Film scores

Soundtrack review: Southpaw (James Horner – 2015)

Album Artwork

The wound is still very much fresh. Just a couple of days ago I participated in a worldwide celebration of his music and listened to my favorite cue in the same time with so many others. The time was too short to get over the tragedy so receiving this score is like getting a message from beyond. It’s as if I had lost someone so unexpectedly that I still receive stuff he sent me. What do I do with this score? On one hand it’s a James Horner score, his latest, and his first effort this year “The wolf totem” was amazing. It’s been a while since he had two scores out in a year and I can’t wait to hear what he could to with a sports drama… he never did sports drama before and “Southpaw” looks like a more contained and intimate frame for his usually sweeping and majestic music. Can that music be contained? But on the other hand this is a James Horner score and the will be one more and that will be it… there will never be another year with two new releases from him or even one. So do I even listen to it now? I am torn between that and keeping it for a future time when I will be in need of a new James Horner score. “Southpaw” suddenly became such a rare commodity, such a treat, such a precious gem before even being released that I honestly hesitated…

Then I pressed play and what started didn’t sound like the James Horner I knew. There was no sweeping orchestral melody, no gorgeous composition that echoes vast places and feelings unleashed. No… like a proper message from the afterlife this is something completely different. I found myself in a dark alley where I’ve been before only there was a Terminator there the last time around and I was much younger. The opening piece from “Southpaw” was a raw, cold and metallic electrical shock that just stunned me. Then it was time for magic… what kind of journey has James Horner prepared for us? The music is intimate and almost minimalistic. The piano hides in the folds of this sound and plays hide and seek with chimes and other strange instruments and I am listening to a cue named “A fatal tragedy” and I wonder if this is the way James Horner would have wanted us to feel about his fatal tragedy. There is a contained fury in the respective cue… there’s shock and surprise there and something still fighting to stay alive. A few minutes into this score and I feel even sadder and more upset than I was at the beginning. This is a side of James Horner I didn’t know. This is a sound he didn’t share with us until now. We could have gotten more of this?? Minimalistic and reflective James Horner is something I’ve always dreamed about and I needed to hear something like this. This is the kind of score that would have lived forever with me anyway and I am trying to imagine how excited I would have felt about it if James was still alive. This is the kind of sound that would have meant the musical rebirth of this amazing composer. Just listen to “The funeral, alone…” with its subtle inflexions and everlasting echoes and try to mirror what you felt just after you heard the news… we were all alone in mourning for James Horner even if millions of others shared our pain all over the world. In the end, we each buried and grieved for him in our own way and I recognize the stream of feelings he magically infused in this cue.

Then the music gets even quieter and more introspective. Electronic and minimalistic James Horner introduces heartbeats in his cues; it morphs his sound into something you could hear on “The X-files” or even darker shows. This is not your usual Horner score and you couldn’t recognize him in the music. You might think about Brian Eno, or Thomas Newman’s dark twin, but not James Horner. I recognize myself in the music though. I’ve said it countless times: this sound appeals to me. Atmospheric and minimalistic is my kind of mood but as the score progresses the traces of the James Horner I knew fade away. This score is a departure from the style that made him such a beloved composer and is a bow in the faces of those who always noticed how he liked to recycle his themes. It’s strange in a way but I prefer a farewell like this than an epic, explosive one. “Southpaw” is mournful and quiet. This journey of solitude inside one man’s tormented soul has moments of release and moments when it almost chokes me. I feel the angst, I feel the desperation and I feel the tries to escape all this. There is no escape though. The message of this score is one of pain and you will be left with the sensation of a heavy and rainy day that never ends. There are times when you might need to listen to a score like this… maybe when you reminisce about the loss of someone you didn’t know but felt very close to…

Cue rating: 96 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 32 / 52

Album excellence: 61%

Highlights:

The Preparations

A More Normal Life

A Fatal Tragedy

The Funeral, Alone…

Dream Crusher

A Cry For Help

House Auction

A Long Road Back

Training

How Much They Miss Her

A Quiet Moment…

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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