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)