Hans Zimmer (& Company)’s score for the first Sherlock Holmes film remains the best this far, surpassing Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows [M] (2011) partly because more effort went into crafting an almost maniacally theme that’s expressed through a marvelous grouping of folk instruments. The best description of his genre-bending score is twanging rhythms with steep diversions into eastern European folk harmonics, and regular doses of bass-slamming percussion.
Zimmer’s knack for hook themes and beating them into minimalist figures dominates almost every cue, with the Yiddish / gypsy fusion piece “I Never Woke Up in Handcuffs Before” being the album’s highlight: it’s a textured piece with rapping percussion, squealing strings, and a frenetic pace designed to exaggerate Holmes’ stumbling, and increasing bruising in a alley chase sequence.
In spite of little injections of modern / pop rhythms in cues like “Data, Data, Data” and “Psychological Recovery… 6 Months” Zimmer’s score is a marvelous evocation of grungy industrial London, where signs of progress come in the form of cheap immigrant labour and a kludge of disparate cultures packed into dirty, ramshackle apartments.
The film’s grunge factor is occasionally contrasted by a somewhat mordant (and suitably perverse) tragic theme (“My Mind Rebels at Stagnation”) where the might of the orchestra’s strings just swells to operatic heights; and the use of cimbalom and violin plucks which infer skulking, clue-searching, and a sense of being watched by some hidden personage. The addition of a solo violin adds to the cue’s drama, alongside dissonance at the stereo peripherals, and sudden moments of deadness preceding fast rhythmic figures (of which the most pungent are close-miked double-bass).
Much of the score is really just one theme split into multiple parts, but the thrill comes in the refreshing rhythmic variations, such as the off-beats in “He’s Killed the Dog Again” before fast-moving strings, and the brass which Zimmer uses to exaggerate Holmes’ increasingly dire states of peril.
The minimalism Zimmer & Co. indulged to wonderful extremes in The Ring (2002) is heavily apparent in several cues, but perhaps the most striking is “Marital Sabotage” with grinding bass figures, frenzied strings in the background, a rapidly escalating snare drum that switches to the frenetically paced cimbalom, and a 5-beat pattern beaten twice to create a blurring effect. Zimmer also sits on his chords for long stretches, much in the way his Batman cues disallow any respite; repetition and irresolution are followed by hard percussion clusters, and the cue simply fades out with a slight echo.
Sherlock is a near-perfect score because it evokes the time period, gooses the action with contemporary and traditional rhythms, and features an ongoing contrast between the dire, the tragic, and the absurd, with the cimbalom often deciding a cue’s mood.
It’s one of the best scores of 2009, and perhaps after some of Zimmer’s older scores have been given the expanded special edition treatment, Sherlock will get the same – giving fans of the film and composer a greater breadth of thematic variation. The current Water Tower CD is perfectly fine, but this is a great candidate for more.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan