Like the movie, the soundtrack is very unconventional. It mixes various musical styles, among them in the original score mostly orchestral and choral music, and electronics. It contains extremely beautiful and effective passages as well as unlistenable noise. If you skip the latter, and also the various Pop insertions, you get one of the most enjoyable and interesting scores ever. That said, on to some details.
In my opinion, the love theme is probably the most beautiful one ever composed for a film and in my opinion tops Nino Rota's Romeo and Juliet love theme. It is based on Des'rée's Kissing You (or the other way around?), masterfully rendered with piano and lush strings in the tracks “Kissing You” and “Balcony Scene”. These two tracks already justify buying this CD, but there is lot more to come.
“Morning Breaks” contains another variation of the piano/strings passages, “Slow Movement” (composed by Craig Armstrong) is a suite of pure string themes that are reminiscent of Michael Nyman because of their instrumentation and their “monotony”. Parts of that track seem to have been adapted by the German TV soap opera “Verbotene Liebe” as a recurring background theme (details).
There are choral passages, such as in “O Verona”, “Mercutio's Death”, and “Juliet's Requiem”, that will knock you off your shoes. At times it is most powerful and dramatic, or very melancholy. There are exciting “Mexican” brass cues like in “Gas Station” and very lyrical clarinet and oboe solos (“Introduction to Romeo”, “Fight Scene”), all backed with the choir, a carefully played electric guitar and/or strings. The “Death Scene” music is as accomplished and melancholy as the “Liebestod”, borrowed from Richard Wagner's Tristan and Isolde (which is based on the same plot as Romeo and Juliet, by the way).
Fans of the movie or the play might love the numerous dialog samples that occur throughout the album. The prologue is even contained twice, exactly like in the movie. This adds a lot to the atmosphere, but those who really only want to listen to the score might be disappointed. However, they have to work hard on their CD player anyway to skip some unlistenable passages. More recommendable: burn your own score-only compilation of this CD and cut what you do not like. It really pays off. This is also a chance to reduce the great dynamic range of the compilation a bit.
Thinking of Craig Armstrong's other scores (The Bone Collector, Plunkett & MacLeane, Best Laid Plans), which I have found lately to be of a style very similar to the R&J love theme, I suppose that his contribution to this joint effort might have been the biggest.
Subtract 2 if you detest dialog samples in a score. Subtract 1 if you are not willing to create your own enjoyable-score-only compilation.