I’d been keeping my eyes out for a reasonably priced, nice condition copy of the Thief soundtrack, and I finally found one the other day in the New Arrivals bin over at Easy Street. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been wanting this other than knowing the music is by Tangerine Dream and the film is a gritty and brilliant crime noir classic. Ironically later that same evening I was flipping through the channels and what did I land on? That’s right, Thief. Which was followed by the original Rollerball as part of some kind of James Caan retrospective. Needless to say, I watched both.
I’ve never been a soundtrack guy, especially not soundtracks that are comprised primarily of scores as opposed to previously released songs. Having listened to a few over the last couple of years, though, I’m kind of intrigued, as this strikes me as a very different way of writing music. You can feel an emotional flow to the compositions on Thief, an underlying base mood that is nuanced and transformed by the soundscape. The musicians are writing to align their art with someone else’s art, and when it’s done correctly the results are magical.
The music is a defining element in Thief, just as it is in most Michael Mann directed films. He could have just as easily scored the album with rock songs and it would have given then entire thing a totally different feel. Same scenes, same dialogue, different emotional content. In fact, Mann originally intended to score it using Chicago Blues songs. It’s hard to imagine what that version of the film would have been like, though the final track “Confrontation” may give us just a hint, the only guitar-based number on the album.
Thief stands on it’s own fairly well. If you’re into Tangerine Dream and similar electronica, it’s a perfectly enjoyable stand-alone album. It’s hard for me to separate it from the film in my mind, but it’s not a major leap by any means.