Daniel Pemberton’s score for Birds Of Prey is loud, vibrant, wacky and full of unique and intriguing musical ideas. If you’re looking for an hour of highly entertaining and decidedly different film score, look no further than here.
The score for Birds Of Prey And The Fantabulous…Emancipation Of…One…Harley…..Quinn (that’s a…title) is something else, that’s for sure. One thing I’ve always admired about Daniel Pemberton is that his music is always different. He takes truly unique approaches and methodologies to his work and it really sets him apart from other composers. You really never know what to expect from a new score of his, and that was what most excited me in the build-up to the Birds Of Prey score release. Now that it’s finally here, I can safely say that is most certainly different, and to be quite honest – rather good.
The album begins with Flying High, where we are almost immediately introduced to one of the many themes that Pemberton has crafted here; the Birds Of Prey theme. Slow, near solemn vocals gently convey the opening notes of the motif while quiet, atmospheric electronics linger in the background, making for quite a pensive but nonetheless intriguing start to the score. The Fantabulous Emancipation Explosion then starts a little more traditionally with a guitar and light percussion, though there is where tradition rather rapidly begins and ends as loud, almost operatic vocals then join the fray, dialing up the tone and style to incredibly dramatic levels before the music then switches down slightly (while still retaining said vocals) for a slower but still rather emphatic conclusion.
Harley Quinn (Danger Danger) is up next, and this is where things get loud. A boisterous electric guitar turns the volume up to eleven immediately as the track begins, playing out the titular character’s new motif intensely for everyone to hear (and trust me, everyone will). While I must admit I found the three minute experience rather…painful, I do appreciate just how well the theme fits Harley Quinn as a character. It’s loud, obnoxious, badass and refuses to be anything other than what it is, and I really admire it for that. Hats off to you Pemberton, you’ve created a great motif for the character, and one that I will likely never listen to again.
Birds Of Prey is where (as you might have guessed) the theme for the titular group of characters gets a full fleshing out. Much like with Harley Quinn’s motif electric guitars feature fairly prominently, however this is where the similarity begins and ends as they are nowhere near as high in volume (or intensity, thankfully), focusing instead on providing imposing, grandiose musical backup for the real star of the show; the vocals. Rather ingeniously, the composer has them making “coo” sounds at different pitches to play the main notes of the theme, so not only does the group have an epic and quite memorable motif, it’s also essentially played by “birds”. Very clever, Mr. Pemberton. In all seriousness though this theme is probably my favourite thing about the score. It’s badass in a similar way to Quinn’s but has a calmer, structured and slightly more heroic approach to it, and I just can’t get over how well thought out the compositional style is.
Low, sinister-sounding electronics then quickly shroud the score in darkness with The Black Mask Club, with high-pitched horror-like strings coming into the fray after a few seconds to double down on the album’s particularly unnerving new tone. Light, almost apprehensive percussion then arrives with Stolen Diamond alongside some very creepy-sounding woodwinds, continuing the particularly ominous tone very effectively before the cue then ends almost as quickly as it arrived. Together the two tracks form such a chilling and dramatically different style to previous cues that they could almost be called their own theme (which they would be had any such motif been present).
The eerie tone is then shattered completely by the considerably livelier Bad Ass Broad, where light, upbeat percussion mixes with some almost Western-like whistling for a rather unusual but at the same time quite entertaining action beat. A number of new themes are then introduced over the next few cues, the first of which premieres in Black Canary Echo; a quiet, near pensive six-note motif played out on ghostly electronics to (presumably) represent the character of Black Canary. The Bertinelli Massacre then establishes Huntress, at first on quiet woodwinds before then moving up into electric guitars and beats for a loud and rather dramatic thematic introduction. Things then get a lot darker for Roman Sionis, where deep, foreboding electronics and tense percussion do a great job of musically establishing the villain of the film; Black Mask. Memorability-wise it’s perhaps a little less catchy then the other motifs, but stylistically – Pemberton has nailed it.
A loud electric guitar and imposing action beats form the musical baseline of Lockdown, a cue that sticks more to the forwarding of tones rather than the continuation of themes (as none feature) but the sheer excitement of Pemberton’s now quite established compositional style of the score makes it quite an enjoyable piece anyway. Lotus Flower then slows the pace right down with saddened strings, funeral-esque vocals and a solemn piano, adding a ninety second pinch of depression to this otherwise decidedly jovial soundtrack. Thankfully this is quite short lived as Breakout! kills the gloom pretty much immediately, opening with fast-paced percussion and a loud, rather striking electric guitar and then continuing in this fashion for a good four minutes of pure (and rather obnoxious) heavy metal action.
The Bertinelli Revenge then takes us back to the style of the last Huntress-related track, bringing forth the character’s new theme on dramatic woodwinds along with some rather epic percussion. Once again though this doesn’t last for long before darkness returns in I Want To Kill You Because I Can and Zsasz Showdown, where the deep, foreboding electronics for Black Mask appear in a manner scarier than ever. Notably, the ominous, horror-like music representing the film’s villain serves as a pretty excellent compositional juxtaposition for the much more upbeat, epic score for the “heroes”, and is one of the album’s best features overall.
Speaking of our protagonists, after a few seconds of spooky Black Mask at the start things begin to brighten up in Work Together, with upbeat strings and percussion rising in the background until near heroic brass joins the fray towards the end of the piece, hinting at an epic moment to come that then finally does in Fight Together, the score’s standout cue. Apprehensive electronics open the piece before Harley’s theme then arrives low-pitched on an electric guitar, joined shortly afterwards by the badass Birds Of Prey theme. Here the two motifs mix for the first time, working together across the cue alongside occasional appearances from the Huntress theme to make for one giant team-up action setpiece, and it’s absolutely glorious. Right towards the end the Birds Of Prey motif then crescendos with loud percussion and grandiose brass, hinting directly at a more superhero-y score before then rapidly coming to a close. The chaotic Harley theme then gets one last loud and obnoxious reprise alongside the Huntress motif in Rollers Vs Rollers before the album finishes up with The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn. Here the composer brings the score full circle with a return to the orchestral style of one of the opening cues; The Fantabulous Emancipation Explosion. Victorious, operatic vocals and a triumphant electric guitar are a great way to end the album, after all.
Overall then, Daniel Pemberton’s score for Birds Of Prey makes for a highly enjoyable listen, not to mention a unique one. By far the most intriguing aspect of the composer’s approach here is his thematic creations, particularly that of the Birds Of Prey. The “cooing” vocals was a genius idea, and I absolutely love every second that the theme appears in. Harley Quinn’s theme is also pretty good – its loud and obnoxious style fits her character very accurately, though I must say it does make for some rather painful listening at times. Juxtaposed by this is then the strikingly scary score for villain Black Mask, which while perhaps lacking in recognisable motif is just as captivating in tonal terms. The action music across the score is also superb (see standout cue Fight Together) and while album structure does seem a little jumbled (stylistically at points it is a little all over the shop) it does make for one hell of a musical experience. Daniel Pemberton has always been a rather…different film composer, and here that approach really shines.
Standout Cue: 24. Fight Together