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Much of Danny Elfman’s most popular work comes from Tim Burton movies where he has developed a very distinctive and recognizable sound. The composer has dabbled in just about everything however, and while he is firmly established within the stories of Burton, Elfman seems quite at home within the genres of psychological thrillers and darker action films. Looking over the composer’s impressive resume, you’ll find films like “Red Dragon” (2002), “The Kingdom” (2007), “Dolores Claiborne” (1995) and more recently “Fifty Shades of Grey” (2015). It’s through films like these that Elfman has demonstrated his versatility as a composer with equally memorable results.
This particular score is based on the best selling novel written by Paula Hawkins and while I have neither read the book nor seen the film, the blurbs concerning the story are fascinating…and a bit confusing. I think I’d like to read the novel before seeing the film as it appears to have been uniquely written and very well received by readers worldwide. I can tell you that Elfman’s score compliments this idea of misinterpreted perceptions and an apparent disintegration of the mind. The composer highlights this psychological breakdown through one particular reoccurring theme that is first introduced in the cue “Something’s Not Right” (track 2). A low disturbing and grinding rhythm is established through the cello, while screeching guitars and the off key notes of a piano descend slowly into something that is indeed “not right”. Elfman balances this theme out nicely within the instrumentation delivering a piece that doesn’t fall into just a noise pattern but instead becomes a slow stepping descent into a place where we don’t wish to go. I found it to be highly symbolic of a twisted form of perception as if the reality switch in one’s mind has been turned off. The theme seems to haunt throughout the score and you’ll find variations of it again within cues like “Wasted” (track 8), “Uncertainty” (track 13), and “Memory” (track 18).
This theme provides a sharp contrast when compared to the opening track, “Riding the Train” (track 1) where Elfman paints a somewhat somber picture of the world passing by through the windows of the train. The composer embeds a sadness to the images that flicker by through the steady pace of the notes and you begin to sense a routine/unsatisfying existence taking shape. One of my favorite cues in the score would be “Megan” (track 3). Elfman uses some very chill electronic instrumentation creating a very dreamy piece that you’ll end up wishing it were a bit longer to visit in. The composer does a great job throughout the score blending electronically produced sounds with that of a traditional orchestra. He cleverly uses the instrumentation to highlight the psychological effects that are taking place throughout thus giving each track a story of it’s own rather than just become mere ambient background noise.
It’s important to note that Elfman’s score doesn’t slap you in the face like a traumatic nightmare, but rather takes you by the hand and leads you down slowly into a dark and murky place with curiosity motivating every step. I think he does well in musically capturing a growing obsession and all the darkness that comes with it. The music is thrilling but untangles itself like a revealing mystery. The score is quite enjoyable to listen to on it’s own and there is a lot of great music to appreciate here. The score closes with “The Girl on the Train – Main Titles” (track 23) with some vocal work provided by Melisa McGregor. It’s a sad and somewhat peaceful tune that does seem more fitting at the end of this tale.
The score is released through Sony Classical and contains 23 tracks with a running time of 52 minutes. The CD contains a 12 page insert with photos from the film, track listings, and production/orchestra credits. Unfortunately, it’s only released physically as a CDR (which has been happening a lot lately through the Sony Classical label). There is no indication of this when you pre-order months in advance and the surprise is on you when the day of delivery arrives. The CD sounds great and is designed like any other that you’d buy at a store, but I still like to know what I am getting in advance. Anyway, it’s a great score by Danny Elfman and one that I recommend checking out.
I recently saw “The Girl On the Train” in the theater (more on that later). I very much enjoyed the orchestral score that is featured prominently, and was curious to find out who composed the score when the movie’s end titles started rolling. Turns out to be Danny Elfman, and why not. Elfman has built a stellar career and likewise reputation for his movie-scoring talent, and one of the things that really impresses when you look at his overall oeuvre is (i) the amazing quantity (typically anywhere from 3 to 6 movie scores a year) and (ii) the incredible versatility. Yes, Elfman is probably best know as being Tim Burton’s “house composer”, but Elfman is really all over the place. This is a long way of telling you that I was not surprised in the least to see Elfman’s name showing up in “The Girl On the Train” end title credits.
“The Girl on the Train” (21 tracks; 52 min.) start with the dreamy, semi-electronic “Riding the Train”, as we see Rachel commuting to/from Manhattan, passing by houses with people and she imagines what their lives could be like. It’s not long before things may not as they appear and the very next track “Something’s Not Right” reflect that change with its nervous strings. We then get the two short pieces, a musical theme for two of the three main characters, “Megan” and “Rachel”, the latter being the more conflicted and hence more interesting musical leitmotiv. (Interestingly, there is no musical theme for Anna, the third lead character. I’m not giving anything away of the plot when I say that Rachel is a severe alcoholic, and Elfman brings us on “Wated” what that sounds like. Many of these tracks are short one, in the one-to-two minute range, basically just a musical brush to reinforce a particular moment in the movie (check out the beautiful “Day One” and the harsher “Uncertainty”, each less than a minute long). For me the best tracks were the longer ones, in particular the 6+ min. “Memory”, which sounds more like a mini-suite, but the soothing, piano-fronted “Resolution/The Girl on the Train – Main Titles” is very nice too. Bottom line: I really enjoyed this mostly all-out orchestral score, and it reminds me why Elfman surely is one of Hollywood’s current top movie composers.
As to the movie itself, as you probably know, it is a mystery-thriller about the disappearance of one of the three main characters, and while it is enjoyable viewing, it rarely is “edge of my seat” compelling viewing, and hence in the end I was a bit disappointed (I have not read the underlying novel on which the movie is based). Emily Blunt, on the heels of last year’s stunning “Sicario” performance, once again excels as the alcoholic and insecure Rachel. So in the end, “The Girl on the Train” the movie was okay but not great, but the soundtrack is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
– Paul Allaer
DVD Wholesale Main Features :
Audio CD (7 Oct. 2016)
Number of Discs: 9
Format: Explicit Lyrics, Soundtrack
Label: Sony Classical