The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

2003: Reprise 48560-2

  1. A Storm Is Coming
  2. Hope and Memory
  3. Minas Tirith
  4. The White Tree
  5. The Steward of Gondor
  6. Minas Morgul
  7. The Ride of the Rohirrim
  8. Twilight and Shadow
  9. Cirith Ungol
  10. Andúril
  11. Shelob’s Lair
  12. Ash and Smoke
  13. The Fields of the Pelennor
  14. Hope Fails
  15. The Black Gate Opens
  16. The End of All Things
  17. The Return of the King
  18. The Grey Havens
  19. Into the West

After the soundtrack to The Two Towers came out, I couldn’t imagine how, how, howARD, Howard Shore could top its opening track, “Foundations of Stone,” with anything for Return of the King. Oh, how little I knew of his talents…he delivered, and he did so in multiples. FotR’s score was lovely and adventurous, TTT’s was big and sweeping in its scope, but RotK is as epic and majestic as the book is, and its score works every relevant emotional trigger afforded by melodic lines and chord progressions. Yes, even the chord progressions are lethal emotional weaponry in this one…I couldn’t imagine how he would top that opening piece for TTT, and then he unleashed this army of symphonic themes that collectively overwhelm even the memory of all that we’ve heard before. Tracks 3, 4, and 5 taken in succession make for a staggering assault on the senses, as we get absolutely hammered by Gondor’s thematic majesty—in this and its other stunning presentations on this soundtrack, it’s mightily charging forward but with haunting overtone chords (E major shining through a terribly dark B minor) and always left lingering on top of each other in the air after sudden stops, like layers of watercolor washes on wet paper.

And then there’s the Shelob’s Lair sequence, which starts off with an almost-too-classic “scary music” style but eventually explodes into something so much bigger and more dramatic that I had to retract my initial opinion of the track (and it’s only 4 minutes long!!!). The title track, coming directly on the heels of “The End of All Things,” is mercilessly heart-wrenching. Well, actually, you can say that about most of this soundtrack album: if you thought you cried your head off during the film (or felt you were doing so the whole time but barely managed not to), fasten your seatbelt and clutch a box of Kleenex before you play the CD. Shore will work you like a scrambled Rubik’s Cube of emotions and yearnings, and you’ll love every moment of it.

Obviously I’m a big appreciator of Annie Lennox’s music, so it will come as no surprise to learn that in this case I bought not the regular-issue RotK soundtrack but the fancypants edition in green-leatherette-covered mini-book form, because this is the one edition that includes a *second* song Annie co-wrote and recorded for RotK: “Use Well the Days.” What a gorgeous recording, and all those lines from the book! It has Frodo written all over it, as is underscored by Howard Shore’s comment that it belongs just before the Grey Havens sequence, although in book terms the lines are largely Galadriel’s parting words to Aragorn. Every time I play it and hear her singing “Turn your face to the green world! Use well the days…” I think “O.K., yes, I should spend less time face-to-face with my computer and deal with what’s really out there.” Pity Seattle sucks as it does. Anyway, I find this song much more touching than the lovely-but-wasted “Into The West” which is lost in the noise of people talking and leaving the cinema as the credits roll (although out of that context and taken as a LotR piece it really is quite good—and if I had any doubts about its emotional evocativeness I abandonded them after thrice trying to sing the song myself and being unable to do so without my voice breaking on a sob at least once, and I am NOT KIDDING).