Soundtrack Review: Spectre

Composed and Conducted by: Thomas Newman

Spectre, as the title suggests, reintroduced the evil organization led by the cat-stroking Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Daniel Craig’s performance as 007 is even better, but the film is a mixed bag. It’s great for the first two-thirds, but gets mired by an attempt to link all of the Craig films together, as well as tying his origins to Spectre’s creation by Blofeld, an unnecessary move that wastes time and adds nothing. It’s not a terrible film, just an underwhelming one.

With Sam Mendes staying on for this film, it was inevitable that Thomas Newman would return too, making him only the third recurring composer after John Barry and David Arnold. Unfortunately, entire passages of music are recycled from Skyfall, though the album does focus on the more original material. For the third time the title song is not included on the soundtrack! This time it’s Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall”, which has good lyrics and fantastic music. Its main downfall is Smith’s singing voice, which gets way too high-pitched at points like he’s been kicked in the balls. Also, as with Adele’s “Skyfall”, Newman only uses the song once in his score, in an instrumental version that doesn’t even make full use of the melody. Perhaps there were production issues as with Skyfall that hindered him from utilizing it more.

The score itself starts off strong with “Los Muertos Vivos Estan”, a nice blend of the James Bond theme and percussion by Tambuco. Another early track, “Donna Lucia”, has some good romance material. But the album as a whole goes downhill from there. Newman’s score for Skyfall, while emphasizing atmosphere, had plenty of energy, interesting uses of the Bond theme, and even a few cues that sounded Bondish. The score here often seems to meander, focused on dreary atmosphere for long sections and much of the action material, especially from the film’s last act, being bland.

There is a more obvious use of motifs. The Bond’s Past theme from Newman’s other offering is given much more prominence, this time being used more generally. There’s  another theme for Bond, consisting of two-note increments of piano which gets consistent play as well. Madeleine has her own theme as well (in the track of the same name). It’s decent enough, though it doesn’t hold a candle to what Barry or Arnold would produce. The other motifs take a couple listens to recognize and aren’t memorable. They can often be confused with filler underscore. That’s the problem with the music for Spectre. Most of it isn’t memorable and passes by without the listener noticing. It can’t sustain its album length, which falls maybe twenty to thirty seconds short of filling out an entire CD.

There are decent, even good moments on this soundtrack, and Thomas Newman is a very talented composer. But it didn’t entertain me or sustain my interest, and it’s far too outside the musical style of the franchise and is emblematic of many of today’s bland action scores.

Rating: 4/10

Tracklisting

  1. Los Muertos Vivos Estan (with Tambuco) (2:48)
  2. Vauxhall Bridge (2:19)
  3. The Eternal City (4:34)
  4. Donna Lucia (2:03)
  5. A Place Without Mercy (1:04)
  6. Backfire (4:54)
  7. Crows Klinik (1:41)
  8. The Pale King (2:55)
  9. Madeleine (2:58)
  10. Kite in a Hurricane (2:09)
  11. Snow Plane (5:24)
  12. L’Americain (1:42)
  13. Secret Room (5:22)
  14. Hinx (1:21)
  15. Writing’s on the Wall – Instrumental (2:09)
  16. Silver Wraith (2:15)
  17. A Reunion (5:36)
  18. Day of the Dead (with Tambuco) (1:26)
  19. Tempus Fugit (1:21)
  20. Safe House (3:55)
  21. Blindfold (1:28)
  22. Careless (4:39)
  23. Detonation (3:53)
  24. Westminster Bridge (4:14)
  25. Out of Bullets (1:51)
  26. Spectre (5:36)
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Soundtrack Review: Skyfall

Composed and Conducted by: Thomas Newman

The 50th anniversary for the James Bond film was marked by Skyfall, a rather good film that successfully meshed some of the old school tropes of the franchise with more recent sensibilities. It’s probably the most artistic entry in the franchise, especially when it comes to the lighting work. As it’s a Sam Mendes film, David Arnold was replaced by Mendes’ choice composer, Thomas Newman, a move which irked a few fans who had really been enjoying Arnold’s run.

Skyfall’s soundtrack has its fair share of difficulties regarding the song of the same name by Adele. First of all, it’s not on the actual soundtrack thanks to contractual issues, as was the case with “You Know My Name” from Casino Royale. Also, it was not completed in time for Newman to incorporate it into his score, which is a real shame because it’s one of the best songs, and features a strong, powerful tune. Newman did hold off on scoring one scene, just so there could be at least one reference. The track is “Komodo Dragon”, which plays the theme wonderfully before some atmospheric material and some Asian string music. It’s one of the best tracks and shows what could have been if there was more coordination in the music department.

