1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 358

Master and Commander Original Soundtrack, by Various Artists
Suggested by Mel Connolly

Seven albums ago, I reviewed Upon a Painted Ocean, an album of Sea Shanties by a Plymouth-based nautical vocal group. I rated it a lacklustre 4/10.

Today, I am reviewing the Original Soundtrack to the salty midship period movie Master and Commander. While I couldn’t stomach a full album of Shanties, if there isn’t at least one on this album I’ll be disappointed.

Having never watched the film, I opted for a quick squizz at the track list, to gauge what I could expect and to peck out any possible Shanty-esque song names to whet my seafaring whistle. The only contenders are the Cuckold Comes Out of the Amery, Smoke N’Oakum, and the bland-sounding Folk Medley. The other tracks have a decidedly classical bent, with Suite in G Minor this and Concerto Grosso that, by the usual cast of classical characters like Mozart, Corelli, Bach, Vaugh Williams. And the tracks that aren’t explicitly classical have stern-sounding names like Into the Fog and The Far Side of the World. It appears that this movie soundtrack is serious business. Pirates of the Caribbean this ain’t.

It’s been a while since anything classical has found its way to my stereo, so newcomers may be unaware that I’m a hugely uncultured slob. Classical music ain’t my bag, as I find it dated and uninteresting. It may be beautiful, but the genre is selling goods that I simply don’t want to buy. There’s also so damn much of it, and it’s hazed with a snobbish veneer that rubs me wrong. I understand I’m in the wild minority here, and am willing to be converted, although I suspect Russell Crowe will not be the one to convince me otherwise.

So I fire up the album, headlong into The Far Side of the World. My suspicions are immediately confirmed: this is modern Classical, blockbuster film score orchestration, nine minutes of swelling strings and trilling piccolo filigree and pounding timpani. It’s packed with intrigue, and movement, and a sense of majestic foreboding, as you’d expect from something that’s underscoring a period epic set on the roiling sea. As such, it’s quite engaging, but without the cinematic context it’ll never truly grab me.

Every part of this soundtrack is likely scored to a scene. Other more contemporary soundtracks will choose pop songs to help set the tone and timbre in a scene, which has the added benefit that the soundtrack can exist outside the score of the film as a playlist of sorts. There’s little such luxury in projects such as these, as although the pace and gravitas of the obviously-titled tracks like The Battle does strike the piñata at the midriff, the sweets don’t tumble down unless you can anchor the action by watching the film beforehand.

Despite my distaste for Classical and my lack of movie viewing, I did enjoy some tracks. Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 is very recognisable, and the doom-laden foreboding of Into the Fog and the other orchestrated pieces were perfectly atmospheric. My standout is the aforementioned The Battle, with its mesmeric drumbeats and narrative progression. Nevertheless, I’m afraid that without a love for and knowledge of the film which birthed these sounds, I can’t muster more than 4/10.

As for Sea Shanties? A big fat zero. What a wasted opportunity.

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