John Powell

Rating: 7.7

With each release, John Powell seems to distance himself farther from his roots as a composer working inside of Remote Control Productions, and to gain and develop his own voice. Already perhaps the most in-demand composer for animated movies, he has established himself well in the genre, for which his fast paced, frenetic style can work nicely. Bolt is only one in many assignments he had in the year 2008, but, though his schedule has been full, the quality of his work seems to stay consistent, and Bolt is an excellent effort, surpassing even the highly enjoyable Horton Hears A Who from earlier in the year.

If there is one serious complaint against Powell (besides the fact that some, undoubtedly, do not like his style), it would probably be that his scores for similar genres can sometimes seem interchangeable, and lack identities of their own. While Bolt maintains many similar techniques used in his other efforts in the genre, such as Horton Hears A Who, Powell seems to have created something a little more unique this time around. The story called for an over-the-top romp through super-hero music, and Powell delivered, without falling into the obvious pit-hole of copying The Incredibles and the, well, incredible work Michael Giacchino did for that movie. Like The Incredibles, Bolt has style. But the style is different, less jazzy (though we do here a bit of what Powell's jazz work might sound like in the beginning of "New York" and "Meet Mittens"), more modern. Edgy yet still interesting, a combination which, oddly enough, is rarely achieved.

Since I am obligated to report on the album, and not just the score, I suppose a word or two must be said here about the two pop songs at the beginning of the album, "I Thought I Lost You" performed by John Travolta and Miley Cyrus, and "Barking At The Moon" performed by Jenny Lewis. The first's Miley Cyrus, so it's fine...I guess. Actually, it might be one of her better efforts (not that I would know...), though still, of course, nothing special. The second is a mix of pop with some wannabe blues/country thrown in. There you have it. Neither atrocious, but neither good, either.

The score, on the other hand, hits almost all the right notes. "Meet Bolt" begins the score a little quieter, introducing the main theme, and features some good piano work. Actually, the piano usage throughout the score is very nice, and almost frequent, which is a bit of a departure from the tried and true Powell sound, and adds an excellent touch. Immediately following, we have the very impressive "Bolt Transforms" and "Scooter Chase", a tour de force of Powell at his super-hero, action-packed, frenetic best. Probably the best 3:30 minutes on the album. "Meet Mittens" shows some of the more stylistic side of Powell, and takes the music in an almost Ratatouille-like direction, which Powell pulls off very well.

Something that sets this album apart from many other acceptable entries in the modern animated music genre is the way the quiet, slow moments maintain musical interest. Many times it is the main theme holding them together, and often the piano is used very nicely in these moments. The resulting listening experience is consistently engaging with only a couple minor exceptions. As the music becomes more story-oriented, however, there seems to be a dip in quality. Nothing major, but the places where the score really soars are in the musical setup, and less in development. Still, the later tracks are certainly enjoyable, just not quite on par with the beginning.

If you are any fan of John Powell, or the fast paced animation style of music now popular, Bolt should most definitely find its way into your collection. This release seals Powell's position as number 3 for me in the animated movie genre, with only Thomas Newman and Michael Giacchino still ahead. While staying within the animation genre, Powell has found new ways to stylistically set this effort apart from others, and has created an enjoyable and worth while listen from beginning to end.

-Colin Thomson

Track Listing:
I Thought I Lost You
Barking At The Moon
Meet Bolt
Bolt Transforms
Scooter Chase
New York
Meet Mittens
The TV Park
A Fast Train
Where Were You On St. Rhino's Day
Sing-Aling Rhino
Saving Mittens
House On Wheels
Las Vegas
A Friend In Need
Rescuing Penny
A Real Live Superbark
Unbelievable TV
Home At Last/Barking At The Moon (Reprise)

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