Nothing ever ends…
One of the most captivating elements of the new HBO series Watchmen is the soundtrack – care of seasoned hands Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
At times unsettling and other times mesmerising, the music helps to provide a suitable atmosphere for a series which delves into a variety of themes, including racial tensions, white supremacists and vigilantism with some science fiction elements.
Watchmen is a sequel series to the successful comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The original story, set in an alternative universe where masked superheroes exist, explored a sinister plot uncovered by a small band of protagonists. Meanwhile, landmark historical events that went in one direction in our world often take a startling change of direction in this universe next door.
The TV version, which is set some thirty years after the events in the comic, continues some of the themes that put the graphic novel at the top of Time’s All-Time 100 Greatest Novels list. Here, it’s the police who wear masks to keep their identities safe while police officer Angela Abar (Regina King) uncovers a complicated and disturbing plot.
With high production values, it makes sense to have some high calibre talent brought onboard for the music. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have built up their own sizeable reputation in the world of music, chiefly via industrial rock outfit Nine Inch Nails. But the pair but have also scored films as a separate venture. Their film soundtrack catalogue includes titles such as The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Bird Box.
But scoring for a TV series was a first (although NIN’s ‘Head Like a Hole’ was covered in a unique way for an episode of Black Mirror earlier this year). By coincidence, show runner Damon Lindelof had approached HBO about securing the pair’s services – while Reznor and Ross had already approached the network previously as they were big fans of the original Watchmen comic.
“They wanted something that set an aggressive, sort of sleazy tone” recalled Reznor in a recent interview. “When we saw a rough cut of the premiere, it started to become clear that the role of music would be more in-your-face rather than a supporting role in the background.”
As a result, the music offers a suitable effective soundtrack to a show which tackles everything from racial politics to scheming trillionaires. This includes compositions such as the disturbing synth dystopia of ‘How The West Was Really Won’, the haunting ‘Absent Friends And Old Ghosts’, thumping EDM workouts such as ‘Never Surrender’ through to the simple yet stunning cover of David Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars’.
The series, which also features Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Jeremy Irons and Hong Chau, is drawing to its conclusion after some riveting viewing (which also upends some of the established foundations of the Watchmen comic book). Part of that appeal lies in the soundscapes crafted by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Watchmen is currently showing on HBO.
Current volumes of the Watchmen soundtrack are available via the Nine Inch Nails website:
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.