Tracks I never tire of: ‘Boyd’s Journey’

‘Boyd’s Journey’, by Michael Nyman & Damon Albarn, from the album Ravenous: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Film scores rarely hold much interest for me as stand-alone works of art. Generally, they’re either boring compilations designed to cash in on (or bolster) the movie’s success or the same cue repeated 20 times with little variation and a few bits of dialogue thrown in for distraction. There are exceptions, of course. Great compilation or part-compilation soundtracks include GoodFellas, Boogie Nights or Lost In Translation (among others), all of which work wonderfully as albums; of excellent original score soundtrack albums, however, I’ve only come across one – Ravenous.

Without its score, Ravenous would be a decent, enjoyable, but somewhat muddled film. With its Albarn/Nyman score, the muddlement remains, but it seems to fit perfectly alongside the schizophrenic music and the film is elevated to something I have been happy to watch about six or seven times. For me, no other film score is as important to its film than this one. Other scores may be greater – 2001, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, name something of your own – but here it’s absolutely vital to the film’s success. It is its star, its guiding force, the thing you remember about the film years later.

Though it’s full of fantastic individual tracks, it’s easy to pick one as the standout. ‘Boyd’s Journey’ is essentially the film’s main theme, appearing three times in the film and acting each time as a cue to our hero’s rebirth. As it begins it sounds like a child with ADD plucking at banjo strings, then other elements such as harmonica, squeeze-box and brass are brought in. It’s almost heroic, but the overwhelming impression one gets is of bitterness, melancholy, and tragedy. Like, it’s really beautiful, and seems to signal new beginnings, but I don’t think there’s any real joy intended – yes, things are changing, but probably not for the better.

The first time and (I think) second time through, it’s played on actual instruments, but on the third time – for the conclusion and end titles – Nyman & Albarn switch just about everything over to keyboards and synthesizers. With the strings, it adds a deeper level of sadness, its preciseness somehow cutting deeper than the roughness of the former version. Both are phenomenal pieces of music, regardless of whether they’re listened to in context (of the film or the album) or not. My vote for the Best Film-Related Music Ever, and as stated above, something I never get sick of hearing.

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