James Newton Howard is my favourite composer of all time, and he has really produced the goods in Water For Elephants, and I would love to see him get an Oscar nomination for it.
The soundtrack is all orchestral (with one exception that I will describe later), and it has JNH's style stamped all over it. As you would expect with JNH, the orchestral writing is of the highest quality, and the writing for piano and strings is particularly good. The pace of the album is fairly slow and there are no "action" tracks to speak of, although the pace does pick up slightly towards the end of the album. It has a much lighter first half, and the second half has a much darker feel to it, and you do feel like the music takes you on a journey of sorts (slightly cliché I know)!
The final track, "The Stampede/I'm Coming Home" is the highlight of the album by far. The writing for the brass section, strings and piano is sublime, and the album is probably worth the price for that track alone. That said, the entire soundtrack has an exceptional quality to it.
Some portions of the soundtrack did sound like it was inspired by Music from the Motion Picture The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
, particularly the theme introduced in the opening track "Did I Miss It?" and is reprised several times, so if you like that theme, it might be worth checking out that soundtrack as well.
I can't say I cared much for the tracks which sounded like they came from the 1930s (I think there are about 5 in total), however this is clearly a matter of personal taste.
Overall, I thought this release was fantastic. The quality of JNH's writing is absolutely superb, and the tracks where he utilises the piano with strings are absolutely beautiful. I found the older tracks to be somewhat of a distraction but I can appreciate why they were included. If you are a fan of JNH's previous soundtracks, this is saturated with his musical mannerisms and you would undoubtedly love this release. It works brilliantly as a stand alone listen, and if you liked it in the film, you really can't go wrong in buying this wonderful album.