Aside from the bloke who barges the door at the House of Lords to signify that the Queen wants to come in and let off some steam, there can hardly be a more British job than Radio 3’s Composer in Residence. It’s the kind of title that would have been a punchline in King Ralph. A really, really bad punchline but one nonetheless.
While it may seem odd that this title was once held by Jonny Greenwood, it certainly wasn’t a publicity stunt by the Beeb. Greenwood has after all spent quite a large chunk of the last decade premiering classical works on the station with the help of the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Enlisting the help of the Orchestra once again, the Radiohead guitarist builds on his fine work on the There Will be Blood soundtrack by constructing a tense and emotional score for Norwegian Wood. A score that’s peppered in quite inspired fashion by three superb tunes from Can.
Despite the helpful dollop of krautrock though, the most joyous moments here are the bursts of virtuoso acoustic guitar that must soundtrack the more optimistic moments of the complex relationships that are the centrepiece of Anh Hung Tran’s film.
Elsewhere there is a great deal of bleakness, but it’s incredibly well constructed bleakness. Take one of the album’s non-guitar-based highlights, ‘Naoko ga Shinda’ (which really shouldn’t be translated if you want to avoid any plot spoilers). The track possesses the type of menace that Hitchcock or Kubrick would have adored and that most of us will have a hard time forgetting.
Led by a slightly jazzy brass section, along with a frantic collection of strained violins, Greenwood is clever enough both here and elsewhere to beef up the track with spacey interludes, and even a passing glimmer of light, seen here in the shape of a fleeting violin solo.
A difficult but interesting listen first time out. A hugely rewarding piece of work the more chances you give it. King Ralph would hate it though.