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Jonny Greenwood

There Will Be Blood

(Nonesuch; US: 18 Dec 2007; UK: 17 Dec 2007)

Review [31.Jan.2008]

If Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack to the award-hogging There Will Be Blood is any indication of what his career in scoring films will encompass, Greenwood will never be mentioned in the same breath as such acknowledged greats as John Williams, Henry Mancini, Nino Rota. Interestingly enough, this is to his credit.


Greenwood, best known for his own part as second fiddle to Thom Yorke in Radiohead, leaves the shadows of his other project behind (save for the string arrangements of classics like “Street Spirit” and “How to Disappear Completely”) for this particular effort. The music of There Will Be Blood is the work of a professional, of someone who understands that the feel of a film is directly influenced by its music, and the feel of the music should likewise be influenced by the film it backs. While it should be made clear that the aforementioned composers no doubt understood that as well, those are composers renowned for their expert use of leitmotif, creating memorable themes for memorable moments in great films. Anyone who has seen these movies can hum the love theme from Romeo and Juliet, or the Pink Panther‘s immortal melody, or the Imperial March of the Star Wars films.


When it comes to There Will Be Blood, however, there is no humming. There is nothing here that even remotely presents itself as a “theme” related to a character, an event, or a mood. There is only the stultifying loneliness, sadness, and occasionally the twistedness of the film to be found in its music.


Listen to the disc front-to-back—not a difficult task on the surface, given that it’s a mere 33 minutes long—and you won’t want to listen again, at least not right away. It seems as though it should be background music, what with the domination of the strings, often allowed long stretches of single notes approximating expanses of uninhabited land, God’s country, as it were. Yet, the only time we hear those strings playing major chords are the times when they’re highlighting minor ones, as in the piano-propelled “Prospectors Arrive”, or in the creepy, quiet first track “Open Spaces”. One track does highlight major keys, the really rather pretty “HW/Hope of New Fields”, but it’s short, and seems largely to be a setup for the highly dissonant, off-putting movement that follows it, the disconcerting “Stranded the Line”.


Occasionally, Greenwood breaks out of the sadness for moods altogether more sinister, as in the staccato-stringed stroke of brilliance that is “Future Markets” (the bass alone on this piece is outstandingly written) and the quirky little ditty that is “Proven Lands”. “Proven Lands”, in particular, breaks up what could be monotony for the sound of myriad bows bouncing off their respective strings in perfect time, combining to make a percussive, vaguely tribal sound that’s just as, well, off as everything else here. The difference is that “Proven Lands” is just a little bit more aggressive about its off-ness.


Still, the defining moment of the soundtrack can be none other than the masterful, often bordering on silent “Henry Plainview”. It begins as barely audible beauty, quietly-held strings in a far-off land. Eventually, however, it gains momentum by gaining volume. As it gets louder, we hear those strings spend extended glissandos sliding down into oblivion, finding notes dissonant with the pretty chord they started out in. We hear one slide after another, and eventually, we’re left with a dissonant, tense, and yet still peaceful wall of strings. It’s beautiful, it’s vaguely disturbing, it’s the decline of western civilization in one movement. It must be heard, above everything else on the disc.


That the score’s most brilliant four minutes are actually lifted entirely from a work that Greenwood did for the BBC called “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” seems only fitting. It is that non-exclusivity that has kept Greenwood from an Oscar nomination for his work, and however unfair this exclusion might seem, it will save him from comparisons with his contemporaries. This music is not to be compared, not really. It is to be enjoyed on its own terms, for the sake of drowning however temporarily in loneliness, isolation, and despair. Let the comparisons come when Greenwood’s next effort arrives. For now, There Will Be Blood stands tall and alone.

Rating:

Mike Schiller is a software engineer in Buffalo, NY who enjoys filling the free time he finds with media of any sort -- music, movies, and lately, video games. Stepping into the role of PopMatters Multimedia editor in 2006 after having written music and game reviews for two years previous, he has renewed his passion for gaming to levels not seen since his fondly-remembered college days of ethernet-enabled dorm rooms and all-night Goldeneye marathons. His three children unconditionally approve of their father's most recent set of obsessions.


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There Will Be Blood TV Spot featuring "Proven Lands"
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