Since the score is by Thomas Newman, it’s very atmospheric, quite a shift tonally for James Bond. He doesn’t jettison the style completely. The aforementioned “Komodo Dragon” and “Chimera” have the customary fanfares, and the itunes exclusive “Old Dog, New Tricks” sounds like it would fit in well with some of John Barry’s earlier scores with its lounge-style. The Bond theme itself is featured heavily, often in small snippets. Newman’s most notable use of the theme is the rhythmic string variation from the film’s climatic action (“She’s Mine”). It sounds like many current action scores, the one that pops to mind being the theme from Batman Begins.

Newman’s greatest weakness is a lack of themes. There are only two recurring ones I can distinguish on album besides the James Bond theme and some of the repeated action rhythms. The first is a sad little motif for Severine. The second is an eerie, atmospheric theme for Bond’s past (“Skyfall”, end of “Deep Water”), which is used much more frequently in the subsequent film Spectre.

There are nice tunes, just not actual themes. “New Digs” is an uplifting back-to-duty piece. “Chimera” has a loud fanfare at its start. “Mother” has a noble motif that does make a return in Spectre. One cool piece is “Shanghai Drive”, an electronic/percussion track that gets a variation in “Adrenaline”.

How much one likes the action music can determine how much one likes the score, as it takes up a lot of space. It does sound at times like Newman composed a really long action cue and then edited the pieces around to fit the scenes. Several tracks can’t really be told apart from each other without many listens. “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul” is one of the better tracks in this area. Since the Gunbarrel sequence was reserved for the end credits again, Newman takes the first two notes and places the right at the beginning to compensate. After some nondescript suspense music a raucous piece on electronic guitar and North African percussion ensues before a the James Bond theme makes it first sizeable appearance. “Bloody Shot” completes this cue, though it’s moved far later on the album.

How does Thomas Newman compare to David Arnold? He certainly lacks in the thematic department and his music is much more simple in construction, but it’s mostly enjoyable. The atmospheric material is good and I do like how Newman found a new way to use the James Bond theme. Maybe I just like the score a lot because I love the movie and it helps me relive it. I’ll give this one a good, but not great rating.

Rating: 7/10

Tracklisting

  1. Grand Bazaar, Istanbul (5:16)
  2. Voluntary Retirement (2:22)
  3. New Digs (2:32)
  4. Severine (1:20)
  5. Brave New World (1:50)
  6. Shanghai Drive (1:26)
  7. Jellyfish (3:22)
  8. Silhouette (0:56)
  9. Modigliani (1:05)
  10. Day Wasted (1:31)
  11. Quartermaster (4:58)
  12. Someone Usually Dies (2:29)
  13. Komodo Dragon (3:21)
  14. The Bloody Shot (4:46)
  15. Enjoying Death (1:13)
  16. The Chimera (1:58)
  17. Close Shave (1:32)
  18. Health & Safety (1:31)
  19. Granborough Road (2:34)
  20. Tennyson (2:14)
  21. Enquiry (2:50)
  22. Breadcrumbs (2:02)
  23. Skyfall (2:34)
  24. Kill Them First (2:22)
  25. Welcome to Scotland (3:21)
  26. She’s Mine (3:53)
  27. The Moors (2:40)
  28. Deep Water (5:11)
  29. Mother (1:41)
  30. Adrenaline (2:21)

Soundtrack Review: Quantum of Solace

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

 

Following the successfully realistic take on James Bond in Casino Royale, Ian Craig found himself the star of a rejuvenated series. Quantum of Solace serves as a second half to Bond’s origin story and continues the grittier style of its predecessor. It’s possibly my least favorite film in the series, enslaved by modern action film conventions, the worst being the shaky cam which makes the action scenes unwatchable. The plot and the villains are uninspiring as well. There’s little to no memorability to the whole film.

