Blake Neeley's score for the first season of The CW's Arrow television series is far bigger and far more diverse in sound than one would normally expect from a TV superhero series. Given that so many series are content to use standard orchestration, hearing Neeley's work in different styles and how he uses them to differentiate between Oliver Queen and his Arrow alter-ego is rather clever.
However, it's also quite simple. For Oliver Queen, Neeley uses piano and strings – standard fare. For Arrow, he uses some of those elements to tie Arrow's identity to Queen's, but also goes far more bombastic and rocking, using electronic flourishes and squealing, riffing electric guitar. Frequently, those two sides of the character show up back-to-back on the album. You have something like I Forgot Who I Was, all piano and strings, working in quiet reflection, followed by Train and Hunt, positively racing along with skittering beats.
That piano, as a through-line by which we can identify the Oliver Queen in the Arrow: that's some clever work for a television score. It's so rare these days that the main character has something with which we the viewers (and, in this case, listeners) can identify them, even before they step on screen. It's all very minimalist at the start, but becomes far more intricately electronic as the album – and season – progresses. It's absolutely fascinating to be able to hear the aural equivalent of character development. While not necessarily something one might notice spread out over the course of 23 episodes, when condensed into 78 minutes, it becomes readily apparent.
Loss and Regrets moves a simple piano piece into swells of strings, only to rise to a crescendo right at the end, then returning to that simple piano again. It's all so very emotionally manipulative, but it tugs at the heart strings a little. Nothing in Neeley's work is terribly groundbreaking, but it's more the manner in which the composer puts everything together that makes this music work so effectively.
Vigilante Justice is the standard chase theme, all percussion and stabs of brass, backed by insistent strings, but the ebb and flow of it, all anchored by the piano, really gets your pulse rate up there, as you imagine the Green Arrow taking out a slew of baddies. I'm also a sucker for that quiet, lo-fi thing where everything's all quiet and slightly fuzzy, before banging into something big and loud. It always works.
Oliver Queen Suite brings everything back where it started, with strings and a hint of woodwind replacing the insistent electronic bursts. It slowly fades out at the end, leaving the listener with, once again, just a piano picking out a simply, emotional melody. It's a gorgeous return to where the soundtrack started, with a revisited Five Years.
For fans of The CW's Arrow, one couldn't ask for a better collection of music from the series. Blake Neeley's music manages to be that rarest of things: a broadcast television score which is original, not just some knock-off of other superhero tropes. At 75 minutes, the music crams a compact disc, but as compiled here, it absolutely flies by. It's astonishing to notice that the music has ended and well over an hour has been spent in rapt attention.
INFO: ARROW ORIGINAL TV SOUNDTRACK: SEASON 1 / COMPOSER: BLAKE NEELEY / LABEL: SILVA SCREEN RECORDS / RELEASE DATE: JULY 10TH