Composed by
John Debney

 

Published by
iTunes release (2007)

 

Tracklistings
1) Lair Main Titles
2) Lair Main Menu
3) Diviner Battle
4) Funeral Pyre
5) Civilization Theme
6) Blood River
7) Rohn's Theme
8) Serpent Strait
9) Darkness Theme
10) Firestorm
11) Elegy
12) Diviner's Theme
13) The Last Straw
14) Lost
15) Breaking the Ice
16) Deadman's Basin
17) Mokai Theme
18) Return to Mokai City, Pt. 1
19) Return to Mokai City, Pt. 2
20) Runs of Mokai
21) Bridge of the Ancients
22) Loden
23) Battle for Asylia
24) Epilogue
25) Bridge Battle
26) Bridge Attack

 

Extras
- Game website
- Composer website

 

Availability
- iTunes shop

 

Review by
Matt Lambertson


Guest Review by Matt Lambertson

Lair

Does a score have to be groundbreakingly original in at least one aspect to be considered excellent? Or does a musical element's basis in the work of another composer automatically rob it of greatness? How far you land on one side or the other of this classic debate will most likely determine how much you enjoy what is, if nothing else, the most talked-about work of prolific composer John Debney in several years: his score to the video game Lair. It marks Debney's first foray into the exciting and ever-expanding world of video-game scoring. He is quite well-known and probably one of the most expensive composers in Hollywood, most likely due to his astounding ability to imitate practically any temp-track without actually ripping anyone off (a trait which proves to be both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the score to Lair). This ability, and his clear A-list status as a film composer, are likely why the developers of Lair chose to hire Debney: they were trying to create one of the biggest, most epic, and most polished action/adventure games ever created.

Now as far as the game goes, the developers of Lair failed miserably. While praised for its gorgeous visuals, decently engaging story, and high production values, the Playstation 3-exclusive release completely missed the quintessential element of a successful game: playability. The game revolves around a dragon rider in a nominally original medieval fantasy world, and somehow in their quest to make an enormously epic game, the developers forgot to make it fun. I speak from knowledge of reviews rather than first-hand experience, so if you're feeling brave I'm sure playing the game would enhance your understanding of Debney's score, but this review will focus on the score itself rather than its function within the game.

As a standalone listening experience, the download-only album to Lair feels remarkably like the score to a big-budget, Conan-style fantasy film. It begins with a Main Title, ends with an Epilogue, and the cues in between are pleasantly alternated between action and drama, so it flows a lot more smoothly than many game score albums. As is common with video game scores, the cues also have a whole lot more room to breathe than they would have if this was a film score. We experience the full, wonderful effect of this on the Lair album, as in addition to the Main and End titles, we are given no fewer than five "theme" suites that play much like the concert suites one often finds in John Williams scores. There's a lot of music on this album, but scarcely a moment that is devoid of melodical interest. If you dislike droning, themeless music, you have nothing to fear here. Every cue on the album is either developing one of the themes or rushing headlong through an action motif.

But as the primary purpose of a review is to help you the reader decide whether all this music is actually worth purchasing and listening to, we must move on from talking about the general structure of the score to something more specific and important: the issue of derivativity. In other words, while the score to Lair might be bold, thrilling, orchestral and epic, it is also one of the least original works in the career of a composer who specializes in unoriginality. If that bothers you, than Lair may get on your nerves immensely. That is not to say that Lair is unoriginal within the body of Debney's work. It is, as mentioned, his only video game score to date. It is also a work of orchestral grandeur not seen from Debney's pen since his classic Cutthroat Island. So his unoriginality here is not in the same vein of a composer like James Horner, who is often accused of copying his own work. There is nothing quite like Lair among Debney's work, or perhaps in game music as a whole. Composers like Michael Giacchino have written rousing orchestral scores for games in the past, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an example of something as large-scale and big-budget as the Lair score in the realm of fantasy games. Debney's unoriginality lies in the fact that Lair is filled from beginning to end with possibly every action/adventure/fantasy cliché imaginable. The themes, while sonically grand and orchestrated with bombast, are simplistic and predictable. The action music, while exciting and always melodic, is often so eerily similar to John Williams' scores to the Star Wars prequels that temp-tracks simply must have been involved. The choir, possibly the only synthetic element in the score, is so colorless that most of the time it seems like it's just there because it has to be. And worst of all to a film score afficianado like myself, the most ridiculed copy-and-paste element of all time makes an appearance: James Horner's four-note danger motif.

Thus you must ask yourself: is blatant unoriginality enough to make you shun one of the boldest and most orchestral game scores to date? Personally, it is not. Despite the above criticisms, I find Lair to be a tremendously enjoyable score. Did I say the themes were simplistic? They are, but they are unquestionably epic and rousing, and are given enough variations (like the vocals of Harry Gregson-Williams collaborator Lisbeth Scott in "Darkness Theme" and "Epilogue) to remain engaging throughout the long run-time. Do the action cues sound like John Williams? They do, but that's only a problem if the similarity bothers you. It doesn't me, so I find the action parts of Lair to be blood-pumpingly thrilling, particularly the early cue "Diviner Battle" and the almost indescribably intense "Firestorm." Is it cliched? Definitely, but most of those genre cliches exist because they work, and Debney knows how to use them in their most enjoyable form.

In conclusion, if you were expecting John Debney to come up with something strikingly original for Lair, and will not be satisfied with anything less, then skip this. But if you've been looking for more game scores that go beyond synthetic orchestras and ambient beats, into the realm of epic-film-like scale, then you cannot go wrong with Lair.