 

Scoring Bond for the fifth time, David Arnold faced a similar obstacle when once again, as with Die Another Day, the title song was created without any input from him. “Another Way to Die” is a duet by Alicia Keys and Jack White. It’s a so-so song, and I personally don’t find it as horrible as nearly everyone else seems to believe. Unlike Madonna’s song from Die Another Day, there is at least some melody, but it features some un-Bondish wailing and voices that come across as a tad whiny at times. That being said, David Arnold does use pieces of it in his score, most notably towards the end of “Greene and Camille”, and the brief, but sexy “Field Trip”. However, while using bits of the song, Arnold also has his own six-note main theme (derived from the opening of a proposed song he made with none other than Shirley Bassey), a short piece introduced towards the end of “Time to Get Out”. As a result, his score has plenty of themes, but is not quite cohesive.

Most of the new themes are on the short and simple side, which does make them easy to insert. The main six-note theme is heard most clearly in “Talamone” and the beginning of “I Never Left”. Camille, the female lead, gets a simplistic ethnic woodwind motif. The theme for Quantum, the new evil organization which in a later film would be revealed as a wing of Spectre, has a mysterious quality. Its best appearance is “A Night at the Opera”, which can get a bit ethereal at times. It’s the best piece of score from one of the film’s few good scenes. There are several other motifs, but I won’t go into detail on them.

The James Bond theme is referenced frequently, but curiously never really gets an all-out playing. Perhaps David Arnold was pleased with how restrained he was with Casino Royale. One or two more full-on versions would have been welcome. Vesper’s theme actually returns for several tracks, once again on piano in “What’s Keeping You Awake” and “Camille’s Story”, and on strings in “Forgive Yourself”.

The action cues are competent, but none of them really reach the heights of Casino Royale’s “African Rundown” or “Miami International”. They also seem to get weaker as the album continues. The pre-title opener, “Time to Get Out”, is the strongest. It features an ominous build-up which enters into James Bond’s theme and a short action motif. The end is a statement of the six-note theme and a calm rendition of Bond’s theme.

“The Palio” is another exciting track and climaxes with the action motif from “Time to Get Out”. “Pursuit at Port au Prince” has the most electronics of the action cues, although the first half is mainly low underscore. It has a pretty cool ending where no less than three of the themes play one after another. “Target Terminated” has only one highlight, a bombastic version of the Quantum theme. Just like the finale it accompanies, “Perla De Las Dunas” is a major disappointment, featuring generic action bombast, though the second half with Camille’s dark woodwind theme and a few triumphant bars of the James Bond theme is pretty neat.

Quantum of Solace is a very solid score, but not as entertaining as Arnold’s other work in the series. The James Bond theme is a little underused and the only new theme that’s really strong is Quantum’s. David Arnold’s scores seem to do better when he’s able to work on the title song (or in Tomorrow Never Dies’ case, the end credits). Overall, it’s a good, competent score hampered by a paucity of full-fledged themes.

 

Rating: 7/10

 

Tracklisting

  1. Time to Get Out (3:28)
  2. The Palio (4:59)
  3. Inside Man (0:38)
  4. Bond in Haiti (0:35)
  5. Somebody Wants to Kill You (2:17)
  6. Greene and Camille (2 :13)
  7. Pursuit at Port Au Prince (5:58)
  8. No Interest in Dominic Greene (2:44)
  9. Night at the Opera (3:02)
  10. Restrict Bond’s Movements (1:31)
  11. Talamone (0:34)
  12. What’s Keeping You Awake (1:40)
  13. Bolivian Taxi Ride (0:49)
  14. Field Trip (0:41)
  15. Forgive Yourself (2:26)
  16. DC3 (1:15)
  17. Target Terminated (3:53)
  18. Camille’s Story (3:58)
  19. Oil Fields (2:29)
  20. Have You Ever Killed Someone? (1:32)
  21. Perla De Las Dunas (8:07)
  22. The Dead Don’t Care About Vengeance (1:14)
  23. I Never Left (0:41)
  24. Another Way to Die (sung by Alicia Keyes & Jack White) (4:23)

Soundtrack Review: Casino Royale

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

After numerous complaints from James Bond fans regarding Die Another Day, the producers spent a couple extra years on the next film, ultimately deciding to go with a reboot that toned down the camp elements. Martin Campbell, director of the well-loved Goldeneye, came on to create this more realistic take on 007. Pierce Brosnan’s suave character was replaced with a more hard-edged and less quippy performance by Daniel Craig. Casino Royale is probably my favorite James Bond movie. I didn’t think I could ever be so engrossed by watching people play cards.

