The critical panning the film "The Postman" took might cause some soundtrack fans to overlook this score. Their loss, as The Postman OST is another memorable film score by James Newton Howard.
It should be noted that the track list does *not* give an accurate representation of the CD's contents. It's true that only the first seven tracks consist of the orchestral score, whereas the remaining eight are folk-pop songs that are entirely skippable. However, those first seven score tracks occupy a respectable 50 minutes of space. It would be nice, though, if the score was split into a higher number of shorter tracks, as in Howard's Waterworld score, to allow for more selective listening.
As for the music itself, well, it's good stuff. As in Waterworld, "Main Titles" gets things started right with the apocalyptic setting. Here it lacks the tribal tinge and instead utilizes desolate strings and percussion. The track soon shifts to a more dangerous sound, as the strings become more frenetic, the brass adds force, and modest choral accompaniment perfectly augments the gloomy sound. "Shelter in the Storm" tones down the desolate mood to a sense of loneliness, although some beautifully tender and poignant moments come into play with the help of flute, french horn, and harp.
The main theme makes its first appearance in "The Belly of the Beast", and boy does it make an impression. Howard builds up to the moment perfectly with ever-increasing orchestral intensity, until the main theme appears - uplifting and triumphant. Without fail I find myself raising the listening volume a couple notches whenever the main theme arises.
The rest of the soundtrack is mostly more of the same. It's not at all repetitive, but there are sections that utilize the patient pacing common in film music to accompany minor sequences while biding time for major events. I'd say the only time the score becomes excessively slow and uneventful is the majority of "Abby Comes Calling". (It's ironic that this track devoted to the love interest is not as tender and stirring as the passages accompanying the mule in "Shelter in the Storm".)
Fortunately, the more stand-out moments in the rest of the score that feature, for instance, the patriotic main theme or the lonely wanderer theme, really make a positive impression, and the action music is solid as well. "The Restored United States" is a textbook example of cinematic music achievement, moving from theme to theme with flawless arrangement and powerfully conveying feelings of oppression opposite determination, tragedy versus triumph, tranquility and peace countering dreary desolation. With it and "The Postman", Howard finishes out the score masterfully.
The Postman really excels at achieving its particular mood of apocalyptic desolation with a twinge of hope. Howard's Waterworld score probably has a few more standout passages, perhaps due to its added diversity. But where The Postman exceeds Waterworld and most other scores is its ability to maintain its consistent, prominent mood while hardly ever becoming boring or unenjoyable. "Abby Comes Calling" excluded, the score is entirely listenable throughout, and in many instances very rousing. So for listeners with a little patience, who appreciate the formula of ample mood music with well-placed, memorable climaxes, it's difficult to go wrong The Postman.