Meet Joe Black

I forget what it was that made me want to listen to this soundtrack. It just sort of happened one day. I decided I wanted to hear it, and that was that. A very strange thing.
Either way, I got my wish, and Thomas Newman, a composer I am familiar with (though have not reviewed as of yet) is its creator. I have to tell you – I could give every composer I’m well acquainted with a good adjective(s) to describe their style. For Newman, the description is sweet. I don’t mean happy-go-lucky sweet, I mean beautiful sweet. Strings that sing feathers to rest. The man has a way with strings and soft sounds. His other credits include Pay It Forward and The Shawshank Redemption (another soundtrack I've been eyeing forever). I’ve realized he has a tendency to let his sounds echo or linger, piano especially.
Though it’s taken me a while to finally hear the full soundtrack, I can tell you that long after the movie was out, I still loved the music and all it had to offer, a few pieces especially. Most of these tracks are going to be soft, strictly string instruments ranging from the usual violin to the ultra-gentle harp. Not much description will do them justice, and as most are short and the total number is 20, I’ll be fairly brief. Don’t worry though – not all of them are short and quiet...
1.) Yes – 2:05 ”Yes.” That’s the first thing you hear from Anthony Hopkins, so don’t get all weirded out when you hear it spoken oh-so-softly. Then you immediately get those gentle strings I told you about, as well as piano and a few flutes. Whispers of what’s to come…
2.) Everywhere Freesia – 1:45 With #1 softly leading, this track breaks out into faster strings, a few chimes here and there to accompany clarinets, it’s a bit bustley with a slightly business-like air to it.
3.) Walkaway – 1:52 #2 somewhat fades into this track, which is taken over by slower flutes and softer sounds. The strings gain some of their future strength, showing more of their sweeping notes before fading off.
4.) Meet Joe Black – 1:44 Joe is a little mystical, a little curious, as the flutes and harps and timid violins would have you believe. Dropping off and picking up again, the piano adds mystery into near silence, and then full silence.
5.) Peanut Butter Man – 1:44 A very curious tune with a very appropriate title. One of my favorite scenes is of Joe discovering peanut butter for the first time. Cat-like almost, plucky strings with a few bell-tone chimes and piano chords.
6.) Whisper of a Thrill – 5:42 Bound to be one of your favorite tracks on this CD (it is mine), it’s slow yet very beautiful. If you remembered anything I said about Newman and his sweetness with strings, this is the epitome of that statement. Along with them are feather-like flutes and clarinets, and other faint woodwinds I’m sure. Our main love theme full of intrigue and mystery, with a few heavenly chimes and that lovely piano playing its single notes that linger in the dark air.
7.) Cheek to Cheek - 1:25 An abrupt track caught me by surprise. To the old tune of “Cheek to Cheek” (hence the title), I completely forget where this occurs in the movie. It’s short and with an old-timey feel; faster with an accordion (or something quite like it) and a few trumpets and brass. Dare I say almost polka-ish? Not my favorite track and often skipped over.
8.) Cold Lamb Sandwich – 1:44 I think of most of this as the movie theme with a good-bye feeling to it. More clarinets and piano (and strings of course!) mixing happy with sad very smoothly.
9.) Fifth Ave. – 1:12 Slightly marching, this is a cuter, upbeat song one can picture Joe walking down Fifth Avenue to, gawking at all the sights. The beating percussion acts as the backbone to this, but without overpowering the main strings and clarinets skipping down the street.
10.) A Frequent Thing – 0:55 A brief piece, reminiscent of track #6, piano in the lead, and an abrupt end.
11.) Death and Taxes – 1:17 Another brief piece with a smiling glow to it, hopeful almost, ending gently.
12.) Served Its Purpose – 1:24 A magical bit almost reminiscent of the love theme, but with faint whistles and sprinkling chimes, the muted piano doing its thing.
13.) Sorry for Nothing – 0:47 Slightly scary, very little to go by but a few far away strings and scarce piano notes.
