In every form of entertainment medium, one is bound to encounter musical maestros capable of leaving a lasting impression through their works. Simply put, skillful musical composers.
For instance, the average movie enthusiast might like Hans Zimmer. He is known for his works in The Lion King, Gladiator, The Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk, and the Dark Knight trilogy. If you’ve recently watched a big blockbuster flick, chances are it was musically composed by Hans Zimmer.
Meanwhile, video game enthusiasts such as myself might recommend Mick Gordon, the composer of Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal. His work on the two latest Doom games are simply legendary and his beefy, hard-hitting musical brilliance can also be heard in his other video game works such as Killer Instinct seasons 1 & 2.
Me myself, I would like to propose a personal favorite of mine, mentioned in the title of this story.
When taking a look at his discography, one might think of Brian Tyler as a jack-of-all-trades type of composer, the one who has dipped his toe into many different genres of musical scores. Much like Zimmer, Tyler has been involved in the musical productions of movies, TV series, video games, and everything in between. And like most composers, some of his works can be regarded as unremarkable.
However, it was when Tyler hit his mark that his music became legendary. He might not be as decorated as Zimmer or as unpredictably creative as Gordon, but Brian Tyler is still capable of producing some real bangers.
And in this story, I’d like to present three of his works that appealed the most to me.
Further (Far Cry 3)
My first exposure to Brian Tyler’s work came when I played Far Cry 3 back in my high school days. I listened to this song when I’ve finished the game (chose the good ending by the way) and that’s when I knew that this song, and whoever composed it, is something else.
At the first listen it can be confusing on how a beautifully serene song fits into the insanely murderous and explosive world of Far Cry 3. But I suppose that’s the beauty of it: for me, the song encapsulates a man’s slow but alluring descent into madness.
Insanity seemed to be the main theme of Far Cry 3 and this song took a glaringly different approach into insanity that still surprisingly made sense in the end. Rather than blasting guttural screams and violent beats into the listeners’ ears (think System of a Down’s Chop Suey), the song opted for soft choirs, beguiling violins, and petite piano rhythm. It was a slow and seductive descent and before you knew it you have been entranced by its beautifully twisted melody.
This surprisingly made sense in the world and story of Far Cry 3: the descent into insanity is a slow but bewitching one. Far Cry 3 protagonist Jason Brody is undoubtedly a sane man. He was supposed to be nothing like the man on the other side of the cage, the unhinged Vaas Montenegro. But through repeated exposure towards violence, death, and inhumanity, Brody started his descent into insanity without even realizing it. He was in so deep that by the time he reached his confrontation against Vaas, Brody realized that he and Vaas were not that different after all.
At the end of the day, much as I prefer Far Cry 4’s Pagan Min over Vaas, there is no denying that Further has managed to capture the essence of insanity in a subversively brilliant way. I have never listened to anything like it after that, and I’m not sure if I ever will.
Can You Dig It (Iron Man 3)
In this day and age, it was almost as if superhero theme songs make the superhero. Some superheroes can only be represented by a single song, e.g. Superman with his 1978 movie theme by John Williams. Some superheroes are fortunate enough to have multiple memorable songs to their name, e.g. Spider-man has his 1960s TV show theme song as well as his 2018 video game theme by John Paesano.
Some superheroes’ theme songs are still up in the air, subject to debate due to simply not having a strong enough score to identify with or having their score overshadowed by a bigger, more epic musical score.
Case in point: Iron Man. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans are more likely to remember the more epic and all-encompassing Avengers theme song over the individual scores of each superhero. As a result, an average MCU fan might struggle if asked to pull out a musical score that represents Tony Stark and Tony Stark only.
I however, don’t have that same struggle.
Enter Can You Dig It, composed by Brian Tyler for Iron Man 3 and appearing at the movie’s end credits. Tyler DID make a score dedicated to the golden avenger aptly titled Iron Man 3, but I felt that Can You Dig It is a more suitable theme song for Tony Stark’s alter ego.
