The name of John Williams always raises expectations beyond that of probably any other composer and so when the expectations aren't quite met, the result is a lot of disgruntled people. Most of them would probably be delighted with whatever score, if it were by somebody else, but because it's by Williams, perfection is the only thing it can attain. Therefore, Stepmom was quite a disappointment to many people, including myself. What one must ask is whether anyone else could have done a better score for a similar film. The answer would probably be no, in fact I think Williams has done a lot better job than say James Horner or Cliff Eidelman might have done. However, it doesn't really rank up there with his beautiful score to Stanley and Iris or the more haunting Accidental Tourist. I wonder whether this has something to do with the album arrangement, since Stepmom is considerably longer than both of those and it must be said that until about halfway through there is enough interesting material to produce a lovely, low key album that doesn't get boring. Of course, there is still the rest of the CD and so it does become just a little boring after a while.
Always and Always, starts off in Home Alone mode with twinkling pianos and celeste (or similar) and it all sounds quite promising. However, Stepmom is a more serious picture and so there is none of the festive sound to the rest of the music, which is a shame. The Days Between introduces Christopher Parkening's lovely guitar playing. While it's not quite up there with Yo-Yo Ma or Itzak Perlman (I don't think you could wring more emotion out of a guitar than a violin or 'cello if you wanted to anyway), it certainly makes for some extremely pleasant and relaxing listening. Parkening doesn't appear in every track, but each track that he does perform in is worth a listen; especially the beautiful Taking Pictures.
The more light hearted moments of the score are mainly centred toward the start of the album with The Soccer Game and Isabel's Horse and Buggy being the main highlights. The Soccer Game diverts into suspense music toward the end for no obvious reason, I feel that viewing the film alone will explain that. It sounds at odds with the general mood of the score, but is short and makes little impact otherwise. Isabel's Horse and Buggy is probably the most enjoyable cue on the album. It is very much in the mould of Thomas Newman's scherzos, with many stylistic similarities, although Williams witty harmonies make it a little more fun than Newman might have produced.
Once Taking Pictures is over, the music tends to become a bit of a blur of pleasant, but not spectacular string music that probably works beautifully at enhancing the emotion in the film, but could probably do with a little pruning on disc. There is a perfect 40 minute album waiting to escape in there somewhere. There is also a distinct lack of a crackling main theme, which is surprising given what a master tunesmith Williams is. There are two recurring themes that I can make out, but neither are ones that will stick in the memory. However, as a John Williams score, it still has some intrinsic merit, but just rendered dull by a very overlong album and surprisingly unexciting thematic material.