It was inevitable that master fabulist Tim Burton would turn to his most regular musical collaborator - and sort of aural twin - for his latest excursion into the
fantastique, his take on Roald Dahl's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, and
Danny Elfman's resulting score is equally unsurprising. Whilst Elfman's flights of fancy still walk hand in hand with Burton's visuals - trippy, macabre and positively oozing sweet mystery - the disappointing fact is that he sounds as though he is on auto-pilot. Apart from the crazy line-up of Dahl-inspired Loompa songs, there's very little here that is actually fresh to hear. He still stocks up his trademark enchantment, creating a wonderful sense of magic and menace, but the problem is that we've heard it all before. In fact, this album comes across more as greatest hits compilation, taking in most of his, and Burton's, past successes, from Batman to, bizarrely enough, Planet Of The Apes. We get heaps of grand sweeping melody, courtesy of Sleepy Hollow, a pleasant but overly-familiar tribal backbeat culled from Apes, the lush and haunting romance of Edward Scissorhands and lots of downright quirky pop and electro-doodlings that recall his early Oingo Boingo days. This isn't to suggest for one minute that the album isn't fun, though. Far from it, in fact. But this is almost the same kind of self-plagiarism that James Horner and Hans Zimmer are often accused of, and with Elfman's esoteric texturising and percussive experimentation normally something to look forward to, this still feels like an unfortunate step back.
Commencing with the five songs that polarised audiences into one of two camps - those that hated them and those that hated them slightly more - the album, at least, gets them out of the way early on. To be honest though, Track 2, Augustus Gloop, is tremendously entertaining, with its infectious big band beat and suspicious tribal rhythm. My son loves this cue and it is, in fact, hard not to be swept along by its boisterous merriment. The other songs, in my opinion, don't really work that well though - we get Violet Beauregarde's slightly annoying rap, Veruca Salt's sixties flower-power swansong, replete with sitar and whimsical harmonising (a terrific tune but misplaced, I feel) and the musical tour of different eras and styles that comprises Mike Teavee, which encompasses everything from The Beatles to a hint of Queen. Oh, and there's that truly awful Wonka's Welcome Song that is, admittedly, designed to grate ... and certainly does, even more sothan Shrek's Welcome To Duloc. Although, it's a commendable effort when you consider that Elfman, himself, supplied all the vocals.
Once the Main Titles get underway we are whisked faithfully back into standard Elfman territory, and fairytale choirs, measured menace and mesmerising orchestrations place us quite happily in the land of make-believe. Exotica and grand statement are boldly dished out for The Indian Palace, though mischief still cavorts gently towards the end of the cue. Wheels In Motion is a clever track, starting soft and buoyed by an angelic choir before shifting gears and giving us another swirling tour of cultural and melodic extremes. Track 11 is a soft and gentle respite, straying in with a beautiful and minimal piano note here and there amid a floating tone of tranquillity. Again, this is vintage Elfman, beauty juxtaposed with an underlying sense of menace that edges darkly in with a slyness somehow managing to make the lyricism of the cue all the more yearning. Think Sleepy Hollow's exquisite love theme and you're more than halfway there.
The Album shifts in tone again once we reach Track 12, as the tribal element seeps in and then, in the next cue, assumes full control. In fact, listen to start of Loompa Land without thinking of Fun Boy Three and I'll give you a golden ticket. Indeed, the infectious toe-tapping nature of Augustus Gloop makes a welcome return, but, as we jungle-drum our way to the end of Track 15, we are in the dominatingly percussive world of Planet Of The Apes. Only this time, Elfman has added a quite delicious buzzing-come-humming drive that really grows on you as the cue progresses - though, the fade-out actually feels a little premature. Still, this is great stuff. Track 16 sees Elfman at his most typical with its swooning fantasy and Track 17 offers up a frantic cue that clearly recalls the Headless Horseman from Sleepy Hollow, despite developing a peculiar sci-fi sizzle towards the end. With more Loompa buzzing steering us through The River Cruise Part 2 and a nice John Barry swelling to round it off, Charlie Declines becomes thoughtful and pleasantly passive, harking back to the softness of Charlie's Birthday Bar. Again, Track 20 continues with this soothing downtime, a Scissorhands-style cue that is gentle and curious and semi-tragic, without resorting to melancholy. It's perhaps the signature melody of the album and is pure saccharine and emotion and, hey, there's nothing wrong with that. The score then plays out with a suite that comprises all the elements that went into it. Listen out for a Lalo Schifrin funky guitar and the laid-back jungle rhythms segueing into a jazzy upbeat fusion. The longest cue on the album at over seven minutes, this is indulgent fun but, when you think about it, it is really just a lazy highlights section on an album that, in itself, is little more than a highlights compendium.
So, Elfman and Burton's latest collaboration is a crazy, warped and eclectic ride that presents a dizzying array of styles and motives. Fun, but slight.
VerdictDoes it work as an album in its own right? Well, to be honest, no. Not really. The songs sit uncomfortably beside the orchestral musings and the cues all have that annoyingly familiar ring to them. To a casual listener, I doubt it would appeal. To a score lover (like myself) it would initially irritate (as it did), but perhaps eventually grow on (as, in fact, it has - to a degree). But, of course, to an Elfman fan, it is nigh on essential, especially as you get those hints of Oingo Boingo bubbling away throughout. A quirky beast, then, much like the film, itself ... which, incidentally, I didn't like much at all.
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