Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey Score Cover
Danny Elfman (2015)


Why You Should…
If you’re open to hearing less than an hour’s work of pleasantly engaging harmonic material, with satisfying outcome.

Why You Shouldn’t…
If the actual lack of kink nor deviant fizz betrays the premise of the film, already too deep in preposterous levels.



Release Date: 17th February 2015 (GENERAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Danny Elfman
Length: 46:25
Recorded By/At:
Label: Republic Records

Additional Information:
Additional Music: David Buckley
Orchestrated By: Steve Bartek
Conducted By: Pete Anthony

Spawning over 125 million copies worldwide as well as setting an all time record in the United Kingdom for the fastest selling paperback novel, E.L.James’s FIFTY SHADES OF GREY begs an insight as to how sexually frustrated the modern civilisation must be. Juvenile prose and abysmal conceptualisation hasn’t deterred the author from international success and recognition as the author behind “those books”, and enough public merit granted a trilogy of novels curtailing the highly secretive sexual relationship between college graduate Anastasia “Ana” Steele and sadomasochistic rich billionaire trope incarnate Christian Grey.  Yet another fine example of endless narrations featuring a financially fortunate, amoral moneymaker manipulating the inner doubts and insecurities of said woeful woman into his fold, the decision to headline a feature film based on the novel was even more bizarre, and unwarranted by all. Yes, the numerous tickets sold are predominantly those easily tipped off by such erotica, (lack of self-control and decency among furiously fornicating and masturbating cinema-goers not withstanding), but it doesn’t make the prospect of the project any more kinkier or closer to orgasmic bliss. Trashed in all angles by outlets scattered globally, lucrative yet mindless potential saw to a trilogy of films being secured. And the women will come. And the men will come too. And the theatre managers will kick them out for wetting the seats (after emptying their wallets, of course). Director Sam Taylor-Johnson must have had a miscounted epiphany when she agreed to helm the film, ensuring its oversight into the sequels. Basic Instinct might have been a cult runaway hit many years ago, but the erotic genre of film breathed its last sigh with Unfaithful, any further attempt to explore the dilapidated genre a one-way train to embarrassment. Whenever he’s not trying to save the next Tim Burton film by himself, or occupying a runaway superhero film, these are the types of menial films that Danny Elfman is frequently called in to do.

Indeed, the attachment of his name to the project does elicit some curiosity. Elfman is no stranger to the more delirious films in the industry, however unexpected this assignment may be in his line up. The instrumental ensemble isn’t as complicated as it so often is in other scores, appropriately built around the piano lines and deeply resonant lower region strings, along with synthetic implementations and soft woodwind touches. Harmony is what makes the opening cue “Shades of Grey” a warmly inviting prospect, with its relentless minor and major chord progressions, introducing a recurring ascending motif for the concept. The core leitmotivic idea in “Ana’s Theme” teeters on synthetic uncertainty before a gentle piano wandering emerges, representing her naivete in light of the affair to come. The whinging strings are nothing new in Elfman’s career, with this idea lacking clarity in its melodic pronunciation. “The Red Room” builds on cellos and violas with a rumbling bass shift and metallic throbs to highlight the newfound surge in sexual activity. Bass slurs are the norm for such content matter, though thankfully there is no wayward straying into laughably pornographic territory. Guitar and violin staccato lines overlap with Ana’s motif in minor thirds mildly, and in “Then Don’t!”, the fluttering piano traversal resurfaces with a lighter tone and held treble strings. These underscore passages don’t exactly scream inoffensive, but you can’t help but think that for an absurd idea that caught on worldwide faster than a sexually transmitted disease, risk-taking would have complemented the concept.

“A Spanking” indulges in Thomas Newman-esque marimba and guitar-violin staccato overlap, fully utilising the sonic soundscape Elfman creates very early on. Unresolved minor thirds for Ana appear again on twanged guitar, perhaps Elfman doing his own spanking in the score’s conceptualising. “Going For Coffee” laces Ana’s theme with Latin guitar surges and pizzicato throbs, with restrained humorous effect, heard also in “The Art of War,” with its tongue planted in cheek as abrasive guitar flangers emerge. Where exactly the Edward Scissorhands a la Batman a la Sommersby chord progressions come in is intriguing, but glossed over. The kinky aspect of Ana’s time spent with Christian is shown in “Where Am I?”, with wooden blocks and pan chimes and more lonesome piano, with retro electric guitars diving into the sessions in “Ana and Christian”, a skirting rock piece with thematic highlights and accessibility. For a score servicing a lewd premise, much of Elfman’s material borders on romantic rather than lustful, suggesting his deft handling at a mishandled concept sprung from further chaotic notions. In that cue however lies some lilting strings and ballad proficiency. The string ascending concept motif is laced throughout, perfectly complementing the surrounding palette. “Clean You Up” aims for a more poignant touch with sparse, empty piano chords and staccato strings, as well as a cello and shimmering synths. Straight-laced dulcet tones occupy the majority of “The Contract” with a sparkling concept motif appearance on piano. It isn’t infallible to suggest that motif be attributed to Grey himself, but the overall stunted prowess in thematic development inhibits that idea from achieving fruition. That motif proves a sublime highlight wherever it comes and goes, and adds a sense of cohesive identity. “Did That Hurt?” brings a more sombre tone into focus with the concept motif, with bass interference in the latter half as well as tonal ambiguity. The piano is very much the epicentre from wherein the score unfolds, but a change of pace in “Bliss” reiterates Elfman’s knack for choral mastery in orgasmic fashion. There’s almost an amusingly religious sense to the cue, as if some sort of angelic prophecy is being unveiled, and there’s even a bass drum thud right on target as expected. This belongs in a monastery, not the bedroom of a sadomasochistic billionaire whose grasp exceeds his reach by the end of the film. “Show Me” begs all sorts of questions on the title alone, but the quivering cello lines render it a sordid ordeal. Who died? Ana’s conscience or Christian’s integrity? In the bleak soundscape employed however, lies some ruminating to accompany one’s existential thoughts whilst combating insomnia. This folds in “Counting To Six”, the wistful atmosphere with its concept motif employed on slicing strings as Ana realises the billionaire is not an ideal partner (et voila!) . The blissful choir accompanies tastefully, and mild echoes of female breathing are faintly heard. Closing with “Variations On A Shade”, the score presents more thought than the film itself, otherwise likeable music wasted on a insipid premise as this. This six minute suite builds on its light rock roots, yielding a favourable result. There is no titillating side to Fifty Shades of Grey, planted more in the emotional language between its two leads, but what works, works. Had only Elfman enforced his humour further, we could have had some terrific cue titles playfully teasing the very idea of the project, an opportunity gone amiss. Elfman’s score est très vanilla, but it suffices with its merits.

Rating: ***1/2

Track Listing:
(all music written by Danny Elfman)

1) Shades of Grey (2:07)
2) Ana’s Theme (1:23)
3) The Red Room (3:26)
4) Then Don’t! (2:32)
5) A Spanking (2:32)
6) Going For Coffee (1:32)
7) Where Am I? (1:35)
8) Ana and Christian (3:24)
9) Clean You Up (2:43)
10) The Contract (3:27)
11) The Art of War (3:32)
12) Did That Hurt? (2:54)
13) Bliss (2:29)
14) Show Me (3:02)
15) Counting To Six (3:21)
16) Variations On a Shade (6:22)







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