Danny Elfman has been one of the most accomplished composers for the screen for several decades. His previous work includes iconic pieces such as Tim Burton’s Batman and the theme for The Simpsons. With his new soundtrack for ‘The Girl on the Train’, expectation is high.
‘The Girl on the Train’ is a drama/thriller starring Emily Blunt as a commuter who becomes involved in a mystery when a young woman goes missing. Having not yet seen the film, I unfortunately can’t comment on how well this music fits to the picture, so am talking about it as a work standing on its own.
Right from the start this soundtrack has a brooding feel, giving off the sense of city stresses and urban living, but with an edge; think of Jeff Beal’s score for ‘House of Cards’ and you’d be in the right area. There’s regularity, but also tension, with the rhythms driving across some unsettling intervals.
There is a nice mix of instrumentation too, with the overall effect being one that’s quite organic, but still with electronic elements giving an otherworldly aspect. Pianos and strings take the forefront, but on a bed of synth elements, blended nicely into an overall sound that envelops the listener.
As the soundtrack develops the music becomes more mysterious, no doubt following the plotline of the film, with more tension, some more expansive ambience and overall giving the listener less of a stable foundation; deliberately so in my opinion.
Some cues however, do not entirely standalone happily away from the film, and I would imagine that with the picture to be their partner, these cues would create a whole greater than their parts. There are some stand out cues though, that easily stand up on their own, such as: ‘Riding the Train’ and ‘You’re Always Wasted’.
What Elfman has done though, is use recurring motifs and ideas that link the pieces all together, so that the soundtrack does work as one cohesive whole. He has pulled together heavy synth parts, and traditional sounds across multiple styles, whether they’re playing in an ambient manner or in some more angular, almost Tom Waits-esque, ways.
Between the beginning of the soundtrack with ‘Riding the Train’ and the ‘Main Titles’ finale, Elfman takes us through a twisting and dark journey which no doubt serves a modern thriller well, and the finale brings all those threads he has pulled back together.
While in a significantly different vein than a lot of Elfman’s previous work that we are used to, where he has explored the gothic orchestral to fit in with the worlds Tim Burton creates, this soundtrack shows a composer of great skill, who can work in other styles and genres.