Until fairly recently you might have described Harry Gregson Williams as the new composer on the block. But with the rise of Clint Mansell, Trent Reznor, Chris Bacon and Ryan Amon, Gregson Williams is now almost old hat at the film score game. Gregson Williams marked a new wave of film composers who weren’t afraid to combine a number of styles, electronics, sound effects and the traditional orchestra score to make lavish soundscapes and emotive movements. The soundtrack to “Man on Fire” is a prime example of such a heady mix of styles and influences.
Having worked on the “Shrek” movies, a whole swath of computer game music, Gregson Williams has also tackled music for “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, the “Narnia” series and even Ridley Scott’s crusading romp “Kingdom of Heaven”, it safe to say he can turn his hand to a lot. Yet within this body of work Gregson Williams struck up a great working relationship with the breakbeat Welsh producer duo “Hybrid”, best known for their epic and expansive dance music (well worth a listen), and “Man of Fire” marks the first meeting of the two forces. The result is a score which is full of mournful orchestral elements, Hispanic sorrow and driving electronic beats. It is certainly a melting pot for the ears, however it does suffers from the problem of simply collapsing into a series of short motifs.
The album opens to the lilting Spanish tones of Carlos Varela’s “Una Palabra” setting the tone for much of the score. A trembling undercurrent floats under the lyrics which evoke impending sorrow and heartbreak before breaking into the busy “Main Titles”. Here we have the perfect example of a crash between styles and music, ideally suited to the clash of cultures and people’s in Mexico City. There are echoes of warm strings and choral voices, before the piece breaks into tearing guitars, feedback and electronic drums before the crescendo of noises ceases to reveal an impending string section.
The Hispanic influence continues on tracks such as “Taxi”, “Followed” “El Paso”, and “Creasy’s Art is Death” with trembling acoustic guitars which evoke a sad Mariachi band channelling the emotions of the film. Yet while Gregson Williams captures the setting of the film’s plot, there are also elements of dance and electronic power. This is most obvious on the track such as “The Rave” which uses heavily dance rhythms more akin to the club than the film screen, but also in tracks such as “Nightmare” and “The Drop” where echoy noise and bass beats crash with electric guitars and distortion. Yet unwilling to keep the recipe at just these two influences there are beautiful orchestral pieces and piano moments which intertwine throughout the whole pieces, light motifs which even appear amongst the hardest of tracks.
“Creasy’s Room” is one such motif which reoccurs throughout the score, a combination of stirring strings and simple piano movement, variations of which appear within the melancholy “Pita’s Sorrow” and “Pita’s Room”. The culmination of these orchestral numbers come in the final two tracks of the album, where Gregson Williams uses the ethereal tones of Lisa Gerrard to bring power and weight to “The End” and the Hybrid remix of “Man of Fire” which are simply sublime. Man on Fire is score which is ostensibly written to capture the moments on-screen, marking the transitions as our hero moves from the streets of Mexico City, to a club, to the jumbled rooftops of a shanty town. The clash of styles in innovative and works with the film on-screen, but ultimately leads to tracks being hopped through when listening alone.