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Lincoln by John Williams (Review)

posted Oct 23, 2012, 5:38 PM by Koray Savas

John Williams. The man is a lengend in the industry, and having taken a step back in only scoring Spielberg films as of late, has never been in more demand by his fans. Between the four scores he composed in 2005 and The Adventures Of Tintin and War Horse in 2011, he only scored one film: the lackluster Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. However, this time around, fans do not have to wait three years for a new Williams score. Lincoln had been in development hell for the better part of the past decade. Initially being displaced in favor of other projects, Spielberg ran into budgetary concerns with studios when finally trying to get the long-gestating project off the ground. Fast forward a couple years and it is finally here.

Williams returns to his well trotted Americana style for this historical biopic, and the result is a major disappointment. Williams seemed to be going into an exciting new direction with War Horse, in which he flushed out simpler melodies with lush orchestration while still maintaining his indistinguishable style. It was a feat of contemporary film scoring, and having anticipated Lincoln for a number of years, I was hoping for something pushing in that direction. The first trailer displayed an extraordinary piece of music that even furthered my excitement for what he had in store. Unfortunately, what we got with Lincoln is nothing that we have not heard from Williams in the past. He boasts a more quiet and somber approach with emphasis on solo instruments, which work beautifully in their own right, but it all feels too familiar. As a standalone score, Lincoln is a good listen, although it lacks the emotional punch to keep me at full attention. The music heard in the trailer is phenomenal and is easily the highlight of the album. It can be heard in "Appomattox, April 9, 1865" and in the 11-minute powerhouse cue, "The Peterson House and Finale." The former contains a haunting wordless choir that I wish Williams had utilized to greater effect throughout the score, while the latter is a great melting pot of the score's themes. "'With Malice Toward None'" and its piano solo version are examples of a toned down John Williams, which is always welcomed. "Freedom's Call" is another highlight of the album, which displays a wonderful violin performance.

Perhaps it is the years of waiting for Lincoln that is responsible for my general disappointment, but there is no denying that Williams is working well within his comfort zone here. The music is a step up from last year's pedantic The Adventures Of Tintin but it never quite reaches the height of what he brought to the table with War Horse. At his age, John deserves nothing more than to settle into his niche, but I cannot help imagine what the man could bring us if he worked with different filmmakers again.

As an aside, the album recording features a lot of extraneous noise from the musicians. Often preferred by score enthusiasts because it serves as a reminder that real musicians are performing, I always found it to be quite distracting.

Lincoln will be available on CD on November 6th from Sony Classical.