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The Not David Byrne Award for Classical Score by a Rock Music Icon that Doesn't Actually Suck

By Traviss Cassidy | 19 December 2008

Jonny Greenwood
There Will Be Blood OST
(Nonesuch; 2008)

Technicalities haven’t worked in Jonny Greenwood’s favor lately. First the CD version of his brilliant score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood gets a tricky December 18th 2007 release date, all but guaranteeing its omission on critics’ year-end lists for both 2007 and 2008. Then the Academy decides to rule his latest soundtrack ineligible for an Oscar because it contains pre-existing work—specifically, parts from Greenwood’s own Popcorn Superhet Receiver.

Old news, sure, but we should at least give the guy credit where credit is due. There Will Be Blood is an astounding score, one which nuzzles itself into protagonist Henry Plainview’s very soul, rattling and echoing in its pitch-black hollow. It’s terrifying stuff, though not exactly groundbreaking as classical scores go, but Radiohead didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel either. They focused instead on merging their collective affinities for soaring prog-rock, techy IDM, jazz, and so forth, and excitedly reworking the resulting stew into something more easily appreciable by society’s more slovenly musical dilettantes. (This is why [yawn] so many of those utterly dull conversations about “How I Started Listening to Good Music” inevitably begin with one’s first encounter with Radiohead.) Like almost any Radiohead album, then, There Will Be Blood is nothing if not gateway music. It piques a certain wide-eyed curiosity and opens up new possibilities previously unconsidered by casual movie-goers and classical music jerks.

Greenwood’s score is muscular yet utterly gaunt; immense yet composed mostly of negative space; grasping for the infinite but clocking in at a spare 33 minutes. Rather than relying on blunt scare tactics or abrasive, neck-hair-raising screeches, “Henry Plainview” horrifies by casting a humming pall over the sky—the kind of Eighth Plague shit that had Pharaoh jumping out of bed. It’s one jaw-dropping moment on a soundtrack chock full of ‘em, and yet another reason why There Will Be Blood deserves better than the short end of the milkshake-suckling straw.