Soundtrack Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

IndianaJonesAndTheKingdomOfTheChrystalSkullSoundtrack2008.JPG

Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

Nearly two decades after Indiana Jones literally rode into the sunset with Last Crusade, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decided to revisit the franchise, a move with its fair share of controversy since Harrison Ford was noticeably much, much older. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has gotten mixed reviews, and is often cited as the worst movie in series. I have to agree that it’s the worst, but despite some serious flaws, especially its underwhelming last act, I think it’s an okay movie with some genuinely great scenes.

One of the most exciting aspects of Indiana Jones coming back was the return of John Williams, who at this point had just started to take it easier with his movie scoring schedule. As with his return to Star Wars, much time had elapsed since he scored Indiana Jones. Would his changed style of scoring affect how fun the score would be?

The main artifact theme, for the Crystal Skull, is virtually a reverse of the Ark of the Covenant theme. Instead of a series of descending three-note increments, it’s a repetition of ascending three notes, with a haunting melody to back it up. It’s not as powerful as the Ark theme, but it does manage to be very eerie, sometimes downright scary (check out “Oxley’s Dilemma”). There’s a great new theme for Irina Spalko and the Russian villains. “Irina’s Theme” is actually two themes in one. It’s not as militaristic as Williams’ themes for the Nazis in previous entries, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Irina’s theme is old school, while a secondary motif for the Russians in general is utilized in the action scenes.

Supposedly Shia Labeouf’s Mutt character has his own theme. There’s even a concert arrangement track called “The Adventures of Mutt”. I say this is “supposedly” a theme because in the film itself it only appears in “Jungle Chase” and the end credits suite. A lot of the music does fit the same style, a lot of light-hearted whirling and racing strings and woodwinds. The concert arrangement itself contains part of the Indiana Jones theme, suggesting a further link between him and the film’s main protagonist.

Several themes from the previous movies make their return, though these references are underrepresented on album. The most obvious is Marion’s theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is surprisingly underutilized despite her considerable presence in the film. One of the Grail themes from Last Crusade pops up a couple times, and the Ark theme makes two notable appearances in the opening sequence. As for the Indiana Jones theme itself, it is thankfully used frequently, but not to excess.

The album kicks off with “The Raiders March”, basically the end credits music from Raiders. Its presence is unfortunate. It seems to have been placed there for a nostalgia pop and just takes away space that could have been used for actual new music. Tracks 2 through 4 are concert arrangements of the new themes and motifs. “The Snake Pit” is the first of several light-hearted action cues. “The Spell of the Skull” starts off with the Ark of the Covenant theme and makes the first in-score reference to Irina’s theme. The rest of the track is tense suspense which isn’t terribly complex or thematic, but for some reason I really love it. “Journey to Akator” lifts part of Raiders’ “Escape from Peru” before delving into ethnic Latin American fare. “A Whirl Through Academe” is a scherzo from one of the film’s best scenes. “Return” is one of many tracks to focus heavily on the Crystal Skull theme.

“Jungle Chase” is the action highlight, reminiscent of “Desert Chase” and with plenty of references to the Irina and Mutt’s themes. “Grave Robbers” is an unusual foray into bone-rattling percussion, while tracks 13 through 15 feature dark exploration music. “Ants!” is a very interesting action cue, with a string march for a rather deadly swarm of ants backed by several of the themes. The beginning is notable for featuring string-plucking fragments of the Skull theme. “Temple Ruins and the Secret Revealed”, like the scene it accompanies, is rather underwhelming despite its simulation of an alien choir and a loud final reference to Irina’s theme. “The Departure” is much better, building up to a grand fanfare at its conclusion. “Finale” starts off with Marion’s theme before the Indiana Jones theme plays in full followed by an end credits suite.

The fourth Indiana Jones score is a good entry, though the weakest. It’s just as not as fun a ride as the other scores, perhaps because of the abundance of dark suspense and exploration. To be fair, this can be chalked up to the album’s presentation, which leaves out large chunks of the more energetic action music. The worst omission is the rest of “Jungle Chase”, which had more of Marion’s theme and an interesting use of the Russians motif. I say this album is worth looking up and even buying, but be warned, the magic of the other scores doesn’t come in that much.

