Many people go to the movies because of the director or the actors, but in this case, a few may go because of the composer, Danny Elfman.
"The Corpse Bride" soundtrack, reminiscent of his "Nightmare Before Christmas" score, is a solid work. The Elfman approach to composing has evolved enormously since the "Nightmare" days - there is a musical creativity in the use of harmonies and melodic interplay, combined with less emphasis on thematic material, that creates this cheerful yet dark fairy tale style.
The score is a mostly instrumental undertaking, interspersed with four vocal numbers, sung by both the living and the dead in this animated story of love between a young man and a corpse that can walk, talk, sing and dance. Elfman has the gift of producing music that expertly supports the story and visual elements of the movie. Especially when the movie is the work of Tim Burton.
By itself, Elfman's music is strange, off the wall, even absurd. His score for "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was his most eccentric yet - his musical enhancement of synchronized swimming "Deep Roys" is bound to give even the stoutest little kid nightmares. And yet, the ability he has to mesh the music with the visual is what makes Elfman stand out in the world of film scorers.
Of the instrumental music, the two numbers that stand out the most are the piano solo and duet: "Victor's Piano Solo" and "The Piano Duet." "Victor's Piano Solo" is a perfect statement of the style and theme of the movie, and "The Piano Duet" expands on this. The rest range from a gothic strings feel to popping jazz and orchestral swells, often mixing together and producing a nice effect. All in all, the instrumental music is pure and typical of Elfman - solid, yet nothing spectacular.
The treats in Danny Elfman's soundtracks are always his songs. The "Oompa Loompa" songs in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" were examples of his outstanding work in that soundtrack and this follows, but not quite as strongly, in "The Corpse Bride." "According to Plan" explains the background and sets up the living world. Elfman wrote this as a typical duet, something seen on stage that is unexciting and even kind of drab.
This was his intention - it accurately emphasizes Tim Burton's portrayal of the living. On the other hand, "Remains of the Day," sung by the dead, is exciting and popping - as is the world of the dead, which is surprisingly full of life.
"Tears to Shed" is delightfully humorous and shows us the Corpse Bride's struggle. The best song of the bunch is "The Wedding Song," which is performed by the dead and could almost be called chaotic, yet is expertly done. Melodies are mixed with a women's chorus singing in harmony, only hinting at the wedding march until it comes out with full force at the end with all the voices combining en masse.
Fans of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" will find some segments similar, such as comparing the jazz segments to Oogie Boogie's song. While still solid material, the jazz segments don't feel quite as original when placed in that context.
Overall, the soundtrack will appeal more to the hardcore than the casual fan of Elfman. While there are some interesting songs, and the jazz segments are worth listening to, the overall tone of the compact disk is merely average Elfman.