer's typical desolate string meaderings underscore "The Death of Thomas." This is one of the album's major problems - tracks like this go precisely nowhere and, while underscoring the actions on screen quite nicely, make for boring listens separated from the picture. Some pointless action music ends the track.
6. Ann Recruits the Parishioners (3:09)
Americana string meanderings in the style of "The Family Farm" form the basis for most of this track, followed by another straightforward presentation of the main theme. Fortunately, a welcome entrance of the prelude theme on flute followed by a development ends the track.
7. Preparing for Battle (5:50)
One of the album's most inspirational moments (for the film, not as a listening experience), this develops the main theme into an unstoppable march backed by snares and almost dissonant brass fanfares. Various other devlopments of the theme round out the rest of the theme.
8. Ann and Gabriel (4:35)
The rustic prelude, now revealed to be the love theme, gets a stunning development, beginning quietly on harpsichord, guitar, and harp, soon carried to flute and strings. A wistful horn variation on the main theme and another moving reprise of the love theme round out the track - one of the score's highlights.
9. The First Ambush / Remembering the Wilderness (4:00)
Dissonant suspense music in the high strings and a horribly ominous trumpet call form the opening of this cue. Williams' first true action cue soon takes off - full of dissonant brass and string ostinatos, it's almost enough to save the entire album. Tavington's trumpet call rounds out the cue.
10. Tavington's Trap (4:10)
The Patriot's second major action cue unfortunately offers nothing new to the Williams oevre - it's simply a four minute reprise of several of The Lost World's action motivs. TLW has quickly become one of my favorite Williams scores, and this pale imitation really does nothing to help The Patriot's score.
11. The Burning of the Plantation (4:55)
This is a low, dark, almost Herrmannesque cue scored mainly for desolate strings. Unfortunately, unlike Herrmann's music, this goes nowhere, content to meander aimlessly under dialogue.
12. Facing the British Lines (3:05)
The first half of the cue features several large, bombastic trumpet fanfares, and, after a brief respite in the form of the love theme, another droning action march begins. This fades out under a melancholy horn solo, and the cue ends with a reprise of the brass theme. To me, this cue offers nothing worthwhile - this generic Americana could be penned by anyone.
13. The Parish Church Aflame (3:03)
Another aimless, desolate string piece comprises this track. These central tracks are beginning to sound like an inferior retread of Williams' magnificent Angela's Ashes score.
14. Susan Speaks (3:17)
This features yet more typical Americana strings, with a quick reprise of the love theme.
15. Martin vs Tavington (3:06)
The action elements from earlier in the score (ie. The Lost World) come to fruition in this climactic cue, one of the highlights of the album. In addition to the frenetic action, Williams also reprises Tavington's theme several times.
16. Yorktown / The Return Home (5:20)
Williams' final underscore track plays much like the rest of the album - long passages of cluster-laden strings and several variations on the main theme.
17. The Patriot (reprise) (7:50)
Like most of his other albums from the '90s, The Patriot bookends the underscore with a concert suite. This is basically an exact reprise of the opening track, now with a short snare drum coda.
As much as it pains me to say it, I can't really recommend John Williams' latest score. The one or two noteworthy themes and tracks are simply bogged down fatally by bloated stretches of aimless strings and unoriginal action music. I suppose it added greatly to the film, but this is one of those works that attempts to stand on its own yet fails miserably. Combined with the mediocre main theme, this makes for one of the most disappointing listens in recent memory.