Jonny Greenwood Creates His Best Soundtrack Yet With ‘Phantom Thread’

Jonny Greenwood's Oscar-nominated score for Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread is his strongest yet, and an integral character driving the tension of the film and its intense love story.

Phantom Thread (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Jonny Greenwood
12 Jan 2018

All of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films since There Will Be Blood in 2007 have featured a unique and complex score composed by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, and Phantom Thread provides an opportunity for the collaboration to move from strong music backing a film to strong music driving and signifying mood and plot elements. The complexity of the piano motifs, piercing violin and cello solos, and sweeping classical elements identify Greenwood’s extensive musical skills and capabilities as composer and arranger. Greenwood’s music has contributed well to Anderson’s films over the last decade, but his score in Phantom Thread sounds the most distinct from previous collaborations and Greenwood’s contributions to other film scores and Radiohead.

Outside the film, the sequencing for the compiled album is equally strong, but without the narrative structure that links the lush orchestra to a tumultuous and period-driven love story. On this album, it’s an enjoyably performed capturing of classical motifs and thrilling film musical scores, that transcends to evoke beauty and tension perfectly, and structure reminiscent of Radiohead, particularly in its articulate tone that feels tied to the departure of Kid A and the solidness of A Moon Shaped Pool. The classical approach and use of a 60-piece orchestra deliver musical strength in Anderson’s film, primarily achieving a mood fitting of a 1950s-esque cinematic thriller, and a relevant departure that captures British cultural and societal sensibilities divisively oppositional to rock ‘n’ roll. Again, attributes representative of Greenwood’s career-at-large, exploring styles effectively and uniquely.

The tensions enhanced in Anderson’s film by Greenwood’s score work effectively in the album sequencing, too. Track titles reference the plot and characters and fashion industry elements alternatively, highlighting placement in the film and syncing effectively outside the editing and narrative provided by Phantom Thread. Repeated cues appear across sequentially numbered tracks, such as four “Phantom Thread” tracks and two “Sandalwood” tracks. These tracks are sweeping classical affairs, grounding the album in the film while allowing character named tracks plot-focused tracks like “House of Woodcock” and “For the Hungry Boy” (no spoilers) to express characterization for the film and equally explore those moods as a musical experience.

As a track, “Phantom Thread” evokes a tense atmosphere from the first strings that open the album, while the second and third sections of the piece diverge playfully and with melancholy to depict moods dynamically. Slow and pacing string solos profit quiet reflection from the album, just as easily as they stir emotion and invoke thrilling reactions. The track deserving the most credit as a character piece is “House of Woodcock”, featuring lightly played piano and sweeping strings accompaniment to highlight a grandiosity embraced by the characters in the film and the world they inhabit. It delivers a sensibility that defines Daniel Day-Lewis’s fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock.

Its length is also rewarding, compared proportionally to Greenwood’s brief score for Anderson’s There Will Be Blood a decade ago. That soundtrack was 33 minutes long; this one is 56 minutes long. The depth provided in this album benefits listening to it, and repeatedly, despite a length that might dissuade that notion. The concluding track “For the Hungry Boy” opines in an outlook relevant to the film and its conclusion, as well as inviting listeners to explore Greenwood’s massive contribution to the film by the score altogether. Greenwood’s score for Phantom Thread is intimate and the strongest developed yet, delivering massive impact for the film and relevance in comparison to the work he conducts across his career, including references to his range extended from and toward Radiohead and larger audiences.