Monday, 14 January 2013

CD Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Soundtrack

This is a first for me, I’ve never actually done a CD review before. Mainly because I rarely buy music, I’ve got the stuff I like and I listen to that. In the last few months I’ve bought five albums (four physical and one mp3 download) for myself and this is something of a rarity for me.

A great deal of the music I listen to comes from films. I’ll watch a film that I enjoy, so I buy the soundtrack, then I find there’s one or two songs that I like to listen to a lot, so I investigate their albums or listen to their songs on YouTube, then when I find I’ve got an earworm I can’t get rid of I’ll treat myself to the CD. I found Taylor Swift this way, she was on an episode of CSI and I looked her up, fell in love with the thirty second samples of her songs and ordered her first two albums right away. Ditto the Cardigans (though that time it was through a fan video on YouTube) as well as Eva Cassidy (the Love Actually Soundtrack).

When the Lord of the Rings films came out, as part of my quest to own everything associated with them, I got the soundtracks as a matter of course. Then bought them again when those became worn out. And I’m going to have to invest in them again at some point because it’s a set I lost when I moved. There was never any question that I was going to have to buy the soundtrack for The Hobbit films. The only real debate was how long I could bring myself to wait for it.

I saw the film on Saturday 5th of January. The soundtrack was ordered on the 6th. I think that probably tells you something about the music in the film, which I’ve already mentioned in my review of it. Howard Shore is a genius, who just seems to get the stories and is able to create pieces of music that not only represent specific characters, places and events in the films, but manages to tie them all together so that when you’re listening to a song, you can pick out who or what or where it’s about. My husband would start talking about fancy things like leitmotifs and things here. I’m really not a very musical person, but there’s something about the music in this film that just settled in my heart and I love it.

I had a bit of choice when it came to ordering the CD, choice that wasn’t available when I got the original soundtracks for the Lord of the Rings films. Now you’ve got the choice between the physical CD and a digital copy, as well as the regular two-disc set, or the special edition two-disc set (which is obviously also available in a non-physical two-disc set, complete with digital version of the little booklet that comes with it). Or you can just buy the individual mp3 tracks that you want.

There wasn’t much doubt that I was going to go for the special edition version, it’s got an extra three songs and has a little booklet with it (or digital version) and I just wanted to have something pretty that I could hold and take photos of. I love the immediacy of mp3 downloads; the fact that you buy it and it’s right there to listen to right away, but I guess the Lord of the Rings habit is hard to break and I wanted to actually own the CD. Even if it meant waiting an extra three days or so to listen to it.

Considering it’s a special edition version, it’s not really that special a case. It’s all made out of cardboard which is already starting to look a little bit worn around the edges through everyday wear of opening it and getting the CDs and book out. I’d much rather have a plastic CD case because it feels like it offers greater protection and is less likely to get worn out like this. Plus it’s easier to replace if part of it gets cracked or whatever.

That said, it is beautiful. It’s leather-look with the text embossed in gold on the front (so shiny) and with all the tracks listed on the back (in the same font as on the Lord of the Rings CDs for anyone who’s taking note about things like that). It unfolds to reveal a portion of the map from the film and the CDs tuck into little pockets on the left and right sides. Then in the centre is a place where the booklet is hidden, it can be slid out from either side.

The booklet is lovely. It’s got your standard photos in it, there’s Gandalf outside Bag End, Thorin, the Company being led by Gandalf, Gandalf with Galadriel and Elrond, Gollum and Bilbo, and Bilbo up a tree with Gandalf and Thorin on the ground while the Eagles swoop in to save them. There’s the words to the songs (for some reason the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien gets credit for the lyrics amuses me, because, well, I know he wrote them, but it just does). And then there’s a lovely little section with photos of Howard Shore and the London Philharmonic Orchestra as well as a run down of the events of them film and how the music was written for the characters, places and events. I find it fascinating how the music was shaped to help tell the story; it explains which chords were chosen and why, as well as the idea behind the use of certain instruments. Definitely well worth a read.

And then there’s the music.

Which I’ve already said is wonderful. Three of the main reasons for wanting this CD were for the two songs performed by the Dwarf Cast and also the final song playing over the end credits (written and performed by Neil Finn). Track 4 on Disc 1 is easily one of my favourites on the album, I’ve listened to it again and again; it’s Blunt the Knives, the song the Dwarves sing as they cause havoc with Bilbo’s crockery. When reading the book I’ve always imagined it as being a raucous, upbeat sort of song and this doesn’t disappoint, it’s exactly as I imagined it.

Misty Mountains (Track 6, Disc 1) is a little different to how I thought it would be. I imagined all of the Dwarf songs to be upbeat, but this is very slow and quite mournful. And it fits wonderfully. It’s a song about leaving and travelling back to a place you were forced to leave, a place that, despite the lure of the treasure there, is quite dangerous. It makes more sense as a slow, sad song.

My other favourite song on this soundtrack is on Disc 2, Track 8: Riddles in the Dark. I suppose it stands to reason that my favourite chapter of the book, which became my favourite chapter in the film, would be my favourite piece of music on the soundtrack. I put it all onto my phone and have been listening to it while getting ready in the morning, so I’ve not always been able to see which track is playing. At the very beginning is what I think of as the Ring-theme, which you hear in several songs on the Lord of the Rings soundtracks, so as soon as I heard that I could pinpoint exactly which song was playing. The music sounds ‘dangerous’, like it’s emphasising how much trouble Bilbo is in at that point, you know that Gollum is unhinged and dangerous and the music reflect that. But there’s also the call of the Ring, which is sort of a chilling bit of music, but also kind of nice at the same time, like that last bit of cake that you know you shouldn’t have.

I could probably quite easily write a blog post about each track on these CDs, but I’m going to control myself. By the time this posts, I will have seen the film again and I’m really looking forward to hearing the music and seeing the images on the screen, but it’s going to be very tricky not to join in when the Dwarves start singing Blunt the Knives!

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