Well, that pesky hobbit is back. Still being chaperoned by small hairy men, he's moved on from stealing rings and provoking goblins to an altogether scarier proposition: stealing a big jewel from under the nose of the hardest dragon in the history of fiction. And propelling him as you'd expect is the music of master craftsman Howard Shore.
THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is a strange beast. It's a lot more subdued than Shore's previous Middle-earth work, and as such it took me four listens to really love it. However, I do have a theory that something is working against it - the length of the album. Both editions of the soundtrack are two discs, and the special edition runs over two hours, which is an exhausting time for a first listen, and it kind of flips the usual process upside down.
So while before, you had an hour or so of "highlights" to listen to, and you'd notice the music in the film and really wish that was on the album, instead you have a lot of music immediately. It'd be interesting to see if this had worked with the three scores in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, but at the moment with both movies in THE HOBBIT series I don't think it has. It's an intriguing presentation, but one that doesn't gel with these scores.
But the album definitely has its highlights, and the bulk of these are made up of the material from the latter half where Smaug gets involved. But there's some lovely cues to be heard elsewhere, right from the start with the intriguing 'The Quest For Erebor'. 'A Necromancer' (on the special edition only) reintroduces Sauron's terrifying theme as heard in LOTR, while 'Flies and Spiders' features a welcome return to Shore's horror work with big lumbering brass and rising strings giving you proper movie music.
On the calmer side, 'Feast of Starlight' is a beautifully serene number with a wonderful boy soprano, though it quickly picks up again with the brassy fun that is 'The Forest River', a brilliant action cue. But it's when it gets to the Lonely Mountain and a certain titular dragon that things start to kick right off. Smaug himself has two themes; an Asian-influenced theme full of mystery, and a more sinister and snakelike motif, both of which are used in full-force in the second half of the album.
'Inside Information' is basically an ode to Smaug and features several quotes of his themes, while 'A Liar And A Thief' features a JAWS-like motif as well as another reprise of Sauron's theme. But it all comes down to 'Smaug' and 'My Armor Is Iron', which run almost ten minutes together and use all of Smaug's motifs to create a mammoth action setpiece. The choral fury of the latter is especially impressive and it's a brilliant way to end the score.
Sadly that doesn't end the album, as following it is a song by tedious acoustic fiend Ed Sheeran. To be fair, it's not an awful song but it doesn't fit in the album at all. So let us never speak of it again. Thankfully, the final track on the album is another by Shore. Presumably the end credit suite, 'Beyond The Forest' is an absolutely breathtaking piece with beautiful vocal work on a lovely melody that is apparently a love theme between controversial elf Tauriel and dwarf Kili, followed by Tauriel's other themes.
It's a powerful cue and provides a superb climax to an excellent score. I still stand by my comments that the extended presentation does it no favours, but the solution is easy: make one yourself. You might have a lot of fun with it and it may make it stand out even more.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is out now from Decca Records