This particular Shakespearean adaptation is perhaps not the typically sensible and subtle approach taken by the likes of Kenneth Branagh and Laurence Olivier, but much more of a stylised mixture - facet which is equally reflected in the score. I suspect that Titus Adronicus is a title that rings a bell, recalling the plot of which would remain elusive to most, myself included. It not being a Shakespeare comedy, I'd suggest that there's plenty of betrayal, deceipt and almost everyone is dead by the time the curtain closes. This adaptation starring Anthony Hopkins, no less and directed by Julie Taymor (Mrs Elliot Goldenthal) looks as though it could be a wonderful production (visually at least), although apparently nobody went to see it.
Elliot Goldenthal, unlike say Patrick Doyle, is not someone who is likely to do anything too traditional and indeed Titus is the most eclectic score I've heard since, well, the last Elliot Goldenthal score. The opening cue is promisingly normal, a huge choral march type effort which is hugely stirring and fabulously written and arranged. There is little to dispell the feeling that we are getting a more traditional approach with the mournful Procession and the typically brass laden Goldenthal ideas that are perhaps becoming over familiar lately. It is only when a saxophone solo in Tribute and Suffrage turns into a saxophone duet and then a swinging jazz number is it clear that the rules are going to be ditched in favour of a flight of musical fancy. The fact that Tribute and Suffrage eventually turns into a huge Herrmann-esque two note brass motif is neither here nor there, the illusion of a more traditional approach is forever shattered.
As well as differing musical styles, Goldenthal piles on the occasional, um, post production effect. In An Offering, one would be forgiven for thinking that the CD was in some way damaged, but it becomes clear that there is an intentional effect being used. It sounds as though every two seconds or so, the mute button has been depressed, which leads to hearing the track as short chopped up sections. I have absolutely no idea what the point of doing this is, but as pure listening it's possibly the most annoying thing I've heard in ages, this annoyance is compounded but the feeling that the actual recorded music is rather good. Track six is best avoided if possible. Another nerve fracturing track is Pickled Heads which is a grungy, techno thing, with sampled shouting over the top of some industrial synths and God only knows what else. This then strangely moves into another saxophone led, Beetlejuice mixed with the theme from The Munsters, but with electric guitars type of thing, which finally resolves into a variation on the Riddler music from Batman Forever. I kid you not. There are other moments that sound like they have escaped from either one of Goldenthal's strange but entertaining Batman scores, the very over the top Swing Rave is just as the title says, with everything thrown in to form a bracing and idiosyncratic swing band track.
With this kind of score, there are two main schools of thought: 1. the composer has been hugely inventive in mixing all these different styles and should be congratulated for writing something a little more inventive or 2. the composer can't sustain a through composed score and is almost playing about and simply slapping on whatever he feels like at the time. At the risk of coming away sounding like a prude who only likes nice orchestral music, I'm more inclinded to the latter option. I do feel that Goldenthal is hugely talented and inventive and certainly capable of writing a cohesive score. However, with Titus I feel he's crossed the line from invention to merely messing with whatever he feels like at the time. A little too much music is a very thinly rehashed moments from his previous scores (the track from A Time To Kill is simply tracked in and you wouldn'thave noticed if you didn't know) and although that's by no means a unique complaint to Goldenthal, I feel that he does not back up the reuse with enough melodic invention or orchestral variation. The net result is that one score seems like simply an extension of the previous one. What apparently passes for invention is just different musical styles, but working them coherently together is not something that is done very subtly, indeed I feel it worked better in his Batman scores than it does here.
It is hard to recommend a score such as this as there were moments which were just about as thrilling and exciting as I could imagine, but there were others that simply set my nerves on end and were almost unbearable. The two listed above were perhaps the worst cases, but other sections were not often somewhat grating. With a little more focus and less recklessness, Titus could quite easily have been a brilliant update on Miklos Rozsa style historical epics, but instead it becomes a somewhat aimless mish-mash that will appeal at one time or other to almost everyone, but is unlikely to be loved entirely by anyone other than die hard Goldenthal fans. A mixture of the occasionally awe inspiring and brilliant, but also sometimes awful, unlistenable, but overall a flaccid mixture that never gels as it really should.