- Matthew Herbert has always been something of a dramatist, and for this reason it is sometimes hard to swallow his version of things. He always makes an effort to imbue his records, his staged press photographs and his public announcements with big meanings and ideas, often too blatantly, and the effect is that he’s always in danger of seeming patronising in his nobility (the Al Gore of dance music?) Yet we forgive him, and his habit of forcing us to listen to his politics, because he represents his ideas with some of the most genuinely human and innovative music around.
His latest offering ‘Score’ takes a step back: It tones down the politics somewhat and continues with the dramatic trend, literally, since it offers a collection of theatre and film scores that have accompanied, or have been rejected in some cases, from various shorts and features over the last ten years. Yes, there is a picture of tranquil, bombed houses in Lebanon to greet the listener, as well as samples of bombers, petrol pumps and coffins, but what the music offers is a pan-European cinematic experience and more self-referentially, a revisit of the Matthew Herbert Big Band sound from 2003.
What is most surprising is that amidst the seventeen short tracks there is supposedly an armament of 723 samples, all presumably with a point, but all difficult to hear. One imagines the coffin being played somewhere in the opening track ‘Funeral’, but it is hard to find beneath all the pastoral lushness of the strings, as is the case for most other tracks. The exception is ‘Rendezvous’, running at over ten minutes, or one fifth of the album. It is the most obviously electronic track with the most obvious samples, including somebody being sick outside a banquet for the London arms fair.
The majority of the instrumentation otherwise appears to be session players and Herbert’s presence is somewhat hard to place as well, though his classical training and ear for melody clearly serve him well. Similarly, neither does musical and emotional partner Dani Siciliano make an appearance with her voice, though there are some haunting choral arrangements on ‘Rendezvous’. Dance wise, there’s plenty of swing, but very little 4-4 or house beats. What the album does have is a lot of evocation of rich emotions and idyllic European places, particularly of Spain and the Mediterranean regions. What makes the album work and come alive therefore, is the dramatic and bombastic old-time alegre of many tracks and the organic sadness and longing of the more mournful moments. Thankfully, the latter never enter Spielberg territory.
‘Score’ is not Herbert’s masterwork, but it is refreshingly free of the frustrations of ‘Plat du Jour’. It's also nice enough to play to your mother, but there's substance here that should merit your attention too.
03 Rivoli Shuffle
04 The Apartment
05 Singing in the Rain
06 Cafe de Flore (Trio Reprise)
07 Gang of Boys
08 Blood and Hair
09 Bull and Cloth
12 Forest Montage
13 Broken Piano
15 Running From the Credits
17 Closing Theme