May 2004

Randy Newman - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack for Seabiscuit
Universal B0001701-36
Released: 2003

by Anthony Di Marco

Musical Performance **1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***

If you have kids, or are an avid baseball fan, then you know Randy Newman's work. Starting with his classic score for Barry Levinson’s The Natural, Newman has scored music for, among other films, Parenthood, Meet the Parents, Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story 2. In addition to scoring Newman has lent his voice to some rather irritating but well-crafted pop songs for Pixar’s immensely popular animated films. Parents have undoubtedly heard enough of Monsters, Inc.’s "If I Didn’t Have You" and the very similar-sounding "You Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story that they can't get out of their heads.

I have never been bowled over by Randy Newman’s soundtrack work. I’ve always found his music a little too safe and derivative. The Natural is the exception. The horn-driven theme that underline’s the mythic power of Redford’s Roy Hobbs is one of the most memorable cues I have ever heard. By comparison, Seabiscuit doesn’t offer any new ideas and even rips off cues from better composers. Listen closely and you’ll hear references to John Williams’ body of work as well as the main theme to James Newton Howard’s score to Alive.

Seabiscuit does not include any of Newman’s pop confections. Orchestra drives the majority of this effort, with a dash of Spanish guitar for flavor. And this soundtrack needs all the spice it can get. Many of the cuts are too short to offer much emotional impact. Even the music that supports the race sequences is reserved. While I understand Newman’s claim to fame is his knack for music that characterizes the American spirit, the lack of tension and bombast is what ultimately kills the dramatic flow of this effort.

What does impress me about this multichannel SACD is the high-quality recording. Frequency response is smooth and perfectly balanced; tight bass gives a firm foundation to effortless mids and highs. Surrounds are not overused and offer just the right amount of hall ambience without making the mix sound forced. There is sweetness to the piano, strings and brass that pulls the listener in. I loved the way the guitar, bass, banjo and fiddle sounded on "Call Me Red." Pacing, image depth and width are as good as anything I‘ve heard on SACD. I could criticize the slight lack of weight to the music. But that would be nitpicking. It’s hard not to sit back and enjoy this recording for its pristine presentation. Too bad the music is just average.