Claude-Michel Schonberg, et al,
Les Miserables
(Universal Republic, 2012)

I've heard more versions of the music from Les Miserables -- various stage productions and concert tours -- then I can recall. Some are better than others; in many ways, the motion picture soundtrack comes up short.

Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie version of the Les Mis stage musical. But, bereft of the stunning visuals and overall strong acting that the movie supplied, this soundtrack relies solely on the strength of its vocals.

And vocals, with a few key exceptions, are not the strong suit of this presentation.

There are notable exceptions. Anne Hathaway as Fantine and Samantha Barks as Eponine are both exceptional by any standard, but they're brief bright spots here. Hugh Jackman makes a strong screen Valjean, but his voice is inconsistent. Likewise, Eddie Redmayne as Marius.

Then there's Russell Crowe, our Javert. Crowe is an impressive acting talent, and his presence here is formidable, but as a singer, he's the weakest link. And yet he gets three teeth-gritting tracks all to himself.

Also, given the number of excellent tracks left off this recording, as well as good songs truncated into oblivion, I can't help but question the reasoning that led to including track 17, "The Final Battle," which is mostly just an instrumental with gun shots. It's a waste of three minutes that could have been used for something omitted, such as "Lovely Ladies" or "A Little Fall of Rain," or maybe just the missing lines from "Look Down" or "The Bishop" -- the latter of which features the Valjean of all Valjeans, Colm Wilkinson.

I'm not going to lie, I enjoyed this soundtrack CD enough that I often found myself singing along (in the car; no innocent bystanders were harmed by my spontaneous ululations), and yes, I sometimes find the odd snippet -- sometimes not even from my favorite songs -- running through my head. More often than not, though, my memory defaults to the London stage version instead.

The only cut here that's not on any other soundtrack recording is "Suddenly," a song written exclusively for the movie. It's a new Valjean song, in which he waxes rhapsodic about the wonders of sudden parenthood. It's touching, but not a standout track.

All things considered, it's a pretty good CD. If you liked the movie, you'll probably like the album -- especially if you can picture the scenes that go with the songs. But some better choices could have been made when compiling tracks ... and there are better renditions of most of these songs on the market.

music review by
Tom Knapp

9 March 2013

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