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Soundtrack review: Taboo (Max Richter – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Taboo (Max Richter – 2017)

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“Taboo” is a British television drama programme produced by Scott Free London and Hardy Son & Baker for BBC One and FX. It was created by Steven Knight, Tom Hardy, and his father, Edward “Chips” Hardy, and is based on a story written by Tom and Chips Hardy. The eight-part series, set in 1814, begins with James Delaney (Tom Hardy) returning to England after twelve years in Africa with fourteen stolen diamonds, following the death of his father and as the war with the United States is nearing its end. The music was written my Max Richter who is one of the most special composers working today; he is more than a film music writer and his poignant score for “The leftovers” made one of the most memorable first impressions for me.

The opening title theme, and especially it’s variation presented as a bonus track “Celesta Taboo Lament” is a magnificent waltz. “The inexorable advance of mr. Delaney”; I am a sucker for great cue titles and this one is remarkable. What’s even better is that the music fits the title as the stormy and determined string and horn sections give me the impression of something big and unstoppable coming. It’s quite and inspirational cue and I am thinking of adding it to my running playlists; it’s the kind of piece that usually plays over the scene where the hero, whoever he might be, makes the decision before the final fight. “Song of the dead” shows why I got so fascinated with Max Richter’s music in the first place as an angelic choir plays over a permanent quietly menacing undertone like the rumble of the thunder in the distance. The violin and bell chimes duet that comes next reminds me a little of Hans Zimmer’s “Hoist the colours” from “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

The strength of this score lies in the atmosphere it sets. “Taboo” is textural greatness, a fabric woven of dark shades and thick strings. Just listen to the quiet determination in “Zilpha”, a subtle orchestral cue where I can just see the conductor restraining the violin section and making sure the performers barely caress the strings before letting them get a bit louder. I love this track and how much it says with so little. It’s time for the solo and romantic piano then with “A lamenting song” (one of the most memorable themes of this score) and then an even more haunting piece in “Shadows”. The music is powerful and very dark, often in the “The dark knight” sense. Max Richter seems to be in a world of his own when he writes music and his background as a composer before being a film music composer is obvious int he way he constructs his cues and in the independence of some of the themes from the story and the show. It’s almost as if Max Richter invented the musical world of the time and place where “Taboo” takes place. It’s also clear that for the composer the most interesting character is Zilpha since she has the clearest themes and presence in the score.

“Taboo” is a dark and strange TV show and Max Richter’s music reflects that; a composer as imaginative as him had a field day creating a soundscape that evokes both danger and fatality. The strings, the many different layers of strings, from subtle to furious as in “I’d hoped to settle this…”. The score is clean and minimalistic orchestral and while not as intense and affecting as his “Leftovers” score it shows Max Richter on top of his game.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 24 / 40

Album excellence: 59%

Highlights:
Openings
The Inexorable Advance Of Mr. Delaney
Zilpha
A Lamenting Song
Shadows
Zilpha (Recollection)
Song Of The Beyond
Zilpha Alone
Lamentation For A Lost Life

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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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