Meet Joe Black


Universal Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


One of the most difficult things I experience when I try to review soundtracks is that I've often not seen the corresponding movie. While I can often get an idea of where the song fits in the movie based on the style of music, the tempo and the title of the track, I'm still somewhat at a disadvantage. Such is the case with the soundtrack for the film Meet Joe Black.

Oh, it's not that I think Thomas Newman failed to convey the dark mood of the film (at least what I've read about it) - no, Newman's music is superb and beautiful. (In fact, allow me to offer this word of advice: Don't listen to this album if you're feeling sad; the music has the tendency to amplify those feelings. First-hand knowledge here.) But unless you've seen the film, this is less of a soundtrack and more of a collection of rich mood music - not a bad thing in and of itself, but not the album's primary purpose.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I'll get the one criticism out of the way early: It seems strange to me that, on an album of somber orchestral music, a few upbeat swing numbers would be included. "Cheek To Cheek" thrown in where it is happens to be a rather rude jolt to the system that has gotten used to a more introspective style of music. Again, I'm freely admitting that I might understand the inclusion of these songs had I seen the movie.)

Otherwise, the songs that make up Meet Joe Black are some of the most beautiful songs I've heard in the world of film music in some time. From the opening moments of "Yes" to the ten-minute journey of "That Next Place" at the other end of the disc, this soundtrack captures some wonderfuly poignant moments that form the picture of a man preparing himself for his upcoming death. Some of the titles are a bit confusing ("Peanut Butter Man"? "Cold Lamb Sandwich"? For that matter, would you really want to refer to "lamb" in any movie with Anthony Hopkins these days? "Hannibal Lechter", anyone?), but I found myself relying less on the titles and more on the music itself on this disc.

And while it sometimes feels that some pieces on this soundtrack are much too short, the whole disc moves briskly, never getting too weighed down in its subject matter. Even the closing version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow / What A Wonderful World" (performed by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole - the only vocal performance on the album) rings through in its sparse arrangement - something that works well for this particular soundtrack.

Naysayers can speculate all they want on why the film hasn't lived up to its expectations, but just on the soundtrack alone, Meet Joe Black shows a lot of promise. If you are a fan of rich orchestration and powerful, moody pieces, you'll love this disc.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Universal Records, and is used for informational purposes only.