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The Young Messiah (John Debney)

April 2, 2016

Cover_TheYoungMessiahTHE YOUNG MESSIAH

John Debney, 2016, Lakeshore Records
26 tracks, 69:42

John Debney has several outstanding religious scores to his name. The Oscar-nominated “Passion of the Christ” for starters. Will “The Young Messiah”  live up to its promise?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

“The Young Messiah” follows the young Messiah as He and His family take the extraordinary journey from Egypt to Nazareth and on to Jerusalem – where His true identity and profound destiny are revealed.. When the mystery of Jesus’ divinity begins to unfold in His early years, He turns to His parents for answers. But Mary and Joseph, in an effort to protect their child, are afraid to reveal all they know. How do you explain the ways of the world to its Creator? How do you teach the Teacher? How do you help the Savior who came to save you?

What does it sound like?

The album opens with the main theme, an attractive theme for strings accompanied by light percussion. Oddly, the track seems to just fade in and the theme is presented after an ‘intro’ of two bars. It’s a strangely sloppy opening for an otherwise slickly produced score and album. The strings and flute during the mid-section fleetingly recall Horner’s style; and beyond that it’s all very pretty. In fact… already it feels a little too slick, too contrived. Dutifully, a female vocal adds a mournful tone (mostly oohs and aahs, nothing too indigenous), whilst duduk and oud add a touch of local authenticity. Subtle synths aid in creating a mysterious atmosphere in “Alexandria Egypt”.

“This film was simply not complete until John had finished the score,” said director Cyrus Nowrasteh. “For this filmmaker he is the answer to many prayers. He is so much more than a composer and artist – though that would be enough – but he’s also a faith-driven man who takes this story on with all the heart, soul and belief such a score requires.”

The score is largely string-driven, though augmented with light percussion, winds, choir and various solos including, flute, duduk and cello. The main theme makes many, welcome, appearances. These reprises along with the consistent orchestrations result in a coherent listening experience. It’s not easy picking out any highlights, though the longer cues appeal to me most, as these provide a greater opportunity for storytelling. Cues like “Alexandria Egypt”, “The Blind Rabbi” and “Mary Reveals the Truth to Jesus” are amongst the most rewarding on the album; the latter occasionally (and vaguely) recalls “Mary Goes to Jesus” from “Passion of the Christ”.

“Our director Cyrus is an absolute master story teller,” Debney explained. “We worked very closely to enhance every moment of the film. He is a great collaborator and I found his story sense of great help in creating the sound of the score. The score highlights the place and time and yet also conveys the emotion and beauty of the love between a son and his mother and father.”

“The Young Messiah” is a pretty and easy-going score, probably courtesy of the family-orientated nature of the film itself. It’s sit-back-and-relax music that rarely truly challenges the listeners. When it does… it’s only brief, though it makes me yearn for that score. I know it’s not fair to judge a score on what it’s not, but I struggle to get excited about what “TYM” is. And to a degree that is down to my general struggle with John Debney. I enjoy and love many or his scores, yet in the 20-or-so years that I’ve been following his career I’ve never been able to pinpoint a ‘Debney sound’. I listen to “TYM” and it could’ve been written by just about anyone, as far as I’m concerned. It’s perfectly pleasant, don’t get me wrong, but it’s totally anonymous. I’m not one that glorifies ‘originality’; I am perfectly content with a score that merely tries to be very good at what it does, without trying to re-invent anything. But I do love hearing the composer’s voice in the music. When I listen to a soundtrack, I want to hear two things – firstly I want to hear a story, and secondly I want to hear the composer’s voice. And sadly, with Debney I struggle with the latter. Maybe I need to re-visit his works more often, maybe that makes him the versatile and in-demand composer that he is; but it’s preventing me from getting really excited beyond a general appreciation of his craft and talent.

Is it any good?

Is it fair to compare John Debney’s “The Young Messiah” to his own “The Passion of the Christ”? Again, possibly not, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m struggling with “TYM”, though my reasons may fall of deaf ears. I find it a little too slick and too familiar-sounding. It sounds like a score that’s playing it safe. It sounds like a Middle-Eastern score written by a Westerner. I believe “Passion” is slightly harsher in tone and sounds more authentic for the region. For me, “Passion” is a more challenging and more rewarding score.

That said, one would be hard-pressed to really fault “TYM”. It may not push any boundaries, but it’s nevertheless well written and beautifully orchestrated. The gently swaying rhythms, the warm strings and the occasional solos for duduk or cello all contribute to an pleasant and easy-going listening experience.

Rating [3.5/5]


01. The Young Messiah Theme (feat. Bethany Woods) (2.36)
02. Alexandria Egypt (5.23)
03. Salome Reminds Jesus (1.47)
04. Jesus Heals Eleazer (2.52)
05. Herod Is Dead (2.18)
06. Mary and Joseph / Don’t You See Him? (2.20)
07. The Carved Camel (1.09)
08. Jesus Encounters Romans (2.08)
09. Severus Lets Jesus’ Family Go (1.56)
10. Herod Reprimands Severus (2.39)
11. Jesus Heals Cleopus (3.07)
12. Rape Victim (1.15)
13. Sister, Come to Nazareth (2.08)
14. Not Just a Child / Crucifixes (4.13)
15. Reveal of Nazareth (1.33)
16. The Messiah Will Save Us! (1.16)
17. A Son Named Jesus (4.27)
18. Jerusalem for Passover (2.35)
19. Travel to Jerusalem (1.51)
20. Mary Presents Baby Jesus (1.03)
21. Jesus Leaves Alone (2.26)
22. He Wants Answers (2.25)
23. He’s in the Temple (1.25)
24. Herod’s Rage (0.56)
25. The Blind Rabbi (6.17)
26. Mary Reveals the Truth to Jesus / Jesus Talks to God (7.37)

Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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