Coming over from the Brosnan years was David Arnold. His score for Casino Royale proves to be noticeably different from his previous scores, especially Die Another Day. For the third time he was allowed to help create the title song, and the result is one of the best Bond songs yet, and my favorite. Sung by Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” is relentlessly energetic with awesome bad-ass lyrics. Unlike most of the previous songs, it doesn’t talk about romance or sleaze, but focuses on the dangerous life of a secret agent. Unfortunately, some legal issues prevented this wonderful piece of music from getting on album, and its absence is very frustrating since the CD now lacks its appropriate opener.

In large contrast to Arnold’s previous efforts is the understated usage of the James Bond theme. Aside from the ending, it makes its best and boldest appearance in “Blunt Instrument” before the main theme comes on again. Its other appearances are mostly easy to miss if not listened to carefully, with a few bars playing under the main theme or in the midst of long suspenseful passages. The James Bond theme is much more noticeable in “Dinner Jackets” (played a bit humorously and in conjunction with the main theme) and “A House Falls in Venice” (where Arnold puts in the obligatory statement for the final action scene’s conclusion). Only in the last track does the James Bond theme play in full swing. It’s similar o the Dr. No version, and a very satisfying conclusion.

With the James Bond theme’s role reduced, Arnold relies on the melodies from “You Know My Name”, which are liberally applied. The first appearance within the score itself is at the end of “Miami International”, prefaced by a rocking iteration of part of the Bond theme. “I’m the Money” is a simple thirty-second statement, while “Aston Montenegro” features my favorite incorporation of “You Know My Name”, a one-minute cue that builds into a grand statement.

The last major theme is a tender piano piece for Bond girl Vesper. This is one of my favorite Bond love themes and should be easy to spot for listeners. It sounds a little sad, but this makes it great in the final tragic cues (the titles are spoilers, but oh well). There is an extension that appears in the more romantic moments, first in “Vesper” and more sweepingly in “City of Lovers”. The ill-fated secondary Bond girl Solange also gets her own theme (“Solange”), which is simpler, but has an air of mystery about it.

Perhaps to make up for the absence of Cornell’s song, the album producers stuffed the CD with around seventy-five minutes of music. While the more energetic and bombastic scores from the Brosnan eras certainly keep me entertained for over an hour, Casino Royale sometimes slows down too much thanks to an abundance of suspenseful underscore. The card game cues, while sometimes having interestingly subtle methods of inserting the various themes (such as a few piano notes for Vesper in “The Tell”, can be a real chore to sit through. The action does deliver. “African Rundown” gives the album an abrupt start, but is a thrilling near-seven-minute chase cue which escalates at the end. Tn there is “Miami International”, which clocks in at an over whopping twelve minutes. It starts off with a dramatic statement of the main theme and stays suspenseful for the first couple minutes, with Solange’s theme appearing about the 3:30 mark. After escalating tension and grand fanfare at 6:52, it becomes a relentless piece with numerous references to “You Know My Name”. “Stairwell Fight” returns the four-note villainy/suspense motif from the Brosnan era. “The Switch” suffers a little from too little references to any of the themes, while “A House Fall in Venice” is a short, but great final action piece with one of the rhythms of the James Bond theme triumphing at the end, only to be cut off by a few harsh notes.

Casino Royale is a great score, though the album situation is troubling. You might want to get create your own listening experience, dropping some of the darker underscore and putting “You Know My Name” at the beginning. That song’s strong tune really makes up for the secondary use of the James Bond theme. Otherwise it’s probably David Arnold’s most well-though out and intelligent score, if not the most enjoyable.

Rating: 8/10

  1. African Rundown (6:52)
  2. Nothing Sinister (1:27)
  3. Unauthorized Access (1:08)
  4. Blunt Instrument (2:22)
  5. CCTV (1:30)
  6. Solange (0:59)
  7. Trip Aces (2:06)
  8. Miami International (12:43)
  9. I’m the Money (0:27)
  10. Aston Montenegro (1:03)
  11. Dinner Jackets (1:52)
  12. The Tell (3:23)
  13. Stairwell Fight (4:12)
  14. Vesper (1:44)
  15. Bon Loses it All (3:56)
  16. Dirty Martini (3:49)
  17. Bond Wins it All (4:32)
  18. The End of an Aston Martin (1:30)
  19. The Bad Die Young (1:18)
  20. City of Lovers (3:30)
  21. The Switch (5:07)
  22. Fall of a House in Venice (1:53)
  23. Death of Vesper (2:50)
  24. The Bitch is Dead (1:05)
  25. The Name’s Bond…James Bond (2:49)

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)

Soundtrack Review: Tomorrow Never Dies

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

After the critical failure of Eric Serra’s Goldeneye score, the producers brought in David Arnold, who had just released his James Bond tribute Shaken Not Stirred, a collection of title songs and a few instrumentals redone by artists (regrettably this was in the 90s). John Barry was impressed with some of the reorchestrations Arnold did for the songs and recommended him. This turned out to a popular choice with Bond fans, and Arnold has the second most Bond scores under his belt.

