Can you make a buying decision in 46 seconds? I did, and it paid off. Only a snippet was streaming before the release of the new Scott Walker album; even now, you’ll need iTunes for more. But 46 seconds is all you’ll need.
This has been an excellent summer for instrumental scores, and some may eventually surpass their source material. Forest Swords provided the backing for the dance performance Shrine; Mondkopf scored the searing documentary Bridgend; rockers 65daysofstatic lent their signature sound to the video game No Man’s Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe. But Walker’s set is the most memorable of them all. It’s one of his most accessible works to date, a rare instrumental work from an avant-garde vocalist and composer.
Tonally, the main 15-note theme recalls Daniel Bjarnason’s “Sorrow Conquers Happiness” and Jonny Greenwood’s “Future Markets” (from There Will Be Blood). This speaker-to-speaker brass and string blast is first heard at the start of “Opening”, and makes full use of the 62-piece orchestra. The ensuing drama sets the stage for the entire album (as well as, we surmise, the film). Sub-themes abound in the piece, including a Batman-esque bass and a piercing sequence of higher notes, grating on the ear like a wounded cat. Warning: the mix is intentionally amplified. Don’t expect your other music to sound like this. Walker demands to be heard, but thankfully it’s a two-way street, as after hearing this once, fans will also demand to hear it again. The theme can also be heard in the trailer below, with added drama (“One … two … three!“) By all accounts, the film is not the nonstop thriller that the trailer promises, but a tense, slow-boiling melodrama in which the music carries much of the tension.
As expected, the score progresses through a series of vignettes, occasionally landing on larger themes. 18 tracks hurtle by in a scant half hour, leaving the listener stunned. More surprisingly, the preview track is an entire track. We’d love to hear more, but the score flows as a single suite. By the time that 15-note theme comes around again (at the end of “Finale”), the album has cast a mesmerizing spell. The themes of “Boy, Mirror, Car Arriving”, “The Meeting” and “Run” rival the best of John Carpenter, and the full album surpasses his scores, as most Carpenter soundtracks rest heavily on repeated motifs and work better in context. The Childhood of a Leader not only stands well on its own, it towers. Whatever the legacy of the film, this is a score we’ll remember. (Richard Allen)