Musings About Music In Film

Op-Ed: Bring Bond Back?

You may have noticed that our review for the score to the latest James Bond adventure, Spectre, is now up on the site. I didn't review it, I left it to Karol, but that wasn't the intention - what we meant to do was to write about it together and present it as a conversational piece. I couldn't do this for a couple of reasons, but it boiled down to me not being able to get into the score. I was also in a foul mood, so I thought it fair for Karol to look at it. I haven't listened to it in full yet, and it's had some pretty rotten reviews in the context of the film. I'm going to give it another go this weekend, but right now I'm listening to another Bond soundtrack that hasn't had much enthusiasm thrown it's way: Quantum of Solace. It's interesting how much ire the film on its own receives whenever it's mentioned, and how that multiplies in tens when the song - Jack White and Alicia Keys' 'Another Way To Die' - is mentioned.

The thing is, I love 'Another Way To Die'.

I think it's a wonderful song and I love the ballsy approach, perfect for Daniel Craig's Bond and the shake-up Quantum of Solace tried - and admittedly failed - to be. The score is quite good if a little heavy, and the film suffers from basically being a short story following on from the Vesper story in Casino Royale, as well as trying to set up something that was never really followed on. But it's Vertigo compared to what many people have said about Thomas Newman's score to Skyfall, and Spectre. I liked Skyfall a great deal, and while not all of it came off, I appreciated what it tried to do, which is bring something new to 007. But I'm not sure that's what other fans want.

With Skyfall there were a great deal of score enthusiasts who immediately rejected the score because it wasn't by David Arnold. A mainstay since 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies, Arnold was a consistent if not overly spectacular composer but shared something with other Bond fans: a deep love of John Barry. Arnold's scores are very much homages to Barry, some more successful than others, but try and stick to that beloved sound. But that may be the problem, especially as a pattern is emerging.

Because John Barry was *the* voice of the James Bond films, any other composer that came in was treated with disdain. George Martin? No wah-wah pedals please. Marvin Hamlisch? Bill Conti? We don't like disco here. Even Michael Kamen's Licence To Kill has few supporters, odd considering how revered he is in general. Now, this is not a slight on Barry, who was clearly a fantastic composer who brought something special to the Bond films, but it's the type of series that I think benefits from a changing of the guard. Looking back at the films, there was a set group of directors - Guy Hamilton, Lewis Gilbert, John Glen - and they made both excellent and dreadful Bond movies.

But they kept the same formula, to the point where a film like Licence To Kill was rejected by many because it was too down to earth, too real. The only real change that's happened over the years is the actor playing Bond, and the mark they've put on him. In the world of Bond, the formula is accepted as long as it's well-produced, and the same goes for the music. My question is, with all the composers out there, why are those who don't like Newman's approach asking for Arnold back?

There are so many possibilities. Michael Giacchino (who beautifully emulated Barry in The Incredibles) and Joe Kraemer (whose Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is one of the best action scores in years) are obvious choices. Danny Elfman, John Powell (who has contributed greatly to the modern action soundscape with the Bourne scores), Alexandre Desplat, even Trent Reznor (I can feel the evils on me now)?

In GoldenEye, Judi Dench's M calls Bond a 'misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the cold war' and he's not really come that far. Craig's performance has drawn plaudits because there is a knowing of that, and his blunt instrument style of Bond coupled with an "I don't give a fuck" attitude has made him a winner in the role. So surely he deserves a score that matches his refreshing take? Of course, it depends who the next director is; Newman is Sam Mendes' composer of choice, and the next composer may be tied to the director chosen.

Personally, I'd love James Newton Howard to have a shot, a composer who is brilliant at creating wonderful melodics but equally adept at experimentation and alternative choices. I think we need to stop looking back. Bond in the 60's swung excellently, of this there is no doubt. But if we're attempting to try and make him relevant for the 21st century, maybe we should look at the music that way as well?

Back to White and Keys...