David Arnold has been lauded for his ability to pay homage to John Barry while having his own style. Tomorrow Never Dies is singled out for its successful merging of orchestral and electronic elements. Arnold has received criticism for scoring most of the action cues with loud, multi-layered music, whereas most previous composers would take a more restrained approach, often leaving scenes unscored so that the sound effects could take over or to build suspense. This criticism of Arnold is true to a point. Some of the more basic fist fights could do with less noise instead of being scored to sound like climatic battles. But at least his music is highly enjoyable.

David Arnold also received criticism during the Brosnan years for his heavy use of the James Bond theme. Tomorrow Never Dies needed that theme, though, after Eric Serra almost ignored it in his work for Goldeneye. Plus Arnold never runs out of ways to use the theme. If he uses it to copious amounts, he at least provides a healthy dose of his own original themes and motifs. In addition to using the James Bond theme more heavily, he also uses From Russia with Love’s opening title motif, first in “White Knight” and then in a heroic burst in “Tricky Spot for 007”.

The album and title song situation for Tomorrow Never Dies was a mirror of what happened with Thunderball 25 years earlier, though the problems would be quickly rectified. Thanks to post-production issues, Arnold only had up to two-thirds of his score ready for the album release. Thankfully, fan demand would see a second album release several years later focused just on the score and containing all the highlights from the film’s last act.

Also as with John Barry and Thunderball, Arnold’s preferred song would be denied its presence over the opening titles. Instead, a contest of submitted songs would see Sheryl Crow get the honor. K.D. Lang’s song, which contains some of Arnold’s themes, would get to play in the ending credits. Crow’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” is not bad, even though it’s really hard to hear half of what she’s singing. There’s not as strong a melody and none of it is utilized in the score.

“Surrender”, on the other hand, provides three themes. The bombastic opening notes, in the vein of Goldfinger, serve as a secondary James Bond motif that is frequently paired with the James Bond theme. The tune for the verse is the film’s main theme and first appears towards the climax of “White Knight”. Aside from serving in the action cues, it can also be suspenseful (“Doctor Kaufmann”) and romantic (“Kowloon Bay”). In other words, it’s a perfect main title theme. The last theme is from the chorus and is most associated with Chinese agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). Since Yeoh’s character doesn’t appear much until the second half, this theme only appears briefly on the original album at the end of “Station Break”. It starts to take a more active role with “Helicopter Ride” and graces the climax of “All in a Day’s Work”.

Even outside of “Surrender” there are plenty of new themes. Bond girl Paris has her own love theme (“Paris and Bond”). The villains have their own theme as well. Unlike other Bond composers, Arnold is more consistent with providing themes for the villains. Carver’s theme has its first full appearance at the conclusion of “Sinking of the Devonshire”. It usually appears in a more subdued fashion, ironic for one of the more over-the-top baddies of the franchise. There’s a repeating, descending four-note motif in “Underwater Discovery” (and with a couple other brief references). It would crop up more often and less subtly as a suspense/action theme in Arnold’s later offerings. There is a tiny military motif that’s only represented on album at the end of “Tricky Spot for 007” and a somber motif for the Devonshire towards the end of “Sinking of the Devonshire” and in “Underwater Discovery”.

The first track from the score on the original album is the pre-titles “White Knight”. Arnold opts to score the Gunbarrel differently, starting with the rhythm rather than the opening fanfare. Right off the bat, listeners can tell this score will be big and bombastic, with plenty of references to the James Bond theme and the secondary Bond motif from “Surrender”. “Sinking of the Devonshire” takes a while to get going, but is nevertheless a strong track. It oddly features a few seconds of choir starting at the 5:04 mark. The choir never gets used again, which means he had to hire a few vocalists just for this tiny bit. It does help represent the tragedy befalling the British sailors.

