J.W. here. Today the second Hobbit soundtrack by Howard Shore has been released, which to me makes this day the equivalent of Christmas morning. As I said in my book, The Lord of the Films, I believe Shore’s music for The Lord of the Rings is the finest film score of all time. And the music for the first Hobbit movie? You can read my thoughts about that one here.
But now it’s time for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. And here is my track by track analysis for the Special Edition, with one asterisk indicating a track not available in the Standard Edition and two asterisks indicating a track that has been extended. As of this writing, I’ve not yet seen the film it scores. So away we go!
1. The Quest for Erebor (3:23)
Full of sadness and mystery, this track is reminiscent of the prologue music in the previous films and serves as somewhat an overture, introducing the main themes. It leads right into the next track…
2. Wilderland (4:56)
This could be called “The Quest for Erebor Part II”. It picks up the tempo in the second half, creating a sense of urgency and danger with its percussion driving the brass and strings. Definitely a good one!
3. A Necromancer (2:54) *
Descending broken thirds mean you know who. (Actually the familiar Sauron theme is buried within the texture here, though it peeks through the surface from time to time.) Obviously this is one of those evil themes, with rumbling brass and high strings being Shore’s music of choice for such occasions.
4. The House of Beorn (4:52) **
This low key and mysterious piece isn’t very memorable. It’s sort of “A Necromancer Part II”, with more of what we just heard in the previous track.
5. Mirkwood (5:31) **
Like the forest itself, this dark, creepy piece serves its title well, using a choral backing to set the mood. It’s sort of The Hobbit’s version of “The Paths of the Dead”.
6. Flies and Spiders (9:35) **
This one is very Star Wars like! It begins somewhat heartwarmingly before getting going, and then it’s like John Williams scoring a space battle, with the violins flying around their E strings and working the sixteenth notes. Curiously the Smaug motif appears here as well, brief but memorable. Overall, it’s one of the standout tracks of the album.
7. The Woodland Realm (5:15) **
This begins with the familiar choral backing we’ve come to associate with the Elves, with the texture reminiscent of Rivendell and Lothlórien but also new and different. It quickly becomes dark and dangerous, however, playing out even more creepy than Lothlórien, which suits the forest it is in.
8. Feast of Starlight (2:48)
Dark and somber, yet uplifting all the same, this piece is highlighted by solo woodwinds and a female voice. and is quite beautiful. It reminds me of “Aníron” from The Fellowship of the Ring. Curiously, the history of the Ring theme works its way into the end.
9. Barrels Out of Bond (1:50)
Full of staccato and anticipation, this little number is the audio equivileant of the question “What’s going to happen next?!” It doesn’t last long, but what’s here is exciting.
10. The Forest River (5:10) **
What happens next is a brisk tempo, with excitement in every note. This one is sure to be a crowd pleaser, with a spirit of adventure so bold, you could mistake it for the film’s climax. The piece builds throughout before a thrilling, percussive finale.
11. Bard, a Man of Lake-town (3:18) **
Somewhat anticlimactic after the last piece, this is dark and somber and pure filler.
12. The High Fells (3:38) **
The circular strings that introduce this piece create a lofty sense of anticipation before a creepy voice works its way in and out, creating a sense of mystery and suspense that’s heightened by tremolo strings. It’s not the most memorable piece, but it’s one of my favorites.
13. The Nature of Evil (3:20)
This is highly reminiscent of the black riders chasing Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring, with low rumbling evil themes and high strings that will make you scream, “Get orf the Road!” It picks up momentum as it continues and becomes jarring.
14. Protector of the Common Folk (3:37)
This lighter fare works its way into a little string jig. It comes across as a harmless, filler track.
1. Thrice Welcome (3:34)
This rhythmic piece works its way into the familiar chromatic theme from the Unexpected Party, though it mostly just dances around a new, short descending motif.
2. Girion, Lord of Dale (4:15) **
Dark and somber (like much of the album) there’s a majestic quality here that reminds me of the Argonath.
3. Durin’s Folk (3:04) **
A standout. Building into a force of Middle-earth, this piece features a rare use of distortion by Shore. With its boldness and self importance, you can almost see the Lonely Mountain as you listen to it.
4. In the Shadow of the Mountain (2:15)
This reflective (and short) piece starts off sprite and fun before getting dark and moody.
5. A Spell of Concealment (3:22) **
With screeching strings and a feeling of anticipation, there’s no mistaking this one for anything but a dangerous, evil piece. Sauron’s themes (including Barad-dûr) return in full force as the track works its way into a frenzy.
6. On the Doorstep (7:46)
As you can imagine, this track is filled with anticipation and wonder, though a lot of it is low key and mellow. Still, it’s quite pretty and one I could listen to over and over.
7. The Courage of Hobbits (3:00)
Beginning with the Shire motif, this gets dark and mysterious in a hurry, working in a chiming gamelan. This leads us to…
8. Inside Information (3:48)
… which begins with more of the same before working its way into the Smaug theme. The track is a marvel, unlike anything Shore has done in Middle-earth before and quite frankly knocked my hobbit shoes off. It weaves together its themes and instruments in a unique way to create a sense of awe and wonder.
9. Kingsfoil (2:25)
One of the few warm, heartlifting pieces, “Kingsfoil” includes a female voice and is quite comforting, a refuge from the more frightening pieces of the soundtrack.
10. A Liar and a Thief (3:41)
Returning to low brass and high strings, there’s no doubt what’s going on here: anger and rage building itself into a terror. Shore takes his time, not rushing a single note, and the result is JW ducking for cover by the end.
11. The Hunters (9:55) **
Combining several different themes, this pulse raising adventure track will go on my ipod in my workout playlist. Backed by a recurring percussive rhythm, the piece is full of suspense and danger.
12. Smaug (6:29) **
It’s curious that Tolkien didn’t use “Smaug” as a chapter title (opting instead for “Inside Information”). I realize he didn’t want to give away any of the story with the chapter list at the beginning of the book, but a Smaug chapter is a foregone conclusion from the beginning. Personally, I think “Smaug” as a title would have a simplistic beauty, like “Mount Doom” in Return of the King. Ah well, the soundtrack uses both titles!
This track is not quite as memorable as “Inside Information”, but gets going towards the end and builds towards something powerful, with percussion and voices in overdrive mode.
13. My Armor Is Iron (5:16)
This is just an extension of the previous track, with more of the same and a resolution. (Actually, I think I like this one more, because it’s more to the point.)
14. I See Fire (5:00)
Ed Sheeran sings this one well, but I can’t say I like the song as much as Neil Finn’s “Song of the Lonely Mountain”. (The fans on youtube sure like it, however, so what do I know?) It’s a fine song on its own (and lends itself to covers), but I’m not sure it makes me think “Hobbit”. It’s more bluesy than the other closing songs. Then again, I’m sure some people find it a nice change of pace.
15. Beyond the Forest (5:27)
Oh, this one is pretty. A female voice opens it up, and it develops into a somber run through of the film’s themes.
I must say that this album wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s better! It knew it would be darker than the first Hobbit soundtrack, but I didn’t think it would be so different and so rich. The Smaug theme, which recurs throughout, is the standout, perfectly capturing the awe and wonder of the dragon. But there’s something more. There’s a build and development in the music, almost like a story in itself, that is lacking in the first Hobbit soundtrack. By the latter half of the second disc, I’m listening not only to hear the beauty of the music, but to hear what happens next. There’s a sense of urgency and importance that I couldn’t turn away from. Is there some filler? Yes, particularly early. But overall, I couldn’t be more happy with what Shore has done here. Now I just have to see the movie!