‘Westworld’ Rocks: Revisiting That Stellar Season 1 Soundtrack
In March, when HBO finally broke its Sweetwater silence and provided the first full trailer for Westworld Season 2, there was, as expected, a heap of material for diehards of the sci-fi smash to unpack and analyze.
What does Bernard’s cryptic beach dream actually suggest? Was that Maeve in a komono walking through the new Japanese compound?! IS THE MAN IN BLACK REALLY GONNA BURN THE WHOLE THING TO THE GROUND?
Still, there was another reason to view the three-minute clip again and again, relating to a Westworld facet that has transcended all that rich-folks-murdering-robots business.
The show, which debuted in fall 2016 and returns April 22, is renowned for its stark yet sweeping orchestral covers of popular rock songs, as well as the covert placement of such pieces — sometimes a tune was plinked simply from the saloon’s player-piano, sometimes it was inserted elsewhere with more muscle — providing music aficionados a basket full of Easter eggs existing separately from the convoluted plot.
Even if you had no idea what was truly going on between damsel Dolores and the park’s co-creator Robert Ford, or how it related to the original Westworld film from 1973, at least you could gab to your pals at work the next morning: “Hey, who else heard that Radiohead song?”
This time, in the trailer, a marvelously crescendo-ing rendition of Nirvana’s brooding hit “Heart-Shaped Box” was used in plain view, opening with a delicate, piano-only passage before a string section begins Kurt Cobain’s famously droning vocal melody. The arrangement swells and crashes with the action, and by the clip’s end, you’re not only thrilled to see what happens next when the show kicks off Sunday (April 22), but to hear which modern tracks have found their way into the fantastical universe this time.
Even if Westworld Season 2 flops despite its gargantuan budget, rest assured that it will still be anchored by a stellar soundtrack, shepherded by composer Ramin Djawadi, who ironically is best-known for his work on another HBO soundtrack, Game of Thrones. Yes, the hypnotically pounding epic theme music played at the outset of each GoT episode is also Djawadi, a German-Iranian score-master who has also composed for Ironman, Clash Of The Titans and Pacific Rim.
While Djawadi is credited as the primary composer for each of Westworld’s striking revamps, of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” The Animals’ “House Of The Rising Sun” and more, it was the show’s co-creator Jonathan Nolan, brother of director Christopher, who birthed the idea to plant modern rock songs into the 19th Century Frontier environment.
“The player piano was something, with a shout-out to Kurt Vanagon for the idea, the idea of a player piano as the sort of first primordial version of our hosts,” Nolan said at New York Comic Con in 2016. “You know, a machine, an almost Rube Goldberg machine, that’s been created to evoke human emotion. So it was also a great excuse to use contemporary music in the show.”
“The show has an anachronistic feel to it,” Djawadi told Vulture in 2016. “It’s a Western theme park, and yet it has robots in it, so why not have modern songs? And that’s a metaphor in itself, wrapped up in the overall theme of the show.”
Which brings us back to the show’s apparent muse, Radiohead — a band viewed by most as the quintessential tech-age rock act, and a group who, since OK Computer was released in 1997, has played prophetic in its fusion of rock and electronica, merging the comfortable tropes of genre-old with the blinking, rigid sounds of the future.
If any band were to be considered the sonic equivalent of a boot-and-spurred cowboy android shorting out and frying his hard drive in the middle of a saloon, it would be Thom Yorke and Co. With that, it seems more like fate than coincidence that Nolan and Djawadi just happened to be huge fans of the band and chose to incorporate four Radiohead songs into season 1 of Westworld: “No Surprises,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” and “Exit Music (For A Film).”
It has all functioned seamlessly, as have sparse remakes of The Cure’s “A Forest” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have,” and amounted to the greatest single-season television soundtrack in recent memory, worthy of all its buzz.
So, where does Westworld musically go in season 2? Here are a few suggestions, from a guy who listens to a lot of ‘80s and ‘90s guitar music: “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses, “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam, or pretty much anything off Metallica’s Black Album would all fit nicely given the old-time player-piano treatment.
But I look forward to being surprised. Like millions of others, I’ll be tuning in Sunday night, and listening closely.