Enigma Review

Tuesday, 01 January 2002 14:35

(by James Southall)

Enigma - John BarryAttractive but surprisingly uninspired-sounding thriller score.

John Barry fans have for many years had to deal with taunts that all of his scores are alike, a notion that is of course ludicrous. But the signs are that finally he has succumbed to the ultimate laziness because his two 2001 projects, Enigma and the concept album Eternal Echoes are so predictable that it's difficult to get as excited about them as about new Barry works in previous years. Enigma should be the most inspiring film for Barry in ages - a spy thriller with an element of romance, it seems like the sort of movie he is born to score. But we get music that is so familiar, it is very difficult to see why Barry got so excited about scoring the film - surely if he had been that excited, he would have written something that would have reflected the energy and enthusiasm he had for the project?

While scores like Mercury Rising hardly set the world alight, this was essentially put down to the fact that Barry just wasn't inspired by the material, but quite frankly if he doesn't get inspired by Enigma then it is hard to see him ever getting that spark of inspiration for a project that has provided three of the best scores of the 1990s (and his career) in Dances with Wolves, Chaplin and Playing by Heart.

There is nothing wrong with the music, dramatically note-perfect for the movie. It's just that it sounds like recycled music from The Living Daylights and Mercury Rising and not like something Barry really cared about. The love theme is very pleasant but very minor in the annals of similar themes the composer has penned for other movies - a piano solo is accompanied by the usual wash of strings, but it's less pleasant and less memorable than even things like Simon's Theme from Mercury Rising or the theme from Indecent Proposal . Slightly more interesting is the version performed without the piano in "Is That What Happened?" Trivia note: the theme has exactly the same chord progression as Hans Zimmer's theme from Pearl Harbour but, even though the album is only now being released for Enigma , Barry wrote his theme long before Zimmer started work. It seems a bizarre coincidence that two film composers could have written virtually identical themes for movies about World War II in the same year.

Barry plays the tension and suspense in his usual way, with very simple brass ostinatos and gradually-building string accompaniment. Best is "The Convoy", almost six minutes long and by far the most impressive cue of its type on the album. Aside from this, there are basically just a series of repeats of the main theme, with very little variation. Yes, it is very pleasant, but no it is not pleasant enough to warrant such repetition without anything being done to it.

Ultimately, despite the complaints, Barry is a superb musical craftsman and it is great to see him back in the business after such a long period has elapsed since his previous score. After a string of rejected scores (one of which, Goodbye Lover, reportedly features heavily in Enigma ) and fall-outs with directors, it is good that he found a director with whom he did not have a problem working; bad, though, that he was hired pretty much without the consent of the director, whose choice of composer was David Arnold. Enigma is a good album, a good score, but the inspiration that formed the basis for all of Barry's best works just seems to have deserted him, and really there's nothing new here at all.

James Southall

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