I just finally heard Craig Armstrong's debut album only a couple months ago, and when I did, I wondered how long it would take before he was tapped to do an entire film score. Granted, he had done a song for the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack, but just from hearing the sounds on his first disc, I knew that he could pull off something for a complete film. Sure enough, only a couple weeks after I'd heard his first disc, I found out that Astralwerks was just releasing his score to the film Plunkett & Macleane. While the film entered and left the theaters with considerably little fanfare, I think that for a first score, Armstrongs work stands up very well. Not only does he take elements of classic scores and breath a new, modern life into them, but the songs that he's created manage to work well as a free-standing album instead of just some plain musical accompaniment.
The disc opens up in a stripped-down way with only a choir for the entire first track (out of 20). It's soothing, yet somewhat haunting at the same time. After the choir fades out, the disc goes into a little more foreboding territory with a deep rumble and some very nice, slow strings over it all. The track undulates for a minute and a half or so before the strings flourish and a beat comes to drive the things a little more. Finally, the choir comes back in again and adds yet another layer to the already lush track before everything drops off into something more mellow. After a couple more fairly somber tracks, things kind of pick up with the slow, almost waltzing sounds of "Rochester." I haven't seen the movie, but all I can imagine while hearing the track is a ballroom scene of some sort. Not content to let things stagnate, Armstrong adds some tabla drumming on the next track "Robbery" and really picks things up with "Ball." The latter employs a harder-edged beat that sounds a bit cheesy at first coupled with the repetitive strings, but eventually draws you in anyway. I see "remix" written all over it. The kick beat continues for awhile into the next track before dropping off to choir voices again and stepping back over into a little more creepy area.
Things pick up again, though, on "Business: Part1/Part 2/Part 3." As the titles suggests, the track is distinctively broken up into three different parts and again takes on a little bit more of an electronic feel than earlier tracks, speeding up the drum beats with each successive part. From there, the disc settles down a little more into traditional instrumentation, but it still manages to work well. Really, the only mis-step on the disc (in my mind) is on 19th track. Completely breaking the instrumental feel of the disc, a re-make of the Talking Heads' "Houses In Motion" (with Lewis Parker and Helen White (Alpha) on vocals) is inserted as the second-to-last track on the disc and sounds quite out-of-place. Not only does it have vocals, but the instrumentation of the track is different than anything else on the disc and it feels like a clunky effort to place a track that doesn't go anywhere else. Still, it's easy enough to program the track out on your CD player and enjoy the rest of the quite interesting score. It's kind of eclectic with it's mix of classical strings and choirs and electronic beats, but Armstrong somehow manages to make it work most without it sounding like a bad disco attack. Now all he needs to do is find a bigger movie to attach his music to.