After some on-off involvement from Jack White, Hans Zimmer took over scoring duties for The Lone Ranger, a switch that didn’t seem to surprise much of anyone. Recently, his score for Man of Steel became one of the most controversial scores of the year, dividing critics as much as the film. I for one enjoyed it a great deal, though I couldn’t help but concede to many of the critics arguments. In this day and age, if you’re not pro-recycling, it’s hard to be pro-Zimmer. Many hoped (including myself) that The Lone Ranger would be the composer’s redemption score to the film music community. Well, it is… kind of.
Of Zimmer’s previous works, The Lone Ranger will most remind you of Rango with hints of Sherlock Holmes, but make no mistake; The Lone Ranger is by far the better Western score and packs a hell of a stronger punch. I do, however, recommend listening to the album after viewing the film. Some albums are listenable enough on their own but most are made better when heard with some context in mind. The Lone Ranger benefits greatly from that context.
Beginning with a strained, lone violin over aggressive synthetic pulsing, “Never Take Off The Mask” helps usher in the film’s logos and establish a forlorn atmosphere for the film’s opening scene, a San Francisco sideshow. Here, an aged Tonto resides at a display entitled the “Noble Savage” and Zimmer’s opening piece wonderfully conveys the solitude of the aging warrior: in 1933, he is nothing more than an antique oddity from an era gone by (ironically though, this was the year The Lone Ranger first appeared on American airwaves). Woodwinds at 1:01 briefly announce the four-note Tonto motif, not really a theme as such but more of an accent that calls attention to his influence over the on-screen events. You’ll hear it pop up numerous times in the film but on album it’s a bit more elusive, recurring notably in “Silver” to accompany Tonto’s full theme but nowhere else.
Following “Never Take Off The Mask” is “Absurdity”, a track that is at first strikingly evocative of a Rango and Sherlock Holmes lovechild. The bouncy, quirky mix of woodwinds, horns, strings, and slapping, zany percussion and acoustics is something we’ve heard from Zimmer before but this cue is still a good bit of off-kilter fun. About a minute and a half into the track the formula undergoes a bit of a change, introducing the dominating action motif for the score, a brief ascending phrase that the trained listener will immediately associate with Michael Giacchino’s Star Trek cue “Nero Death Experience” (see 4:56 in that track). The motif, however, gets a lot more airtime in Zimmer’s score, serving as the foundation for much of the action material and undergoing a lot more development. At 2:44 and for the following minute and a half or so you’ll be reminded of “160 BPM” from Angels and Demons sans the choir, which serves as a good companion to much of the rhythm of the action material in The Lone Ranger. A Morricone-like burst of Western bravado towards the end of the cue serves as a refreshing deviation from Zimmer’s action material and lends the title character some heroic flare. It is at moments like these when the score truly shines.
“Silver” is, contrary to what the track title would have you believe, Hans Zimmer’s full-fledged theme for Tonto. Well… not quite. In fact, “Silver” is an adaptation of an Irish folk tune called “After the Battle of Aughrim”, written to commemorate the decisive battle of the Williamite War in Ireland. It’s a fantastic track and Zimmer alters the piece to suit his needs and style, adding the four-note Tonto motif from the first track as accompaniment. I can’t say that an Irish folk tune is exactly a logical choice to represent a Comanche Warrior, but “Silver” is still one of the best and most important themes in the film. I only wish Zimmer had constructed it from scratch, presenting one of the difficulties in assessing The Lone Ranger; much of what makes the score great is at least partially influenced by something pre-existing.
After “Silver” comes another great cue entitled “Ride”. The first forty seconds or so is fantastic, old-school Western with electric guitar building to a horn statement over a propulsive, train-like rhythm that is clearly an Ennio Morricone homage in its purest form. Hans Zimmer is incessant about his love for the father of spaghetti western scores, and you’re bound to catch more than a few references to his work here. If Once Upon a Time in the West can make it into Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, then you can be sure it will appear in The Lone Ranger. From then on, “Ride” is all Zimmer as the spaghetti western influence quickly fades to his material for John Reid, a brief “Time”-like theme that pops up numerous times in the score’s quieter moments and commands the final track with a tender reprisal. The “Ride” iteration of the theme is sweeping and majestic, calling to mind more than a few grand, untamed vistas. “Ride” continues with some warm Americana, surprisingly evocative of John Williams’ Lincoln and Carter Burwell’s True Grit, and then bursts into a majestic reprise of the material from “Silver.”
“You’ve Looked Better” is a frightful wasteland of an atmospheric piece. The building, knocking percussion will startle you if you’re not prepared for it and the strings growl, churn, and hiss in a unpleasantly dissonant mix. It works in the film but on album it’s an incredibly strange, uneven listening experience apart from the somber reprisal of “Never Take of the Mask” towards the end.
