Hans Zimmer has struck gold once again with the soundtrack to “12 Years a Slave”. Best known for his work in “The Lion King”, “Crimson Tide”, “The Dark Knight” and “Inception”, Zimmer beautifully crafted this masterpiece to fit the tragic story of a free black man illegally sold into slavery. With such an impressive resume, you can expect nothing but the best from Zimmer. However, he fell short on a few songs.
We begin with “Solomon Northup”. The soft, slow strings will remind you of a warm and beautiful sunrise. The heavenly horns in “Main Title” serve as the perfect introduction to Solomon’s story. The soft xylophone and smooth strings in “Bedtime” serves as a soothing lullaby guaranteed to give you the sweetest of dreams. “Arrival in Washington” has a busy, yet ominous sound. “Solomon in Chains” is a dark tune. As though the title alone isn’t terrifying enough, the deep, slow movements of the cellos add to the nightmare inducing tune. The nerve-wracking “Preparing for Travel” will have you sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation.
“Boat Trip to New Orleans” comes out of nowhere, shocking the listeners with the loud drums and low sounds of the horns. In “Saratoga Flashback”, you can feel the pain and despair through the light and sorrowful sounds of the violins. “River Rafting Claps” is slightly confusing, and sounds as though someone is being whipped. “Eliza Flashback” is a tear-jerker which will have you recalling a fond memory of a loved one or happier times. “Escape Sequence” is fast-paced and reminds the listener of a ticking clock. “Time Passing Sequence” has a sinister tone that will have you cowering in a corner in fear. This song would certainly be perfect for a suspense/horror film.
The deathly sounds of “Devastated Crops” will have you imagining that you’re walking through a graveyard late at night. When listening to “Plantation Life Part A”, I thought I heard the distinct sounds of whistles, which seemed a little out of place considering the theme of the soundtrack and film, whereas “Plantation Life Part B” had a softer tune. “Plantation Life Part B” sounds as though it were a remake of the first track, “Solomon Northup”. As beautiful as it is, it is as though Zimmer was trying to fill time on the soundtrack by repeating an earlier song. The solemn strings in “Judge Yarney’s Ball” prove that this is no party theme and will send chills up your spine. “Letter Writing” has a bluesy/jazzy beat. The drums beating in perfect time and the strings, guitars and soulful vocals create a sound so unique, you’ll skip over the earlier tracks just to listen to this one.
“Solomon Burns the Letter” is cathartic and gives you a sense of relief. The strings and horns in “Soap” give an angered tone, as though a fight were to break out at any minute. The strong and soft sounds of the strings in “A Free Man” will warm your heart and perhaps cause you to shed a tear or two. “Nothing to Forgive” sounds oddly similar to “Solomon Northup” and might as well have been titled “Solomon Northup Reprise”.
While beautifully composed, Hans Zimmer’s mistake was repeating the same song multiple times and giving it a different title. It shows a lack of creativity and thought, and having listened to most of his work, I know he’s capable of producing a four star performance. Each song should have its own sound. With that exception, the rest of the soundtrack was nicely done.
Final Grade: C