Read Patrol’s review of Quantum of Solace here.
AFTER BOTH the Bond stories and music were given a revamp in Casino Royale, it became apparent that the new compositions would become the musical face of James Bond. David Arnold’s Bond scores prior to Casino Royale were met with mixed reviews, while Casino Royale was almost unanimously applauded as a much-needed change of pace from what some thought had become hardly more than a jumble of musical cliches trying to hark back to John Barry’s glory days as the franchise’s composer. For Casino Royale, Arnold would take a much more modern, Bourne-esque approach, and while some have accused both it and Quantum of Solace as being nothing more than spin-offs of Powell’s work for that series, the merging of the modern gritty with the classic Bond ‘cool’ is certainly a musical landscape worth exploring. On any Bond score, the song is very important and often also somewhat controversial. Such was the case with “You Know My Name”, from Casino Royale. As was the case with the score, Arnold took the song in a new direction: less soulful and more rock.
The way it was used throughout the score, however, is usually considered exemplary, and establishes a strong thematic identity. But if some listeners were cautious about the new song approach taken then, they can now be outraged. “Another Way to Die”, the first ever duet used as a Bond title song, has tried its hardest to break new ground and explore new territory. White Stripe man-half Jack White joins his dark, gritty guitars and vocals to the much more soulful style of Alicia Keys, and the result … interesting. While I don’t hate the song like some do, I think the greatest problem is that David Arnold was not allowed to help in its production. The song’s almost promising musical aspects are left un-explored, and the score lacks a certain identifiability on its account.
Except for that little issue, the score performs magnificently. Arnold has begun to use the Bond theme a little more freely, and, while still always restrained, it is given much more space to breath in this installment. “Time To Get Out” opens the album with a bang, and showcases some impressively frantic combinations of orchestral and electronic textures. “Pursuit At Port Au Prince” is probably my favorite track on the album. Energetic and often loud, it never loses interest or reverts to cliche musical “chase” elements. Toward the end we are also treated to an excellent rendition of the Bond theme. “Night at the Opera” does a rare and wonderful job of making suspense music listenable. Both “Restrict Bond’s Movements” and “Target Terminated” showcase excellent chase/fight music, and “Perla De Las Dunes” is an impressive culmination of the action.
The quiet moments are much more meaningful compared to Casino Royale, keeping the listener’s interest throughout the entire album. Vesper’s theme reappears, featured most prominently on “What’s Keeping You Awake”, “Camille’s Story,” and the second half of “Forgive Yourself.” This falling piano melody is understated and subtle, but can also be quite gripping in its simplicity. For some reason, I like it far more the way it’s used in Quantum of Solace than Casino Royale, and it gives the quiet cues musical purpose and focus. Perhaps the piano’s reverb goes overboard on the side of sentimentality, but that doesn’t alter the effect—gripping tragedy, reconciled to itself. Arnold has done it again, producing a work superior even to the commendable Casino Royale
While the lack of a song identity for this score is inexcusable given the fact that Arnold worked on “You Know My Name” and succeeded wonderfully, he has still been able to rise above this handicap and create a consistently engaging listening experience. The musical future is bright for Bond, if this release is any indicator, and I eagerly await anything else Arnold my have in store for this franchise.
Colin Thomson is a writer in Sarasota, Florida.
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