The only remnant of Jack White’s involvement is a fun little bit of grassroots America called “Red’s Theater Of The Absurd”. A bouncy, quirky piece performed by “old-timey” band Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three (who also make cameos in the film), you’ll think at first that it’s another Zimmer piece due to its similarity to “It’s So Overt It’s Covert” from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. In fact, the song would be right at home in any one of the Holmes films.
Zimmer returns with some bombastic action material in “The Railroad Waits For No One”, composed mostly of more variation on the four note action motif and the Angels and Demons-like off-shoot. Towards the end of the cue Zimmer reprises the heroic Ranger theme heard at the close of “Absurdity” albeit with a bit more bombast and flare. The underlying ascending strings for this theme, also present in its initial rendition in “Absurdity”, are of course quintessential Morricone. You’ll find that very same chord progression in his iconic “Man With A Harmonica” from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West.
“You’re Just A Man In A Mask” plays like a companion piece to the atmospheric “You’ve Looked Better”, sporting the same synthetic pulsing, hissing strings, and knocking percussion with a ruthlessly grating cello sliding up and down a variation of “Never Take Off The Mask”. The Tonto thematic material from “Silver” appears once again here in somber form alongside a curious statement at 2:05 that appears to have crept in from Marc Streitenfeld’s American Gangster. The ascending strings from Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in the West close out the track in full prominence with fragile music box and horn notes hinting the Lone Ranger theme amidst the repeating string phrases. It’s a nice variation on the theme and homage to Morricone but the overall track is, like “You’ve Looked Better”, not particularly essential.
“For God and For Country” is another rousing action track, this time accompanying the Comanche’s ambush of Cole’s train (on which more or less every surviving member of the Reid family seems to be held captive). The stakes are fittingly higher in “For God and For Country” as it is meant to match as close to a full-scale battle sequence as the film comes. The addition of a choir to the track adds to the gravity, culminating in a particularly exhilarating bit at 1:57 that will surely creep into future film trailers. One thing that I found rather strange about the cue, however, is Zimmer’s representation of the Comanche. To announce their appearance, a tribal voice calls out a single note, possibly meant to be taken as some sort of war cry. It’s a minor gripe, but I wish there had been a little bit more than a single note for these people. A variation on Tonto’s material would have been welcome, though incorporating it into the chaotic scene could have been tough. Furthermore, as a kind of solemn ode to the fallen Comanche, Zimmer chooses a sparse reprisal of John Reid’s theme on strings and haunting choir, adding a few tribal accents but leaving behind even more questions as to why there wasn’t more material for the tribe itself.
As previously stated, the trouble with assessing The Lone Ranger as a standalone composition is that it is very much indebted to previous musical influences. “Finale”, by Remote Control Productions’ Padawan Geoff Zanelli rather than Hans Zimmer, is such an example of this. Its basis is Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture, a piece so linked to the film’s title character that the term “intellectual” was once defined as "a man who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger." It’s a little jarring to hear it at first during the climactic train chase, but a brief rendition of the piece in the first few minutes of the film helps to ease you into the idea of it existing alongside Zimmer’s original work. That being said, “Finale” is still by far the most entertaining cue of the score. Geoff Zanelli’s arrangement is energetic and superb, even with the addition of an electric guitar lingering in the background. While Rossini’s William Tell serves as the dominating force of the track, Zanelli tweaks it here and there for pacing and alters it as in the case of 4:13 (where he changers the time signature). Additionally, Zanelli intersperses Zimmer’s original themes throughout the track. The action motif as well as a driving, infectious variation on the “Never Take Off The Mask” material at 4:40 pops up numerous times, but it is the expanse from 6:52 - 8:00 that really shines. Coming off of the momentum of the Overture, a triumphant burst of brass announces the “Silver” theme and then quickly morphs into the driving rendition of “Never Take Off The Mask”, only to build to a full, fantastically heroic statement of “Silver” again. It’s arguably the best minute and eight seconds on the album and it’s a shame that it owes itself only partially to Hans Zimmer.
The final track of the album, “Home”, is a tender cool down from the energetic pace of “Finale”. As a nice denouement for the film and the score, warm strings and horns reprise the John Reid theme in full. The comforting, inspiring Americana material also returns from the middle part of “Ride”, making the cue something I could picture riding off into the sunset to. My only issue? The very last note seems to leave the track (and thus the entire album) hanging.
The Lone Ranger is a fun ride that Hans Zimmer definitely put a lot of heart into. It pleases as a Western score and will manage to surprise the film music community as a Zimmer score. Though it doesn’t warrant a perfect rating due to its reliance on pre-existing material, it will at least restore a little faith to those who left Man of Steel shaking their heads and remind them that not every Zimmer score is grounds for endless dismay.