Final Rating: (score) 8/10 (album) 7/10

Tracklisting

  1. Raiders March (5:05)
  2. Call of the Crystal (3:49)
  3. The Adventures of Mutt (3:12)
  4. Irina’s Theme (2:26)
  5. The Snake Pit (3:15)
  6. The Spell of the Skull (4:24)
  7. The Journey to Akator (3:07)
  8. A Whirl Through Academe (3:33)
  9. Return (3:11)
  10. The Jungle Chase (4:21)
  11. Orellana’s Cradle (4:22)
  12. Grave Robbers (2:28)
  13. Hidden Treasure and the City of Gold (5:13)
  14. Secret Doors and Scorpions (2:17)
  15. Oxley’s Dilemma (4:46)
  16. Ants! (4:14)
  17. Temple Ruins and the Secret Revealed (5:49)
  18. The Departure (2:26)

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)

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: 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: The Living Daylights

Composed and Conducted by: John Barry

When Roger Moore finally left the 007 series, a confusing search ensued for the new James Bond. Timothy Dalton was first chosen, but a television series he was working on prevented him from accepting the role. Pierce Brosnan was then hired, but the TV show he was on decided that he could attract viewers now that he had been announced as James Bond. By the time Brosnan was forced from the film, Timothy Dalton was easily available. The Living Daylights presented a more realistic and less comedic Bond, with less one-liners and no super-weapons. However, the villains are still out to cause global chaos, their plot being to start a world war through the Russian-Mujahidin War in Afghanistan.

This would end up being John Barry’s last 007 film, and it’s a fitting exit for him. This time there are no less than three songs that provide themes for the film. “The Living Daylights”, sung by the Swedish band a-ha, is a very exciting opener, trying to emulate the success of Duran Duran’s “View to a Kill”. I think I like Duran Duran’s song better, but this is still a cool piece. Although the main tune was provided by John Barry, he only uses it three times throughout the entire score, its most well known appearance being “Hercules Takes Off”.

The other two songs get much more play in the score. Barry ends up using the tunes from the other two songs, created in conjunction with the Pretenders and sung by Chrissie Hynde. “Where Has Everybody Gone?” is heard on the headphones of the assassin Necros during the film. This villainous song’s tune primarily serves both as a theme for henchman Necros, but in effect is just an awesome action theme. “In-Flight Fight” is its longest appearance. The tragic and longing “If There Was a Man” houses a pretty good love theme for the film’s Bond girl Kara, and plays over the end credits. It gets a pop version in “Into Vienna”.

James Bond’s theme appears much more than it did in A View to a Kill. In order to underscore Timothy Dalton’s somewhat darker and more realistic portrayal, Barry creates a hard-edged version of the theme using electronics in “Ice Chase” and “Exercise at Gibraltar”. This is one of my personal favorite versions of the James Bond theme, and it’s too bad Barry never returned to use it a little more.

Aside from its fantastic set of strong themes, Living Daylights has plenty of good tracks. “The Sniper Was a Woman” mixes romance and suspense well. “Mujahidin and Opium” is in the vein of Barry’s usual romantic fare, with a bit of desert percussion in the background towards the end. “Airbase and Jailbreak” starts off downbeat, but breaks into an awesomely heroic melody. “Afghanistan Plan” features Necros’ theme in a more subdued form while “Air Bond” is a soaring fanfare. The only underwhelming track is “Final Confrontation”, which starts off well with the James Bond theme, but dives into dull suspense.

The Living Daylights is simply one of the easiest and most exciting James Bond scores to listen to and competes for the spot of my number one favorite. It has a great collection of themes, plenty of exciting action, nice fanfares, and a kick-ass version of the James Bond theme. It’s nice to know that John Barry concluded his tenure on the series with such a great performance.

Rating: (score) 10/10 (original album) 8/10

Tracklisting

  1. Living Daylights (sung by a-ha) (4:16)
  2. Necros Attacks (2:04)
  3. The Sniper Was a Woman (2:30)
  4. Ice Chase (4:05)
  5. Kara Meets Bond (2:47)
  6. Koskov Escapes (2:33)
  7. Where Has Everybody Gone? (by the Pretenders) (3:37)
  8. Into Vienna (2:50)
  9. Hercules Takes Off (2:17)
  10. Mujahidin and Opium (3:13)
  11. In-Flight Fight (3:12)
  12. If There Was a Man (by the Pretenders) (2:54)
  13. Exercise at Gibraltar (6:22)
  14. Approaching Kara (2:21)
  15. Murder at the Fair (2:22)
  16. Assassin and Drugged (2:43)
  17. Airbase and Jailbreak (4:37)
  18. Afghanistan Plan (3:34)
  19. Air Bond (1:46)
  20. Final Confrontation (1:58)
  21. Alternate End Titles (3:20)