CD Review: Armored – Original Soundtrack

By • January 25, 2010

Composer: John Murphy
Label: Lakeshore
Suggested Retail Price: $15.98
Grade: B+

For a composer who couldn’t be jollier, there’s a great rhythmic anger to John Murphy’s best work. First breaking onto the international scoring scene with his percussively eclectic jams for Guy Ritchie’s LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH, Murphy showed a vibrant ethnic-pop-rock sensibility that meshed well with that writer-director’s song-heavy soundtracks. And while Murphy also began to find favor as a go-to comedy guy for playing lighter fare for such black-themed movies as FRIDAY AFTER NEXT and GUESS WHO, it was his hard-ass guitar –vibe approach for stuff like SUNSHINE, MIAMI VICE and 28 DAYS / WEEKS later that truly put him over the edge as one of the coolest practitioners of thrash scoring.

Whether the suspenseful wind-up was being chased by a horde of anger-crazed zombies, trying to outrun the sun’s rays, or shooting it out with drug dealers, Murphy’s rhythmic, tonal builds captured the sweat and terror of the chase, with all paths leading to a super-charged jam of sparking guitar strings and flaming drums solos. If Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page had truly pursued a career in scoring after DEATH WISH II and III, it might have become something akin to the power riffs that Murphy has specialized in. But while that sound wouldn’t be out of place at a punk or long hair concert, Murphy’s keen melodic sensibilities have also given his most frenzied music a soulful beauty, even in the midst of madness.

Now his powerful, driving darkness gets one of its most primal workouts in ARMORED, a suspense-groove score mostly constructed from the rhythm of heist heat. Tautly directed by KONTROLL’s amazing director Nimrod Antal (who’s also done decent work here for VACANCY, and doubtlessly his upcoming PREDATOR reboot) ARMORED’s tightly-wound inside-job plot mostly takes place in an abandoned factory, making it essential for Murphy to open up this cool “bottle” film into something much bigger. In doing so, Murphy has listened to, touched and tasted the corroded steel surroundings that fill much of ARMORED’s frame. And the result is the most metallic-sounding score of Murphy’s action oeuvre.

While there’s a bit of rising sun melancholy to start off “Morning,” Murphy quickly gets down to business with his main theme, played at first with an orchestral beat that brings to mind Massive Attack. And that combo of sample beats and sweaty guitar power gives some pretty amazing energy to ARMORED as Murphy unleashes wave after wave of rhythmic rock pads, from the screaming metal of “Armored Truck Chase” to the building chord epiphany of “Ty’s Decision.” But this isn’t just some pedal to the metal score, as Murphy smartly varies his approach from the rock-string pulse of “Getting Cover” to the sampled percussion of “Federal Reserve,” as well as the hip, slow burn electronica of “Federal Reserve,” the Zeppelin-like guitar thrust of “Stashing the Cash,” and the growing desperation of “Ty Escapes,” all frenzied roads finally screaming like a siren for “Ty Runs.”

Sure, listening to ARMORED might be tiring if your idea of crime music is gently dancing over laser alarm systems, as opposed to diving into them with a scream and a hot grenade, Yet the emotional progression of ARMORED isn’t just jumping from one metal god guitar Mount Everest to the other. It’s a cool progression of emotional peaks and valleys, tracking the inside job through the five stages of the heist-gone-wrong movie, including the set-up, the reluctant participation, the thrill of the steal, the shit hitting the fan, and the final dog-kill-dog battle for survival. And Better yet, you can actually remember Murphy’s themes that twist through the movie’s moody, if thankfully restrained carnage.

Chances are you’re going to pick up ARMORED if you’re at all familiar with the kind of orgiastic builds that Murphy has been so good at (especially in La La’s full-on 28 WEEKS LATER soundtrack). Sure you’ll get more of the same here. But among its many distinctions, ARMORED’s intense energy comes from being stripped down to its rawest, and meanest power chords. It’s exactly the kind of toe-tapping mayhem that fuels a beating heart during the big rip off. Crime jams have never sounded cooler in all of the wrong-right ways.

Feel the rhythm of the metal-crime heat with ARMORED here

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