Better known for his action scores for big budget hits (Bad Boys, Armageddon, National Treasure), Get Smart marks a rare foray into comedy for Trevor Rabin, although fans of his rock-styled scoring will find strong stylists links to his more formal action scores, where his emphasis is often on movement and mood.
The album's opening cut, “Smart Dreams,” is full of the grandiose bombast present in epics like Armageddon, but the thickening march has a deliberate tongue-in-cheek quality, with synth strings heavily placed over orchestral elements, giving the impression of an immature spy (Maxwell Smart) who thinks he's destined to partake in great, sweeping acts of heroism in spite of being probably the country's biggest klutz, and whose own survival has depended on the skills of more refined and physically grateful colleagues.
Rabin's score is tied to Irving Szathmary's classic theme, and there's a surprising amount of diversity within the score, given the show's theme is just a simple phrase that's repeated before a fast jazzy closing.
His orchestral-rock quotation of the theme's circular bass line in “Smart Dreams” is (obviously) more dominant in the full theme rendition, “Get Smart Theme,” which Rabin's enhanced by adding multiple electric guitars, although he sticks to the jazzy closing by adding some brass, and a peppering of lounge vibes.
More fun is “Cake Factory” (one of the album's best cues) that initially begins with a blend of airy pulses, long string chords, and a subtle bluegrass guitar twang. When it moves into action mode, Rabin shifts to a steady strumming rhythm (the theme's bass line again), deepens the sonic density of his instruments, and shows off his skill in balancing soft and ambient sounds with sparse hard sounds. The tempo is more wistful than dangerous, the orchestra smoothens the cue's tone, and the sudden intro of raw, up-front electric guitar gives the track tough edge without changing the cue's overall light tone (seeing how this is for a comedy).
Dueling banjoes, electric guitar, and drums are applied to give “Theme (Look One)” a screaming Bondian quality, and there's some effective mood shifts to dual banjoes and solo vocal. “Theme (Look Two)” is more orchestral-techno with a jazz swing, whereas “Theme (Look Three)” offers the most interesting instrumentation: a blues guitar with catchy Django Reinhardt fingering, a light hip-hop beat, and undulating waves of strings and jazzy synth vibes. Only qualms: each variation is fairly short, arguably robbing Rabin of more time to allow the musicians to improv, and play more with density, colours, and tone.
The nature of a comedy score is to generally match the onscreen humour or add further subtext, and Varese's album offers a decent narrative of short and a few lengthy cues (including some bass-drenched cuts like “Rooftop Fight”) that don't present Get Smart as a repetitive listening experience. The orchestrations are sharp, and it's nice to see Rabin poking fun at some of the action scoring conventions he's usually asked to repeat in formal genre efforts. The score's kinetic nature and fusion of rock, techno and blues will also please his fans, although it would be interesting to see how Rabin would approach a comedy that demanded more thematic diversity, and a greater use of discrete instrumentation – traces which do show up in this work.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan