Even with his army, Hans Zimmer is one hell of a prolific composer. After MAN OF STEEL and THE LONE RANGER already under his belt for this year (and 12 YEARS A SLAVE to come), here's another massive piece of work to digest: the score to RUSH, Ron Howard's retelling of the 1976 Formula 1 championship battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
RUSH opens with a simple track that reminds me of Harold Faltermeyer's score from the opening titles of TOP GUN: using very light strings and solo piano, it conjures up images of the hot tarmac, the hazy air from hot tyres and even hotter engines, the atmosphere of the race track. It pulls you into that world, and then anchors you with a sweeping string rendition of the main theme as electronics pulse in the background, suddenly the horns come in and echoes of electric guitar and you're chomping at the bit to slam that accelerator pedal into the floor.
And this is what RUSH is able to so effortlessly do: Put you in the driver's seat and fill what in essence is a technologically-driven sport with the power and emotion to drive a compelling story while not getting away from the context, i.e. motor racing. What Zimmer has done is shift between layers of different instruments, moving primarily between strings and electric guitar in what can realistically be called a form of gear-changing. But Hans gets what makes motor racing so popular and so compelling; the speed.
The orchestration almost seems a contradiction, finely balanced with the more traditional instruments, but a bit more fast and loose when the electric guitar comes in. The guitar itself works particularly well not only in the body of the score but also as a signifier for the time period of the film, where rock ruled the day. There are some really fun parts where it's used very much in a rock star vein; for example, 'Oysters In The Pits' is very cocky and very flashy, while 'I Could Show You If You Like' is a play on the funkier side ala Hendrix.
But that side is secondary to its use in the actual action tracks. Take 'Into The Red', where the frenetic strings are interrupted by a short piano section to amp tension up before a wailing ascending guitar riff cuts in, augmented by massive drums (that sound real) that recalls some of Elliot Goldenthal's work for Michael Mann's HEAT. And there is that side, where there's a kind of Miami Vice musical kineticism, very brash and of its time, but still breathtaking. It's also a hell of a lot of fun, with '20%' a demonstration of the slightly-cheesy guitar solo with manic piano that sounds like it would kill over a good racing scene.
And thankfully it keeps the fun in mind while still delivering the type of intensity needed, with tracks like 'Car Trouble' and its intricate guitar and 'Reign', which gives us guitars acting as percussion with chaotic strings inbetween. But before you ask, it does slow down in places - it'd be crazy if it just went like this for the full soundtrack - but those tracks are intense in a different way. 'Budgie' is a foreboding piece, using quiet piano and strings before giving way to a Jan Hammer feel, whilst 'Gluck' is a wonderfully chilled out, reflective piano-led piece.
Of course, motor racing is also known for its fair share of accidents, and while I haven't seen the film, I know there is a certain accident in there, which I am sure leads to 'Inferno', which has sinister strings and fading electronics that lead to a tragic statement of the main theme and an emotional throughline that is very Zimmer, in a positive way. Whatever you say about Hans, he is able to get through to the heartstrings very easily, and this is no different here.
Indeed, by the time we approach the finale Zimmer pulls it all out in a really vital way, with a gorgeous violin line in penultimate track 'Lost But Won' that segues into a massive Zimmerish rendition of the main theme. It really caps the score off, and you can easily imagine a final montage set to this great cue, which really is a fantastic example of Hollywood scoring.
The final track - 'My Best Enemy' - reprises the main theme again, with a noble statement that literally soars. Here Zimmer uses a little bit of wordless choral voice to provide a really triumphant-sounding rendition, which ends with a beautiful solo violin that ends the score on an almost sobering, introspective note. It's an incredible way to go out.
It's worth noting a couple of other things about the album: first of all, there are four period songs included: Dave Edmunds' 'I Hear You Knocking', Steve Winwood's 'Gimme Some Lovin', Mud's 'Dyna-Mite', Thin Lizzy's 'The Rocker' and David Bowie's 'Fame'. Obviously some are better than others, and while they fit with the period and some of the guitar styles, none are essential to the album and can be removed without any issue.
Something that is also included but cannot be removed are sound effects, namely the engine sounds of F1 racing cars. Now this is something that has been hotly debated many times, with the addition of dialogue and effects over music sacrilege to some. For me, it's a case by case basis, but here it works really well. Then again, F1 cars just sound amazing.
Even as someone who is not always the biggest fan of Hans Zimmer, I would easily put RUSH up against the best film scores of 2013. It's evocative, intense, compelling and emotional, but with a sense of fun that doesn't sacrifice a good musical storytelling structure. Brilliant.
RUSH is out now from Sony Classical