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Soundtrack Listening: ‘Logan’

Original Music by Marco Beltrami

Quick show of hands … how many of you haven’t seen Logan yet? If you’re hand is up, then you should run to the nearest theater, plop down some of your hard earned money and bask in the sullen glory that is Hugh Jackman’s final turn as James Howlett. I mean Wolverine. Or Logan … if you will.

I’m happy to report that Jackman & Co. saved their best for last. Logan is every bit as good as you’ve heard. It’s every bit the Wolverine movie fans have been clamoring for, eschewing the kid-gloves PG-13 arena to explore the brutal, mournful and ultimately human thematic areas that’ve made the character the most beloved of all the X-Men. Yes, Logan is rated R. And yes, it earns every bit of that rating.

But Logan is more than another blood and guts action flick. It’s more than your standard superhero fare too. The film delves into the too human stakes of a superhuman world in ways that no superhero movie has before. And it does so under the guise of a modern Western. Those themes are brought to vivid life in the hands of Director James Mangold, who imbues the action with a relentless, melancholic immediacy. But it’s Marco Beltrami’s penetrating original score that claws under your skin and brings the pain … in a good way.

It’s a bit of a relief to be saying that. Not because I don’t appreciate what Beltrami does. His Oscar nominated score to The Hurt Locker (2008) is one of the last decade’s best. I even enjoyed what he brought to The Wolverine (2013) a few years back – even if that film never quite came together. Truth be told, Beltrami is one of the more exciting composers out there. But he wasn’t supposed to score Logan. That job was held by the marvelous Cliff Martinez until just a couple of months ago. People were very excited by that prospect. So yeah, it was more than a little worrisome when he was replaced so late in production. It seemed like a very bad sign for a film – and a soundtrack – that was eagerly anticipating.

Those worries melted away the second I pressed play on the Logan soundtrack. ‘Main Titles’ opens the action with the anguished sounds of a solitary piano … its notes all but suffocating in the space that surrounds them. Notes that seem to rise from the silence like the fleeting breath of a wounded animal. They seem primed to let the darkness swallow them. Until something calls back out of the shadows. It comes in the form of single guitar strained somewhere in the background. A drum sounds in the distance. Guitars rise underneath. Then a tender, hollow harmonica. Those elements rouse each other into a living breathing beast. A wolverine that’s ready to die. But a wolverine that finds another reason to live.

So begins the solemn odyssey that is the Logan soundtrack. The 24 tracks that follow range from introspective ambience to bombastic machismo to soulful ruminations on hope and regret. They bring a tender humanity to Logan that’s never been present in a stand alone Wolverine film. And yes, they bring the pain in magnificent, unexpected ways.

You will feel that pain throughout the album’s second track. At two and a half minutes, ‘Laura’ unfolds with the calm of an atmospheric experiment. Its ambient noodling palpitates with sadness before lo-fi drumbeats and synthesizers build an ominous tone underneath. That tone carries through to ‘The Grim Reavers’, a stunning mix of strings and synth that teeters on horror movie malevolence but gives way to the foreboding frailty of ‘Old Man Logan’. From the emotionally raw moments that open the soundtrack, Beltrami’s Logan sounds like a mix of indie drama and understated horror. But not for long.

‘Alternate Route To Mexico’ expands the film’s sonic territory in a fascinating way. The track opens with the same sense of doom that’s built up in its predecessors, but halfway through it turns into a classic Western theme. The sound gets bigger and bolder from there. ‘X-24’ feels like its going to be another slice of ambient doom. It quickly gives way to the sort of dense string arrangements and big, thumping percussion you’d expect from a blockbuster … only meaner. ‘El Limo-Nator’ follows with a wild mix of horns and piano and strings and drums. The song evolves into 1:38 seconds of sonic insanity. It’s visceral and unnerving and absolutely thrilling.

Every song that Beltrami brings to Logan feels that way. The stark minimalism of ‘Gabriella’s Video’ sounds like the saddest music box ever played. ‘To The Cemetery’ doubles down on the score’s somber opening to chilling effect. ‘Feral Tween’ turns from the hushed music of a dream to all out action with the agility of the Tween that inspired it. And Beltrami turns a wild beast loose in ‘Loco Logan’ behind electric guitars, smashed piano keys and unwieldy horns. Don’t even get me started on ‘Eterna – Laura’s Theme’, ’cause it’s sweet and slinky and mysterious and dangerous in ways that I didn’t know music could be.

Gah. I’m gushing, I know. I make no apologies for that. Beltrami’s score really is gush-worthy. It’s one of those rare soundtracks that’s as effective on its own as it is in the film that inspired it. The music is loose and organic in ways that blockbusters normally avoid … an audacious mashup of styles and sounds and themes that probably shouldn’t work. But it does. Like the film, Beltrami’s score gets in your head. It gets in your heart. It stays with you long after Logan takes a final bow. And you owe it to yourself to experience them both.

James Mangold’s Logan is now in theaters. In case I wasn’t clear, you need to go see it. Like now. And when you’re done, you need to listen to Marco Beltrami’s haunting original score. That’s out now on digital platforms via the marvelous folks at Lakeshore Records. There’s a physical release (CD only) coming later this month, too. You can preorder that today. Or you can do like me and hold your breath for vinyl release sometime in the near future.

Logan

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Patrick Phillips is a contributing writer for CutPrintFilm and geekinsider.com. When not critiquing the work of others, he spends his time drinking coffee, buying records, writing fiction and wondering why he never started a band. Follow him on Twitter at Patrick Phillips @savagedetectiv