Danny Elfman doesn’t get that many opportunities to indulge in a score with elements from his rock years, and while Taking Woodstock is peppered with subtle guitar licks and twirling groups of electrified notes, the score’s design is a weird but completely successful marriage of late sixties rock and Yiddish harmonies, the latter mostly performed by woodwinds.
The comingling of both worlds is present in the opening titles and “Elliot’s Place,” whereas later cues start to sway with layered guitars, blending acoustic and electric sounds that still evoke the fat analogue sound of the era. The main theme is a breezy little gem that flows with a call and answer structure, allowing groups of instruments to echo each other, and build into a thick acoustic-electric wave of string, bass, and percussion.
More intimate cues like “Get the Money” have woodwinds and a few strings, and the album’s overall mood is an intimate character study, with light touches of humour that never stray into slapstick.
Most of the tracks are short – a number are under a minute, while the rest average two minutes in length – and that does give the score a fragmented feel. “Groovy Thing” is a rare exception, and it’s a light rock-folk cue evocative of the era, with deeply saturated electric base accompanying multiple guitars. Melodically, the cue doesn’t develop into anything sophisticated, and it’s likely the cue was fitted for a montage. (A solo acoustic guitar version at half the length is more successful because the theme is delivered in a compact, yet gentle manner.)
More successful is “A Happening,” with tinsel organ, drums, and bass being the lead instruments, with interpolated electric guitar. “The Acid Trip” begins with a promising electric intro, but ends before it develops into anything meaty. “Happy Guitars” is a great little gem that’s part renaissance folk, part loft folk rock, but it too doesn’t get fleshed out into something deeper.
Given Elfman’s music was supposed to co-exist with songs, La-La Land’s album feels like a suite, and while the brevity of many cues don’t allow the score to really resonate, it’s a good example of Elfman marrying differing musical worlds into a fluid dramatic sound. Perhaps the question for composers is that when writing a brief score that’s likely to get an album release, should special album versions of certain tracks be recorded – not for the sake of creating a value-added CD, but a more satisfying image of the score.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan