Soundtrack Review: Die Another Day

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

After a good start in 1995 with Goldeneye, the James Bond movies starring Pierce Brosnan would lose their steam in 2002’a Die Another Day. Released on the 40th anniversary of the franchise, it met with commercial success, but was panned by critics and most Bond fans for heightening the levels of camp and throwing in a lot of CGI. The lousiness of the critical reception caused the producers to create a serious reboot in Casino Royale.

Also receiving some criticism was the music. Despite his proven successes with “Surrender” and “The World is Not Enough”, David Arnold had no involvement with this flick’s opening number. One of the worst atrocities of the film is the opening song “Die Anther Day” performed by Madonna. It’s the worst song ever to grace the main titles of a Bond flick. It’s greatest sin is the lack of an actual melody to incorporate into the score, a bunch of repetitive electronics frequently interrupted by distortions. The lyrics themselves are heavily auto-tuned and pretty atrocious. The song appears to be about shutting down your body and denying sex, with a random utterance of “Sigmund Freud” that has no place in any Bond song. Making matters worse is that the album version runs about five minutes long. Amazingly, the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra managed to make a cool instrumental of this song, so check that out.

David Arnold would ignore Madonna’s music and indeed does provide his own film theme. In fact, you could hear where the words “Die Another Day” would fit in. This theme unfortunately gets sidelined, especially on the album where it only appears in four tracks: “Hovercraft Chase” (at the 1:47 mark), “Some Kind of Hero”, as romantic piano piece in “A Touch of Frost”, and “Whiteout”. Arnold relies much more heavily on the James Bond theme instead. Whether this was done at the director’s request or of his own volition, he breaks it out a little too often. It’s hard to make the James Bond theme sound bad, but it would be nice to hear more originality.

Also much more prevalent is the electronics, which are over-utilized in many parts of the score. There are purposeful distortions in “Hovercraft Chase” (nevertheless an engaging action cue) and almost random barrages of noise in “Laser Fight” and “Iced Inc.” This isn’t to say there should be no electronics. In fact, Arnold usually uses them well.

There are two notable new themes. One is a villainous fanfare for Gustav Graves, which even gets some choral treatment when his super solar ray goes into action (“Icarus”). Halle Berry’s Jinx Jordan gets a simple, but beautiful melody in “Jinx Jordan”. It sounds a bit sad, even though there’s nothing about her character that would warrant this.

The album opens with Madonna’s song and a techno version of James Bond’s theme by Oakenfold. The score opens with “On the Beach”, which kicks off with an overdone version of the Gunbarrel music and then unfortunately skips the first iteration of the film theme (“Surf’s Up” on the complete promo score) to get into the James Bond theme. Graves’ theme also appears for the first time, as well as some Eastern music for the Korean villains. After “Hovercraft Chase” is “Some Kind of Hero?” a wonderfully tragic track which underscore how low of a state Bond is in after the opening credits. “Welcome to Cuba” stands out for its full-blown ethnic music.

Tracks 7-8 showcase Jinx Jordan’s theme while “A Touch of Frost” intersperses electronic stealth music with iterations of the film theme on piano. “Icarus” mixes choir with the villain’s theme while Laser Fight” presents electronic action. “Whiteout” is a big chase cue, with grand statements of the film and Bond themes and even a chanting choir at one point. “Iced Inc.” is the weakest Arnold track, about three minutes of electronic noise with loud jazzy horns intruding every now and then.

“Antonov” is the big action finale. The track actually opens up with some emotion, backed by Asian instruments. After some villainous music, the four-note motif suspense motif from The World is Not Enough’s “Submarine” plays on piano for a while, interspersed with brief references to the different themes and some choir. Almost halfway through the action breaks out for good and as with “Submarine”, the James Bond theme doesn’t play fully until the end, making its appearance effective. It would be even more effective if it wasn’t used so liberally throughout the rest of the score. “Going Down Together” is a reworking of Jinx Jordan’s theme that is heavily reminiscent of the previous film’s “Christmas in Turkey”.

A complete promotional score found its way on bootleg, and this music is easily available on Youtube. There are further statements of the main film theme in “Surf’s Up”, “Sword Fight”, and the end of “Ice Palace Car Chase”. “Kiss of Life” is notable for starting off very somberly, then after one long, ascending note going into yet another iteration of the James Bond theme.

Despite what many soundtrack reviewers say, I don’t Die Another Day to be a bad listen. I do think Arnold could have cut down on the electronics and worked more on his new themes instead of constantly inserting the James Bond theme. If you take out Madonna’s awful song, it’s an entertaining listen with some genuinely great moments. However, I do have to take points off for some of its technical failings.

Rating: 6/10

  1. Die Another Day (sung by Madonna) (4:38)
  2. James Bond Theme (Bond vs. Oakenf0ld) (4:05)
  3. On the Beach (2:51)
  4. Hovercraft Chase (3:49)
  5. Some Kind of Hero? (4:32)
  6. Welcome to Cuba (2:07)
  7. Jinx Jordan (1:29)
  8. Jinx & James (2:04)
  9. A Touch of Frost (1:52)
  10. Icarus (1:23)
  11. Laser Fight (4:35)
  12. Whiteout (4:55)
  13. Iced Inc. (3:08)
  14. Antonov (11:52)
  15. Going Down Together (1:34)
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