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As much as I hate to admit it, James Horner can still write good music. Unfortunately, in the case of The Perfect Storm, we've heard it all before. In the aftermath of Horner's megahit Titanic (whose merits are still hotly debated among film score collectors - personally, I find it abominable), he has composed a string of complete duds (Deep Impact, Mighty Joe Young, and Bicentennial Man) as well as one great, fun score that hearkens back to his Krull/Willow days (The Mask of Zorro). Perfect Storm falls somewhere in between these two categories - it features some of the most exciting action music we've heard from Horner lately, but, sadly, hardly any of it is original. Horner cuts and pastes a conglomerate of his most popular 1990's themes and motivs into a serviceable action score that vaguely hints at his earlier greatness, mainly due to the inclusion of some impressive atonality that almost redeems several of the lengthy suites. Even the thematic material, however, stems from earlier scores - the main theme, while somewhat original, has several sections lifted verbatim from Apollo 13, and the main secondary theme stems from Braveheart. Most of the action music sounds like outtakes from Titanic, Apollo 13, and most other '90s Horner scores. Still, for one unfamiliar with the composer's 1990's output, The Perfect Storm can still be quite entertaining as a listening experience, and those able to overlook the score's faults will be pleasantly surprised. Sony Classical's 80 minute release is somewhat of an overkill - the theme gets quite repetitive after a few tracks, and this overreliance becomes unbearably annoying by track 9. Somewhat new for Horner is the inclusion of electric guitars as orchestral backing - this Zimmeresque technique only appears a few times to accompany the themes, but it still conflicts horribly with Horner's orchestral sound. The orchestral performance is somewhat lackluster - one gets the feeling the studio players are getting weary of Horner's reuse - they give a cold, lackadaisical performance that further subtracts from the listening experience. In the end, only rabid Hornerites would be advised to buy this album - almost everything has been heard before in much more exciting guises.

Track by Track Analysis:

1. Coming Home From The Sea (9:27)
A quaint acoustic guitar begins the score, soon covered by the nostalgic main theme performed on horn. Like most other of Horner's latest themes, this is simple, pastoral, and GROSSLY OVERUSED. As stated above, its midsection stems directly from Apollo 13 and The Rocketeer with deep "surges" in the low strings and piano, while the conclusion imitates one of Braveheart's rustic themes. Unfortunately, Horner repeats it incessantly throughout most of the nearly 10-minute running time of this track, except for near the end. Here, an e-guitar starts up, thoughtlessly mauling a new and superior theme that sounds like something from the composer's earlier days with its exciting horn and trumpet fanfares. More pompous statements of the main theme round out the track. Near the end, Horner introduces another secondary theme that basically repeats six horn tones endlessly - it comes directly from Braveheart, with hints of the main theme over it.

2. "The Fog's Just Lifting" (4:12)
The secondary bridge that concluded the previous track becomes the centerpiece of this shorter cue, along with stretches of typical Horner string meanderings, as well as the main theme in yet more repetitive arrangements for clarinet and flute.

3. "Let's Go, Boys" (8:54)
Unfortunately the repetitive six note horn theme forms the basis for the introduction of this movement, with the rest of the interminably long cue given to various performances of the main themes - a cue that could easily have been excised along with the previous one for a better listening experience.

4. To The Flemish Cap (7:18)
Horner now gradually begins to fall into his action music mode - this serves as a prelude to the upcoming deluge of exciting action scoring. Accordingly, he mutates most of the themes into minor keys - the most hilariously melodramatic moment is the desperate version of the repeated six-note motif. Still, this cue adds some credibility and development to most of the themes, including the exciting horn fanfare backed by eGuitars from track 1.

5. The Decision to Turn Around (9:21)
One of the most impressive moments of the score opens this track - a humongous minor-major seal that surges throughout the orchestra and even introduces dissonant horns into the mix at points. Following this, Horner crafts a large-scale action movement using this minor-major motif as a foundation, combined with most of the themes, as well as some welcome atonality that adds yet more credibility to the cue. In the end, this impressive cue that hearkens back to Horner's golden age of film scoring is one of the highlights of the album.

6. Small Victories (8:31)
The minor-major seal again serves as the prelude to this action cue, but whereas the previous track focused more on despair and dissonance, "Small Victories" brings the themes into an exciting, enthusiastic suite that recalls at points the splendor of "Battle in the Mutara Nebula". It's not really original - I can hear the violin runs from Titanic's action music, the uncertain bass dissonance and horn fanfares of Aliens, the virtuosity of Apollo 13, and the Genesis Countdown motif from Star Trek II, but Horner somehow manages to make these ideas sound new and fresh when combined with the various themes.

7. Coast Guard Rescue (9:48)
Next in the lengthy string of action tracks is "Coast Guard Rescue", which functions much like "Small Victories" in that it recycles ideas from practically every Horner action score imaginable yet still manages to make them sound new and fresh, combined with the various themes. Perhaps the most noticeable lift is the chromatic trumpet stinger that's been in use ever since Brainstorm - better known as Bravmorda's Theme from Willow, which gets quite annoying after a while. Horner also briefly uses a synth choir ala Titanic that doesn't make much of an impression. Finally, there are some absolutely unbelievable trumpet fanfares that nearly redeem the whole track.

8. Rogue Wave (10:04)
This continues to develop the many action motivs from earlier in the score, with the chromatic trumpet stinger finally climaxing into a huge, primal display of orchestral dissonance. Unfortunately, the rest of the track simply rambles incoherently around the main themes with a brief recurrence of the stinger.

9. "There's No Goodbye, Only Love" (7:33)
Horner's final underscore track takes his main themes and transforms them into a mind-numbingly horrible soft-instrumental-pop arrangement with a quiet guitar/percussion backbeat below the orchestral strings. Don't worry - this isn't even the worst of it... wait until track 10. The remainder of the cue ties up several loose ends with various orchestral arrangements of the themes.

10. Yours Forever (4:02)
Don't get me started... Suffice it to say, it's another of Horner's favorite "end credit songs", which transforms his theme into a rock arrangement voiced by John Mellencamp. Apparently Horner has decided to neglect his end credit suites of old in hope of penning a new pop hit ala Titanic, which was simply horrible anyway.

If you've somehow managed to miss all of Horner's 1990's output, I would recommend picking up The Perfect Storm - if I didn't know better, I'd be amazed at the hundreds of great thematic ideas that pop up throughout the album ;-). Or better yet, pick up Apollo 13, Mask of Zorro, and all of his '80s stuff and skip over this. If I wasn't familiar with his other scores, Perfect Storm would get an 8 Music Rating; if I'd heard everything before, it would get a four. We'll settle for a 6.


The Perfect Storm: The Final Score
Music Rating 6/10
   
Packaging/Liner Notes N/A
Sound Quality 7/10
Length 5/10
Orchestral Performance 5/10

The Perfect Storm is Copyright 2000 by Sony Classical.  Review Copyright 2000 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.