Soundtrack Review: The Lodger Score / Artist: Nitin Sawhney / Label: Network Distributing Ltd / Release Date: July 23rd
Everybody’s doing it. Be it the great Carl Davis, specialists like Neil Brand or Minima, or even the not-so-great (depending on your point of view) Pet Shop Boys; everybody’s making silent movie soundtracks. We’re not just talking about fresh recordings or performances here; these movies are getting brand new scores, created to give these pieces of cinematic history a new lease of life. Quite why this particular brand of creativity is so popular now is open to speculation (because it certainly predates the release of The Artist last year) but with the BFI currently celebrating The Genius of Hitchcock, big guns were inevitably to be called on to re-score his early silent output. In the case of The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) it’s that multi-genre musical polymath Nitin Sawhney who gets to tap into his inner Bernard Herrman.
Purists are always going to raise an eyebrow at this kind of exercise (no matter how creaky some of the original scores have become), but in the case of The Lodger, no soundtrack exists for this early thriller other than that written by Ashley Irwin in 1999. So with that in mind, Sawhney (who has worked with everyone from Brian Eno to Shakira) can do what he likes and let his creative juices flow. But what he actually does is play it pretty safe. This is a “classical” score so guitar feedback, ambient noodling, industrial tools, or Theremins were never on the cards (which is a shame; we all love a Theremin), but what we have here is something that, to begin with at least, could have been written at the time of the film’s release. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the score is also peppered with self-conscious referencing. The inclusion of a jazzy trumpet to tell us we’re at a 1920’s nightclub could easily go unnoticed but Sawhney also includes a number of musical motifs that are obviously deliberately reminiscent of Bernard Herrman’s celebrated Hitchcock themes of the past. Sawhney claims Herrman as a hero in his press release so one supposes we shouldn’t be that surprised at this device, but it turns out to be a little bit distracting as you end up wondering if, and where, you have heard bits before. It doesn’t help that Sawhney’s natural style isn’t very much like Herrman’s. There seems to be a hint of North by Northwest (1959) in a mob scene near the end and there is definitely rather a lot of Psycho (1960) at, well, nearly every opportunity. Without going through the old Hitchcock DVD collection, one can’t be certain about others but the fact that it’s got me thinking about doing such a thing rather proves the point. Unless, of course, this is all part of a grand plan to get us buying Hitchcock movies through subliminal marketing – Hitch’ would have loved that. Another criticism is the inclusion of the very contemporary Daisy’s Song. It’s a very sudden change of style early on but not the soundtrack’s last jarring moment. As the story is resolved (I’m not going to ruin the plot even if it is predictable by today’s standards) the music changes to something more reminiscent of the aforementioned song. It’s actually genuinely moving and among the most effective pieces on the soundtrack but it’s so at odds with the retro melodrama of earlier, it feels like we’ve just started a new movie or switched the CD.
For all these criticisms, it’s not a bad soundtrack. It’s largely pleasant with the odd haunting moment that, for the most part, is quite effective with the film and that’s really how it should be judged. But one can’t help feeling that having chosen to play it so safe, Sawhney might have been better placed to have had such odd moments of tricksiness entirely absent. I suppose you could sum it up as a soundtrack of highly effective dullness with a sprinkling of ineffective cleverness. That very nearly makes sense.