14.) Mr. Bad News – 1:36 High-pitched notes on violins creep along, more cat-like sneaking going on as other strings strum around. The faint bells behind the piano remind us again of the peanut butter…
15.) Let’s Face the Music and Dance - 1:23 Another sudden switch in music, this song sort of weirds me out. The trumpets sound slightly ominous in the beginning before growing into the song more and the notes are fully realized. Just the sort of thing you’d dance to at a high-end party I suppose.
16.) The Question – 1:25 More ominous notes, low hums and tentative strings indicate the coming of something not entirely wanted.
17.) Someone Else – 5:19 Another of my favorite tracks, it starts off sweetly enough, my love, the flute, taking the lead before the rest of Newman’s favored instruments slip in. For much of the time, the song is like any other, including the love theme we have between Elizabeth(??) and Joe. It climbs to new heights and opens new doors, until it takes a drastic turn around 2:30, almost all instruments dropping off as a secret is revealed. Instruments then remain scarce, leaving room for the knowledge to sink in. But you do get a very nice little flourish at the end.
18.) What A Wonderful World - 3:28 I seriously want to play this song at my sister’s wedding – and she’s not even engaged yet. I think this is a lovely version, very classy, no lyrics, slightly jazzy, but still orchestrated wonderfully. I think this is something everyone can enjoy. What a wonderful world indeed. (and you get fireworks at the end!)
19.) That Next Place – 10:10 Our Meet Joe Black finale, it takes its time getting to where it needs to go, flaring here and there just like the fireworks, finally some percussion making its stronger debut. But you still have plenty of time to enjoy the piano, strings, and woodwinds. It’s a pleasant track, with many glad feelings tied to it. Even if the end of the movie makes you tear up, the song alone is just not sad in any shape or form, so it won’t make you cry, but that doesn’t give it any less power.
20.) Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What A Wonderful World - 4:53 I’ve heard this on so many commercials – I never would have guessed it was on this soundtrack. Do you know what I did when I heard it for the first time here? I squealed and got all giddy. It’s a cute version and mix of these two songs. Ukulele anyone?
This is a great soundtrack to fall asleep to. Take out a few of the more speedy tracks and you’re good to go. I’ve done it several times already. Soft, quiet – in fact, sometimes it’s a little too quiet. That’s the only setback with this CD. On headphones it’s fine, but on my computer speakers, I have to crank the volume in order to get a lot of the sound, and then tracks like #7 are much louder than I want them to be when I’m trying to doze my way into dreamland in the hopes I can cuddle up to Dominic Monaghan or something. Er, *ahem* But that might just be my computer speakers, so the sound may very well depend upon your hardware and not just the CD development.
Aside from the volume, it’s a good CD. Granted, it has a few tracks I’m not so keen on (#7 and #15), but that doesn’t matter much. I love the way Thomas Newman handles his orchestra. He doesn’t use every single bit the way John Williams tends to, but what he yields is still quite powerful. Hey, sometimes less is more. It’s not even that I would call his style minimalist. More like, doing a lot with a select few areas of the orchestra. He manages to coax a lot out of a group of strings, some bells and chimes, and the woodwinds. It’s a really nice change for once to escape those trumpets. To just ooze into your chair and go, “Aaahh….” with a slightly stupefied grin on your face.
4.5 stars. Mostly because it doesn’t let your imagination wander very far and the tracks are surprisingly short. It’s hard to completely enjoy a piece when it ends 10 seconds after you get into it. Not to imply the pieces are un-enjoyable, I just tend to give more points to a soundtrack if it lends to sheer pleasure of listening outside of the movie context. But trust me, it was a very close shave here. I’m still rounding up. Highly recommended, Thomas Newman is someone to keep an eye out for.


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I am an author, I sell books for a living, and I love music like there's no tomorrow. I've experienced much of this country, from forested hills of the East, to the golden plains of the Midwest, the sandy beaches of the Southeast, and the oh-so-majestic mountains of the Rockies. And when all else fails, eat chocolate.