Contrasting heavily with the somber and villainous music is “Company Car”, an awesome version of the James Bond theme infused with the secondary Bond motif. It’s all jazzy buildup until the last few, big brassy seconds. Things get quieter with “Paris and Bond” and “The Last Goodbye”. “Hamburg Break In” and “Hamburg Break Out” display a great handling of techno elements, never growing obnoxious and staying in the Bond style. “Doctor Kaufmann” is a neat piece, with its repeating four-note motif and truncated variation of the movie theme. “Backseat Driver” is an awesome techno track, with an assist from Propellerheads (There are at least three backseat driver jokes in this movie. Maybe the writer was dealing with some annoying children). It served as the action climax on the original album since the actual climax was not yet available. Ending the original album is a techno remix of the James Bond theme by Moby, with a couple film quotes from Tomorrow Never Dies and Goldfinger inserted.

The second album features all the score tracks from the original save “Station Break”. The new material starts with “Helicopter Ride”, a heavily techno-laden version of Wai Lin’s theme. “Bike Chase” is a lengthy chase cue with the usually heavy dosage of the James Bond theme. “Bike Shop Fight” starts with some East Asian instrumentation before a piano variation of Wai Lin’s theme and some more action music. “Kowloon Bay” is a romantic track featuring the main film theme and bits of Wai Lin’s theme. “Boarding the Stealth” is another action track, this one more restrained in references to the main themes. “Tricky Spot for 007” is mainly Carver’s theme before the James Bond theme triumphantly makes an appearance. “All in a Day’s Work” is a pounding finale, where halfway through the Bond theme breaks free. It ends with the best version of Wai Lin’s theme, an awesome finale for a great score.

Tomorrow Never Dies remains David Arnold’s best Bond score to date. It liberally uses the James Bond theme, but features plenty of its own great original themes. If you want the action side of James Bond music, this is the score to check out. It’s fun with nary a dull moment. This was a great revival for the franchise’s music after Serra’s unconventional and for many unlistenable Goldeneye. The only severe problem comes from the way the music was released. One would have to get his hands on both albums and put together all the tracks to get a full and complete listening experience (if you want to create a CD at least one track would have to be excised. I would recommend Moby’s remix). On another note, some of the DVD releases have the complete score, making it easy for people to rip it and place it online, so every bit of music can be found.

Rating: (score) 10/10 (original album) 6/10 (score-only album) 8/10

Tracklistings

Original Album

  1. Tomorrow Never Dies (performed by Sheryl Crow) (4:51)
  2. White Knight (8:30)
  3. Sinking of the Devonshire (7:07)
  4. Company Car (3:08)
  5. Station Break (3:30)
  6. Paris and Bond (1:55)
  7. The Last Goodbye (1:34)
  8. Hamburg Break In (2:52)
  9. Hamburg Break Out (1:26)
  10. Doctor Kauffman (2:26)
  11. 3-Send (1:17)
  12. Underwater Discovery (3:37)
  13. Backseat Driver (co-performed with Propellerheads) (4:37)
  14. Surrender (performed by K.D. Lang) (3:57)
  15. James Bond Theme by Moby (3:12)

 

Expanded Album

  1. White Knight (8:30)
  2. Sinking of the Devonshire (7:07)
  3. Company Car (3:08)
  4. Paris and Bond (1:55)
  5. The Last Goodbye (1:34)
  6. Hamburg Break In (2:52)
  7. Hamburg Break Out (1:26)
  8. Doctor Kauffman (2:26)
  9. 3-Send (1:17)
  10. Backseat Driver (co-performed with Propellerheads) (4:37)
  11. Underwater Discovery (3:37)
  12. Helicopter Ride (1:34)
  13. Bike Chase (6:44)
  14. Bike Shop (2:42)
  15. Kowloon Bay (2:27)
  16. Boarding the Stealth (4:38)
  17. Tricky Spot for 007 (2:48)
  18. All in a Day’s Work (5:09)
  19. Interview with David Arnold (11:02)

Soundtrack Review: Goldeneye

Composed by: Eric Serra

Conducted by: Erica Serra & John Altman

After a six-year hiatus, the James Bond franchise was revived with Pierce Brosnan in the lead role. Goldeneye centers on radical Russians plotting to use an orbiting pulse weapon for their own evil ends, with James Bond trying to stop them. It was a tremendous hit, and spawned one of the few successful video game spin-offs. John Barry declined to return, and French song-writer and musician Eric Serra took over.

