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 Blofeld and Spectre’s creation, 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 just didn’t do it for me. I feel he gets way too high-pitched at points. 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. Continue reading


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 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. Continue reading

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 and quick cuts which make 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 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. Continue reading

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: The World is Not Enough

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

The World is Not Enough was generally well-liked. It has a pretty good storyline, very unique, but for some reason a good number of fans don’t care much for it. Thanks to the smashing success of his music for Tomorrow Never Dies, David Arnold returned. After a great score for the aforementioned film, David Arnold was officially the new musician for James Bond, and was the first after John Barry to actually get to a second outing.

This time Arnold was able to provide the opening title song, which of course shares its title with the movie. It’s a good song, and weaves in a bit of the James Bond theme at the end. Usually only three notes, the “not enough” portion of the song, is used frequently, with the following melody distinguishing its use in certain scenes. There’s a romantic version that soars in Snow Business” which regrettably was only available via David Arnold’s website instead of the actual album. It is present on piano in “Christmas in Turkey”. There’s an action variation that is introduced in “Come in, 007, Your Time is Up” and more notably in “Ice Bandits”.

As with Tomorrow Never Dies, Arnold provides a liberal amount of themes and motifs. Sophia Marceau’s character Elektra King warrants her own theme (“Elektra’s Theme”). It’s an appropriately sad piece that debuts in “M’s Confession” and shows up often. The song on the album’s last track, slow lounge number “Only Myself to Blame” by Scott Walker, actually has the theme towards its beginning. Walker’s song was originally going to play over the end credits, but was replaced by rendition of the James Bond theme with references to the main movie theme. It’s not a bad song, but it lacks the energy and drama of other Bond songs. The instrumental track that most reflects “Only Myself to Blame” is “Casino”, a rather relaxing cue.

There are a couple notable suspense/villain motifs. One is the repeating descending four-note motif introduced in Tomorrow Never Dies. It’s much more prominent in this score, though it doesn’t make its first appearance until “Going Down/The Bunker”. Its most sustained playing is in “Pipeline”. The other motif appears bombastically in “Caviar Factory” and “Submarine”.

David Arnold still liberally applies James Bond’s theme, but not to the level of Tomorrow Never Dies. It’s heavily noticeable, but the only tracks where it really takes over are “Come in, 007, Your Time is Up” and “Caviar Factory”. In many of the other tracks it will often just appear for a few seconds, for example the heroic statement when the action starts in “Going Down/The Bunker”.

The first two score tracks actually segue right into each other in a rather unnecessary move. Nevertheless they feature an invigorating chase cue with new variations of James Bond’s theme and the main title theme. It quickly becomes apparent that David Arnold has bulked up on the electronics, usually running under the orchestra and interjecting in various ways. This move has annoyed many film music fans and some of those who prefer John Barry’s music. I don’t find them too distracting, though I have to admit that most of the action cues would play just fine without them.

The main theme returns in a nice short electronic cue labeled “Access Denied” and later amidst wailing vocals and the Bond theme in the wonderful “Welcome to Baku”. The main theme receives a full action treatment in “Ice Bandits” (this track may have inspired the main menu music on the N64 game). “Body Double” is a neat three-minute stealth cue and is actually quite light-hearted. A couple of the tracks around this point, “Remember Pleasure and Torture Queen” descend into dark underscore, but sadly are a bit underwhelming. “Caviar Factory” starts off slow, but about a minute in explodes into very raucous piece, with a heavily electronized James Bond theme.

“Submarine” is the ten-minute climax and features several suspense motifs. It starts with a propulsive rhythm and the James Bond theme. It slows down with another rhythm before burst of action. After a middle portion that really conveys the perilous situation Bond finds himself in, there is a last act with furious action, climaxing triumphantly with the James Bond theme. By not outright stating James Bond’s theme until the last minute, Arnold makes its appearance effective. This is actually a common method in Arnold’s scores, where the last action cue will go through various moods until the James Bond theme triumphantly emerges at the end. Some people regard this lengthy cues as a bunch of noise, but I just love them. “Christmas in Turkey” delivers the main theme for one last time and the album closes out with the jazzy “Only Myself to Blame” which sounds very subdued a relaxing listen after the loud orchestral/techno score.

The World is Not Enough is nice change of pace from Tomorrow Never Dies. Ironically, despite thickening many of the action pieces with electronics, it’s a comparatively more subdued score (it still has plenty of noisy moments), with softer romantic themes, less lengthy versions of the James Bond theme, and more I the way of dark underscore. I think this is a tremendous work by David Arnold, but it doesn’t match the consistently entertaining Tomorrow Never Dies.

Rating: 8/10


  1. The World is Not Enough (performed by Garbage) (3:55)
  2. Show Me the Money (1:28)
  3. Come in, 007, Your Time is Up (5:19)
  4. Access Denied (1:33)
  5. M’s Confession (1:32)
  6. Welcome to Baku (1:41)
  7. Casino (2:55)
  8. Ice Bandits (3:52)
  9. Elektra’s Theme – The Bedroom (2:06)
  10. Body Double (3:00)
  11. Going Down/The Bunker (6:27)
  12. Pipeline (4:15)
  13. Remember Pleasure (2:45)
  14. Caviar Factory (6:01)
  15. Torture Queen (2:22)
  16. I Never Miss (3:32)
  17. Submarine (10:19)
  18. Christmas in Turkey (1:27)
  19. Only Myself to Blame (sung by Scott Walker) (3:37)

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)