BBC – Music – Review of Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

It’s been said elsewhere in the press that the second soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to accompany a David Fincher film is rather less impressive than the pair’s multi-award-winning score for The Social Network. But such critique stemmed not from hearing this three-disc, 173-minute offering exclusive of its parent picture; instead from experiencing it as last year’s American version of the 2009 Swedish hit – itself an adaptation of the late Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novel, published posthumously in 2005 – rolled at the cinema. What these arrangements might subjectively lack when matched to on-screen action is rendered moot as its electronic throbs, washes of eerie noise and ghostly drones take hold. At such a length it’s nearly impossible to remain focused on throughout; instead, it paints whatever else distracts the attentions several shades of grey.

Within a track like An Itch lurks myriad catchy electronic motifs, but each is half-choked by an overpowering atmosphere of dread which well matches the oppression apparent in the movie adaptation(s). These films are uncomfortable watches, the camera lingering on scenes of tremendous physical and psychological terror for those few moments too long. Reznor and Ross complement these visceral scenes with music of disquieting design, many of these 39 compositions (two of which are ‘traditional’ pop arrangements – a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song opening disc one, and How to Destroy Angels’ reworking of Bryan Ferry’s Is Your Love Strong Enough bringing the third disc to a close) creeping about the senses like an evil mist, shrouding hooks that dig deep and linger long.

In the sense that many a moment here is memorable, despite the testing run-time, …Dragon Tattoo must be declared a success. Away from the Karen O-voiced opener, a brilliantly rousing rendering of a rock canon classic breathed new life by these musicians’ unique approach – imagine it given an industrial once-over in the early 1980s, but then set to double-speed for its end-product presentation – a number of instrumentals hit enough bittersweet spots to hang around the grey matter. Amongst these are Cut Into Pieces (twitchy, haunted electro); Hidden in Snow (fevered Far-Eastern pulsations); A Thousand Details (Nine Inch Nails-echoing clangour); We Could Wait Forever (Omar Souleyman’s Syrian ‘folk’ as reworked by first-album-period Third Eye Foundation); and The Sound of Forgetting (one of the softer tracks, and really quite beautiful).

With this set lasting longer than the film itself, there’s no doubting that efficient editing would have produced a more manageable product for mainstream ears. Both Ross and Reznor receive A grades for effort, and commendations for their execution of this most-malevolent of soundtracks; but …Dragon Tattoo is such an exhausting listen that one might well switch to the music from Arthur Christmas before the fine, Ferry-penned finale comes into view.

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