By Mikko Ojala
Walk of Shame is a 2014 comedy starring Elizabeth Banks and James Marsden. The movie’s plot revolves around a female reporter whose dream of becoming a news anchor is compromised after a one-night stand leaves her stranded in downtown L.A. without a phone, car, ID or money – and with only 8 hours to make it to the most important job interview of her life. Frantic comedy ensues as the said reporter is trying to rush to that interview through L.A. and finds herself wandering around downtown and running into drug dealers, angry prostitutes and being chased by the police. The film has garnered near unanimous negative reviews upon its release faulting it with the lack of comedy, a bland unbelievable script and generally obnoxious or offensive tone. A part of the production that is quite enjoyable however is composer John Debney’s funky score.
John Debney is one of the stalwart professionals of the film music business known for his versatility and ability to blend his own compositional voice to numerous genres and Walk of Shame illustrates this quite aptly. Comedies might seem an easy genre to score but the pitfalls of underscoring humour are many, composers often either playing the moment too strongly or not strongly enough and striking stylistic balance is often the key to the score’s success not only as working underscore but also as a coherent listening experience on album. Debney’s music for Walk of Shame is a colourful blend of styles all aimed to give the film and the music modern urban energy and flair and in this the composer succeeds with flying colours. The score mixes funk, rock, hip-hop, pop and orchestral elements with surprising confidence often applying two or more within a single track. But here both the strength and weakness of Walk of Shame lies.
The funky ‘Main Title/Meghan Runs from Rabbis’ explodes with groovy electric bass and guitars with hefty drum kit all creating atmosphere full of attitude and energy, which is mixed with a frantic synth melody and beats that actually make for an impressive album opening. ‘Rose & Denise Visit/I Am a Writer of Books’ shifts to a typical breezy romantic comedy mode where strumming guitars and a pop-ish tune underscore the peppy girl friends and despondent main character whose boyfriend has just left her before a playful flute tune with soft pulsing guitar backing entices her to go out for girls’ night on the town. ‘Meghan Meets Gordon/Chang is Out’ sees a wistful almost cloying piano melody supported by a plucked guitar and light pizzicati from strings giving an air of light romance before jumping to a Thoman Newman-esque passage for all kinds of ticking metallic light percussion and humoresque peppy woodwinds. ‘Relax Meghan/Meghan’s Car Towed’ continues the mood with familiar orchestral comedy routine with paced pizzicati strings and shakers and synths giving an anticipatory rhythm for something obviously funny on-screen. And this is basically how the album goes on alternating between light orchestral accents to the comedy, some mixes of funk (notable are the groovy harmonica solos in e.g. ‘Meghan Escapes/Surrounded By Hookers’ and ‘My Heels Hurt/Meghan Tries To Steal Bike/High Heel Problems’), phat hip-hop beats and synth pulses and rhythms and electro-dance allusions (‘Meghan Meets Scrilla/Shootout & Escape’, ‘The Search for Meghan’) and rock and jazzier elements with very few ideas ever tying these individual moments or ideas together.
Debney tries to build some arc for the musical drama throughout though, the more dramatic, groovy and punchier orchestral and pulsing synth pieces building towards the finale of the album with tracks like the hectic ‘The Search for Meghan’ and ‘Meghan Pursued/Crosses Freeway/Helicopter Rescue’ which might not be out of place in a modern heist movie and ‘Meghan Finds Her Car/Escapes/Hasty Exit’, featuring again the harmonica, rock/funk elements and even hand slaps for good percussive effect. The album comes a full circles by reprising the almost naïve optimistically romantic style of the few opening tracks in ‘I’m the Breaking Story’ and ‘The Girl in the Yellow Dress’ with strongly pop-influenced inflections performed by a small ensemble of guitar, drums, synths and keyboards.
While Debney’s efforts are first and foremost meant to support the film and I am sure they do that to a large degree, on album the score comes of as a bit choppy with the roughly 30 minute album 18 tracks spliced together from shorter cues from different parts of the film with the mood and pace changing constantly, even inside individual short tracks. The mix of modern popular musical styles is expertly done but the tone is rarely sustained for long and Debney never creates an easily identifiable throughline for the musical story. As such the album works much like any pop, rock or funk concept album but without the cohesion of focusing on just one style for extended pieces which makes the listening experience of this album somewhat disjointed. The music isn’t obnoxious or bad as such as it is done with utter conviction and craftsmanship, it just leaves very little impact on its own. There is some comedy and urban modern feel to it but despite some individual moments of funky and groovy excellence the score for Walk of Shame never finds a strong centre around which to build the whole piece and thus is rather middle of the road craftsman-like work from the ever prolific and multi-talented John Debney.
The Walk of Shame out now from Lakeshore Records