John Murphy w/ Underworld
(Fox Music; 2008)
By George Bass | 8 December 2008
Slightly posthumous at a full year after the film in question finished running, the coveted Sunshine soundtrack by Danny Boyle’s foster children Underworld and John Murphy finally makes it onto the iPods of the masses (legally, at least). Whether the two acts’ warring lawyers were brought round with royalties or a paintball friendly away-day will probably never be made public now, but the important thing is that we consumers are free to enjoy the stirring chords and coppertone electronica from possibly the noughties’ best attempt at keeping Kubrick aglow. Or are we? Already there are one or two dissenters tainting the iTunes comments page (the score comes in bundled DRM format only), most likely aliases for those who were privy to John Murphy’s baby blue CD-R back when producers had said the OST’s a no-go. Surely the good people at Fox haven’t managed to fuck up the biggest cash cow to come their way since James Cameron handed them the Alien franchise? Surely what they haven’t done is to cannibalize said CD-R with shoehorned samples, some Underworld cuts, and a lounge clone of Chris Rea’s “Road To Hell?” And surely they wouldn’t be mean enough to take the three most dazzling compositions from the film and Album Only-pack them alongside sixteen hors d‘œuvres?
The simple answer is milk, or more accurately: how full or empty the half-glass appears if you’ve spent the last year dying of thirst. Despite the triumph in securing the soundtrack, itchy niggles do rear up as soon as you’ve double-clicked Track 01 and that piss-poor cover art launches. Presumably the fact that the score was locked away in development hell for so long accounts for its spoiler-laden track titles, so read on with caution unless you want every stroke, nuance and twist of the plot exposed to blinding and clinical daylight. Largely gleaned from the hand-built promos an exasperated Murphy was offering to his fans through IMDB, Sunshine chops its nineteen tracks into a little less than an hour, meaning most of the cues here are of tidbit to hasty proportions. Here’s the thing, though: they’re by no means fully skippable, with even the daintiest numbers like “Corazon Finds The Seedling” feeling worthy of the Cliff Martinez treatment. As you work your way down through the track list, the atmosphere fluctuates as wildly as the composition credits, with Underworld & John Murphy vs John Murphy & Underworld becoming just plain ol’ John Murphy or Underworld. The more naturalized listener can spot who copied who if they acquaint themselves with the back-catalogue of either artist: “Trey’s Fate” is a live snippet Underworld have been experimenting with under the working title “Small Conker and a Twix,” nicely realised here rather than during a mid-gig mixer handover. Likewise Murphy’s “Welcome To Icarus II”: a stellar retelling of his 28 Days Later (2002) “Church” ident as the dim orb begins to quietly roar. The blending of these pieces produces a luscious artificial warmth, offering relaxation and tan one minute before lurching into frantic slasher reactions the next (the gold schizophrenia of “Cassie Searches/Dead Corazón,” for example).
What brings these moodswings to life, however, is the grounded heroism both composers bring to the table. As Chris Evans drowns in sub-zero computer coolant while trying to keep the ship’s server racks from melting, Murphy gives us the desperately tragic “Freezing Inside: Mace” before quickly avenging it with the rousing chords of “Capa Suits Up,” dutifully activated by his vengeful nemesis in the film. Underworld have their own supply of hidden adrenaline to tap into too, being granted free reign on the movie’s credits with their searing dirge “Peggy Sussed.” Blasting like the horn on a warship and five times as loud and angry, it’s the definitive way to wake up the couples at the back trying to get sticky between fistfuls of popcorn.
The album’s paydirt—the three aforementioned tracks that have been keeping the fans on eighteen-month tenterhooks—can be nosed out without having to wade through the album in its entirety, so if you’ve come here with your £7.99 to hear the stuff that’s made it to mainstream trailers, you won’t have to watch your money for too long. “Kanada’s Death, Pt. 2 (Adagio In D Minor)” is our first taste of that killer melody everyone’s been grappling for, soaring as Hiroyuki Sanada toasts himself to keep his ship and crew alive. The cue in its form here was actually unused in the movie’s final edit, adding a layer of plectrum antics to the strings and deepening drum stabs. It’s the solar flare to Underworld’s divine swoon of “Capa’s Last Transmission Home,” which first cropped up on their Oblivion With Bells (2007) LP as “To Heal” and works perfectly with the shots of the trickling oxygen garden. The central adagio makes a second appearance on the record’s eventual title suite, appearing exactly as it does in the film along with Rose Byrne’s mothership tidings (pay attention, soundtrack obsessives: this means that you still cannot legitimately hear this piece of music without either narration, live action or fuzzy DVD rips added to the mix). Finally there is “Mercury.” It’s something difficult to ascribe to either camp as it sounds so beautifully ambiguous despite Underworld claiming it as a straight update of their “Jelly Blue” routine and Murphy listing it on his CD-R under its given name here. Warm splashes of guitar wrap round little sparkling planets, soft and astral like the clear big black and perfect for evening doobies.
In spite of its tangled backstory and sloppy handling by the suits, the music from Sunshine remains profoundly powerful once you focus on the pure arrangements themselves. Underworld, having honed their ambient tactics during the time spent with Gabriel Yared, work spectacularly well with Murphy’s charges and pondering, producing a score so arresting and listenable that all the CEOs forgot to distribute it. That we had to go round the houses (and then some) to get the fucking thing released at all hints at idle corporate paranoia in the shadow of box office floundering, and it all just adds to the case that the majors are losing their insight in keeping us profit-shredding Sendspace pirates under reigns. The horse may long have since bolted with Fox trailing behind like bad rodeo, but at least they’re doing the decent thing in opening the vault doors to the campers.
Now: where’s the CD release?