Michael Andrews’ score for the film Donnie Darko was a huge disappointment to many. Not, the music as such – but the product. People weren’t hopeful for a release of the score, what they wanted was the soundtrack. They wanted Tears For Fears and Joy Division and Oingo Boingo and The Church and Duran Duran. And who can blame the people there? Right?
Donnie Darko came from nowhere, reminded so many of us that Tears For Fears were fantastic, that Duran Duran had an energy and sound that transcended – as well as accounted for – their mega-selling pop-star indulgences. And basically put music in film in a way we all wanted: the cover version of the forgotten classic (Mad World by Gary Jules) was somehow icing on the cake.
But then when the “soundtrack” was released it was just the instrumental score by Michael Andrews (whoever that was, no one cared…) and the Gary Jules version of Mad World was bunged on the end. Gary Jules also released a CD of his own but his songs were shit and everyone just wanted Mad World.
So it was this weird conundrum. Eventually solved by an actual soundtrack album being made available and then sold as a double-pack even, score + soundtrack.
And I remember this not through my own frustration at all, but as a retail worker – every second customer was asking about the Mad World song and the Donnie Darko soundtrack for a time there; everyone was getting upset at buying before trying the score. A lot of returns.
But I took it home and played it and loved it. Because as much as I liked the film (at the time – have been too scared to ever revisit it) and the big hit songs, I loved the score straight away.
Listening back to it on CD reminds me of equal parts Twin Peaks-era Angelo Badalamenti and Nicolas Brittel’s work for Succession – I guess the sound of this score fits perfectly in the middle of those projects actually; timing-wise at least.
I don’t have the double-pack because I can get those songs anywhere – but the score itself plays through as an album in its own right. To me, anyway. Several of the cues are slight, sure, but there’s some real impact to a few of them – even at the shorter length. As a mood though, this sustains – and then when Mad World arrives at the end it’s fine. Just fine. Good enough. Enough of a taste.
Michael Andrews isn’t a composer I’ve followed – but he’s done plenty of good work, for TV and movies, some I’m aware of but only after looking him up.
But his Donnie Darko score still stands for me. A lovely little slice of piano-based mood music. And such a reminder of a time. Also the ultimate teaching-moment in retail of the difference between ‘a score’ and ‘a soundtrack’. Like a good episode of Seinfeld though, it seemed there were no hugs at the end and no one learned a thing.