Compared to the orchestral Iron Man 3, Can You Dig It has a lot more Tony Stark in it. It’s fast, eccentric, and glorious, much like the man behind the armor himself. The most fascinating aspect of the score itself is the prominent drums in the background coupled with trumpet blares that made it reminiscent of a 70s action hero theme song. It perfectly represents Stark and his flamboyant style of heroism: sassy, unpredictable, but ultimately virtuous. Not to mention the addition of instruments such as bongo, tambourine, and organs made for a sophisticated yet fitting theme song for a man who’d constructed over 50 space-age armored suits in his spare time.
Parallel to the movie it’s based on, it would seem that Can You Dig It also answers the age-old Iron Man question ‘does man make the armor, or does the armor make the man?’. Throughout Iron Man 3 Stark was forced to fight his way through a government conspiracy stripped from his armored suits. And yet that’s where we get to see him at his best: a cunning genius able to make the best of the card he’s been dealt with. At the end of the day, Iron Man 3’s answer to that question would be that it’s man that makes the armor.
That’s why I’m more inclined to believe that Can You Dig It is the definitive Iron Man song: because it’s a Tony Stark theme song. Without Tony Stark there is no Iron Man. Iron Man may be a hero, but Tony Stark is more than that: a genius, playboy, billionaire, philanthropist of a hero. And to quote Stark himself:
“You can take away my house, all my tricks and toys, but one thing you can’t take away? I am Iron Man.”
The Formula 1 Theme
I can say that this is the finest work Brian Tyler has produced yet.
I don’t even watch F1 and yet, the Formula 1 theme never fails to hype me up all the time. I believe it’s definitely up there with the UEFA Champions League anthem composed by Tony Britten. As a form of entertainment professional sports aren’t exactly known for their captivating musical scores, and yet here I am. Even when my knowledge of F1 is limited to only knowing big names such as Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton, the score always excites me.
Quite similarly to Can You Dig It, the F1 theme starts with a bang. Three explosive trumpet blares to signify the high-stakes, high-octane competition that is F1. The score itself is filled with adrenaline-pumping violin build-ups and heart-pounding drum beats. However, unlike the aforementioned Can You Dig It, it lacked a extravagant feel — and rightfully so.
This is not an eccentric superhero we’re talking about, this is a professional racing competition. As Tyler said it himself, there are no scripts here. No plot means no telling what’s gonna happen next. Unlike a movie where the actors know what’s going to happen according to the script, the actors in a F1 race have no idea what to expect. Blown tires, pit stop drama, rain increasing the difficulty tenfold, anything can happen.
One thing for sure though: the F1 will certainly involve speed. Speed is of the essence here, and Brian Tyler knows that being a F1 fan himself. For the most part the score is fast, however it also brought up a grandiose and evocative feeling. It’s almost like listening to a sped-up classical concert. And of course one cannot forget F1’s unpredictability that I mentioned earlier, a feeling the score nailed perfectly. Simply put, those three shockingly bombastic blares at the start of the song should tell you everything you need to know about F1.
And for a song exclusively about fast vehicles, the F1 theme song is surprisingly versatile. There are some down, calmer moments in the song’s chorus, moments that represent the more dramatic side of F1: the tear-jerking press conferences, the heartwarming embraces between racers, and the tragic career-ending crashes. Not to mention these ‘down’ moments of the song would eventually be used for when the racers are being announced during an F1 broadcast, so it does have its merits.
But of course after that, the song goes back to what it does best: a fast but grandiose display of musical arrangement, only made better by Tyler’s cheeky sound samples of an F1 car zooming on a circuit. Since Tyler have had experience scoring a racing game (he scored Need for Speed: The Run), he already knew the basics of making a song centered around racing. But this time he took it to the next level by adding a dash of unpredictability, which worked wholly in his favor.
Tyler knows he liked F1. So much so that after all that he’s achieved in the composing scene, he only wanted to be remembered as the “Formula 1 theme writer”. Well, as someone who has never watched F1 before, I’d say Brian Tyler passed the grade with flying colors.
There are more of Brian Tyler’s works that deserve an honorable mention, such as his work on NFS: The Run that I have alluded earlier or his Black Beatles remix as his DJ alter-ego Madsonik. While not underrated by all means, I believe he deserves more recognition for his work. I personally find the three songs mentioned here to be legendary and I hope to see more of his work in the future. Maybe I’ll make another story discussing more of his work, who knows?