Music in the movies: Trevor Rabin

News Glen Chapman 4 Apr 2011 - 12:12

Need a score for your barnstorming action movie? Then Trevor Rabin’s your composer. Glen salutes his finest work...

A successful musician prior to making the transition to composing for film, Trevor Rabin’s impressive guitar work was initially heard in the 70s rock bands Rabbitt and Yes, before he embarked on a successful solo career.

Rabin’s scores are typified by his high-quality lead guitar lines, which suit the action material he often composes for perfectly. He’s also pretty good with an orchestra, as we’ll see below.

Con Air

The finest  action film of the 90s, and arguably the last 20 years, Con Air is a film that quite rightly gets a lot of love on this site. The score is a collaboration between Rabin and Mark Mancina, with the former handling guitar duties and the latter handling production, synth and percussion.

It’s a score that matches the quality of the film itself, particularly when listened to as an accompaniment to the film. As a standalone listen, it’s not the best, due to the fairly weak album release, with many tracks running too short and being placed in a different order from the events of the film.

Still, it’s a magnificent action score that hits all the action beats, as well as portraying the tender and romantic moments well, also.

Armageddon

It’s easy to be cynical where Armageddon is concerned, but it’s a film that knew what it wanted to achieve, and as a result is a reasonably entertaining blockbuster. Rabin tries his hand at subtlety from time to time, although given the nature of the film itself, subtlety, for the most part, doesn’t lend itself well to the material. As such, we’re treated to bouts of Rabin’s lead guitar work to punctuate the action-oriented scenes. It’s a grand and exciting score that’s exactly the kind of thing you want supporting a blockbuster such as this.

Enemy Of The State

This is a collaboration between Rabin and Harry Gregson-Williams. Why it needed two composers is beyond me, especially when listening to the end result. It’s very much a by-the-numbers thriller score that either composer would have been more than capable of writing on their own. As expected with a thriller score, things start off slow then get fast paced towards the end, as things seemingly spiral out of control.

The score seems very clinical and controlled, though it does go all out on the tension front for a long period of time. Not the best piece of work either composer has been involved with, but it’s still a serviceable thriller score.

Gone In 60 Seconds

I recently rewatched this film, and was surprised at how well it stands up. Sure, it’s a little bit ridiculous, and features one of the most cringeworthy sex scenes in cinema, but it’s an entertaining - if not outstanding - Cage action vehicle. Rabin disregards subtlety here, and goes all out to bombard the audience with a series of guitar solos. It’s very over the top, but at the same time, it’s quite fitting for the material and provides an ideal musical backdrop. It’s nothing groundbreaking or overly accomplished, but it does the job required.

Deep Blue Sea

This is one of Rabin’s stronger efforts, and the film itself is surprisingly good. The score starts with the track, Aftermath that features a delicate piano motif that’s used again later in the score, and provides a sense of hope and heroism that’s largely missing from the rest of the piece.

The rest of the score plays out like a grand horror score that’s full of tension, shocks and jump out of your seat moments, particularly with Anarchy, which is up there among the best pieces Rabin has composed for film. This is an example of Rabin going above and beyond what’s required of him, and as a result, creating a score that elevates the material it accompanies.

National Treasure

I have to say that I was hugely sceptical of  both National Treasure movies prior to watching them, even as a Cage fan, but  they’re solid family action adventure films that are of a higher standard than a lot of similar films that have been released over the past few years. In terms of the score, it’s another example of Rabin doing exactly what’s required of him – nothing more, nothing less.

It’s hardly the type of project for Rabin to go all experimental and attempt to produce a groundbreaking score, but there’s always the sense with Rabin that there’s a better score under the surface waiting to break out. Perhaps Williams’ Indiana Jones scores were in his memory and proved difficult to follow, so Rabin deliberately steered away from them where possible, although this score does see Rabin make use of an orchestra, which he seems adept at.

Remember The Titans

I’m a sucker for sports movies, particularly American football films, so Remember The Titans is one of the movies that gets watched at least once a year in the run up to the Super Bowl. The film itself is great, as is the score, even if I do prefer Friday Night Lights and the score for that film by Explosions In The Sky. Still, Rabin’s orchestral score here is one of his best, even if his time is limited by the source material, which fills much of the soundtrack.

Rabin’s score is limited to one seven minute track on the accompanying soundtrack release, but what a track it is. Packed full of the emotion and suspense you’d expect from a film such as this, it shows off Rabin’s talent as a master composer.

The Great Raid

In an unusual move from Rabin, he steers away from the use of electronic instruments and instead opts for instruments more typical of traditional war movies, and the results are very good. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of scores for films such as The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan (two stand outs of recent times), but it’s an effective score nonetheless.

This is proof that Rabin is not just capable of producing effective guitar-led action pieces, but he’s also highly skilled when it comes to orchestral scores. On the evidence of this and his score on Remember The Titans, he’s better off with orchestras than with the guitar work with which he made his name. If I were to recommend one of Rabin’s scores from this article, it would be this. It’s a truly brilliant score that showcases the composer’s versatility and talent.

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