This is one of the most infamous movie scores in history, mainly because it’s a James Bond score. Almost entirely gone are the lush romantic themes and the orchestral style associated with the series. Instead there are a lot of electronics, with odd choral bursts and a cold, mechanical gong which admittedly sounds pretty cool. While failing to fit in with the James Bond franchise, this style of music does convey the atmosphere of a collapsed Soviet Union. There is an orchestra that is used, but not very often and never to the depth of John Barry or David Arnold.

While the score has been a source of controversy, most agree that Tina Turner’s opening number “Goldeneye” is great. It’s a catchy, sexy song with small hints of the James Bond theme. The opening notes have received much praise and there has been great lament that it they were never utilized by Serra in his score (no references to the entire song, really). David Arnold corrected this, using the notes in Tomorrow Never Dies’ “Hamburg Breakout”. There’s little in the way of themes at all. Much of the music ties together stylistically, but aside from the rare reference to the James Bond theme there’s a string suspense motif that first appears around the 4:15 mark in “We Share the Same Passions”. It’s effective for the film’s atmosphere, but is very pedestrian. The same track also has its own love theme which is okay. Much better is Natalya’s theme, which first appears bookending “Severnaya Suite” and later in “That’s What Keeps You Alone” and “Forever, James”.

The score kicks off with “Goldeneye Overture”, which sets the tone with its mechanistic percussion, dark electronics, and bursts of Russian-sounding choir. It’s one of the two tracks on album to feature the James Bond theme (albeit only parts of it), and even weaves in the opening of the Goldfinger theme. It’s not too bad a track, actually pretty cool. The James Bond theme appears more fully in “A Pleasant Drive Through St. Petersburg”. It’s one of several cues replaced in the film, as producers were so irked by the lack of a traditional version of the James Bond theme they had another composer produce an entirely different piece with more obvious statements of said theme. Said piece appears on some of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s Bond compilations.

The rest of score is a mixed bag (I should also point out that many of the tracks are made up of several cues which are listed in the album’s booklet). “Ladies First” is the most obnoxious track, a bunch of rambling electronics. “We Share the Same Passions is simplistic romance cue that gets long-winded and boring. “A Little Surprise for You” is a take it or leave it cue. “Our Lady of St. Smolensk” is minute of escalating suspense featuring eastern choir. “Whispering Statues” starts with string music before a Russian choir takes over for a few seconds. After more Goldeneye gongs Serra plays some anonymous piano music which sounds too tragic for what’s happening on screen. “Run, Shoot, and Jump” is the closest to a full on orchestral action track and was edited into several parts of the final battle.

“Your Fatal Weakness” is chilling in its slow train-like dirge. “Dish Out of Water” starts off a bit dream-like before going into electronic percussion, concluding with two statements of an effective menacing motif. “The Scale to Hell” actually features two cues that were replaced in the film. The first, “Boris’ Lethal Pen”, is a building suspense cue that was probably taken out because of its annoying electric strikes. The second, “I Am Invincible” has bits of “Goldeneye Overture” and was supposed to play as Bond rushes to save the day towards the end. At the end is a love song written by Eric Serra himself which is both pretty bad and really long, clocking in at about six minutes.

I have trouble rating this score. I think because I like the movie and some of the instrumentation sounds cool and different I don’t have the dislike that other Bond fans have, but I have to admit that it was too radical a shift in musical styles, and some of the music is indeed bad. Those who love the movie are more likely to enjoy the music. I know my first listening could get a bit torturous at points.

 

Rating: 4/10

 

  1. Goldeneye (performed by Tina Turner) (4:46)
  2. Goldeneye Overture (4:24)
  3. Ladies First (2:44)
  4. We Share the Same Passions (4:46)
  5. A Little Surprise for You (2:02)
  6. Severnaya Suite (2:07)
  7. Our Lady of St. Molensk (1:01)
  8. Whispering Statues (3:26)
  9. Run, Shoot, and Jump (1:05)
  10. A Pleasant Drive Through St. Petersburg (4:28)
  11. Your Fatal Weakness (4:43)
  12. That’s What Keeps You Alone (3:17)
  13. Dish Out of Water (3:57)
  14. The Scale to Hell (3:43)
  15. Forever, James (2:01)
  16. The Experience of Love (written by Eric Serra) (5:57)