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Soundtrack review: Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead men tell no tales (Geoff Zanelli – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead men tell no tales (Geoff Zanelli – 2017)


“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” (also known as Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge) is a 2017 American fantasy swashbuckler film, and the fifth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. The film is directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg from a script by Jeff Nathanson, with Jerry Bruckheimer serving again as producer. Johnny Depp, Kevin McNally and Geoffrey Rush reprise their roles as Jack Sparrow, Joshamee Gibbs and Hector Barbossa, respectively. The film also stars Javier Bardem as Armando Salazar after his wife Penelope Cruz graced the screen in the precedent movie. Captain Jack Sparrow is pursued by an old nemesis, Armando Salazar, who along with his Spanish Navy ghost crew has escaped from the Devil’s Triangle and is determined to kill every pirate at sea. Jack, aided by his new allies Henry and Carina, must seek the Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact that grants its possessor total control over the seas, in order to defeat Salazar.  The music was written by Geoff Zanelli.

What started as a joke or a labor of love done by Johnny Depp to please his kids has turned into a long lasting franchise that I thoroughly enjoy visually. The music of the series has provided highs and lows and a bit of controversy as well. The first score which included the now famous “He’s a pirate” theme (which Zanelli cowrote)was written by Hans Zimmer mostly but ended up credited to his collaborator Klaus Badelt. Hans took over for the next two installments (yes, two, because I prefer to forget the score for the fourth movie which for me was one of the laziest efforts from the master) and gave us the “Kraken” theme in the second score and what is still one of my favorite Zimmer scores in “At world’s end”. I still listen to cues like “It’s just good business”, “One day” or “Drink up my hearties” regularly. Now it’s time for Geoff Zanelli, a frequent Zimmer collaborator on various scores including all the previous Pirates efforts to take over the scepter on his own and I trust he will deliver. The clocks in at a hefty 71 minutes and the track lengths are also respectable.

As with any franchise I like to hear lineage in the music and the “Dead man tell no tales” theme that opens this score has the percussion in the background and the deep woodwind instrument sound that usually echoes through the “Pirates” lore. For me the signature sound of this series is the dark and layered buildup of choir and percussion and Geoff subtly inserts that in Salazar’s theme, a theme that surprisingly for me echoes more pain than fear.

When a theme or motif is as good as “He’s a pirate” I could listen to it all day long so I don’t mind at all Jack’s introduction in “No woman has ever handled my Hershel” which is just a delightfully fresh salad with all  the right musical “Pirates” ingredients” and motifs. I can see myself listening to this one a lot from now on. This is what I expect from a “Pirates” score. This is what I actually expect from the movie as well just pure and spectacular entertainment; I don’t need a strong script or story.

Geoff Zanelli takes the ingredients from previous score but mixes the up with his own special recipe and the result is a score that has an identity and can introduce a whole new horde of fans to this sound and universe. The strength of this score lies not only in the themes I knew it would have, recognizable or not, but also in the other cues which complete the listening experience. The composer is able to keep me interested and connected with the action in every cue and it feels just as if I was watching the movie unable to pull away. There was a piece in “At world’s end” called “It’s just good business” that ran for some 9 minutes over a scene with a lot of agitation and twists and surprises and the excitement transpired into the music. The opening section of “Dead men tell no tales” from “You speak of the Trident” until “The dying gull” gives me the same feeling.

Then come the long pieces of the score. My favorite from them is “El matador del mar” which is the track that shows me how right Geoff Zanelli was for this movie; it’s a complex cue that tells a story in itself with the soft percussion, the subtle voices and the powerful orchestral build up. It keeps me hooked and with my finger on the volume button at all times. Small motifs from previous movies are stitched into the fabric of this cue as it marks an evolution in the “Pirates” sound as a proper sequel score should. “Kill the sparrow” can go toe to toe with any action cue I’ve heard this year.

With a spectacular sound to match the on screen shenanigans, the score for “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead men tell no tales” is the perfect companion to the movie; it’s like having all that excitement in your pocket.  The listening experience was completed with beautiful pieces like “The brightest star in the north” and the 71 minutes went by in a heartbeat and as they ended I wanted to get right back to the start and listen to the whole thing again. I also found 4 or 5 cues to add to my running playlists and with the proper balance between known motifs from the franchise and new themes and  an end just as good as the one from “At world’s end” I would rank this as my second favorite “Pirates” score after Hans’ best.  Great job by Geoff Zanelli.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 50 / 71

Album excellence: 70%


No Woman Has Ever Handled My Herschel

The Dying Gull

El Matador Del Mar

Kill the Sparrow

The Brightest Star in the North

I’ve Come With the Butcher’s Bill

The Power of the Sea


My Name Is Barbossa

Beyond My Beloved Horizon


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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