Latest reviews of new albums:
  • Composed by John Barry
  • Capitol / 2003 / 36:02

An ageing Roger Moore put his tux on again in 1983 for Octopussy, his penultimate Bond film.  It’s not bad – well-acted, well-shot – but its 56-year-old lead and 62-year-old villain (played by Louis Jourdan) make it a far cry from the vibrant, youthful action picture that once so defined this series (and fortunately has done again in the Daniel Craig years).  It’s all a bit pedestrian (and some of the gags are unforgivably bad).  It was quite a surprise (including to Moore himself) that the actor got another Bond film after this one, too.

Even the great John Barry seemed to struggle to find that much inspiration from the film, with a mixed bag of a score.  The oft-derided title song – “All Time High”, written by Barry with Tim Rice and sung by Rita Coolidge – is I think a very nice pop ballad (I’m a sucker for these things), but it doesn’t in any way resemble a Bond song.  Still, its gorgeous melody provides an exceptional love theme for the film, represented on the album by the swooning “That’s My Little Octopussy” and “Bond Meets Octopussy”.  A secondary theme for the female lead is established in “Arrival at the Island of Octopussy”, subtler (and mixed in with some suspense material) but also rewarding.

John Barry

The metronome’s possibly moving slightly more quickly than on Barry’s previous Bond score (Moonraker), but the action and suspense music is still mostly considerably more languid than that found in the composer’s earlier scores for the series.  I don’t particularly mind this – if anything, it reflects the fact that Bond himself is considerably more languid too – but the album certainly doesn’t found the level of thrills provided in the classics that went before (and for that matter, the two Bond scores the composer was yet to write).  The opening score track, “Bond Look-Alike”, is the first piece of action, and establishes a trend for the score in that it makes far more frequent use of the James Bond Theme than Barry had done in his last couple of scores in the series – this was a conscious decision made to help distinguish the film from its “unofficial” rival released the same year, Never Say Never Again.

“009 Gets the Knife / Gobinda Attacks” is a more vibrant piece of action music, briefly offering glimpses in its second half of a far more dynamic style the composer would explore much further in A View To a Kill; he takes it further still in “Yo Yo Fight and Death of Vijay”, loading the base range with continuous momentum and playing a memorable action theme over the top.  The oddly-titled “The Chase Bomb Theme” brings in another new melody, written in Barry’s classic Bond style but never as memorable as similar sequences in other films.  The score closes with “The Palace Fight”, reprising some of the action melodies from earlier and actually being one of the disc’s more entertaining pieces.

While it’s certainly enjoyable, Octopussy is perhaps the dullest of the composer’s Bond scores.  But then–it’s all relative, of course.  James Bond music from John Barry is good; the only question is just how good.  There’s plenty of fine music here, so despite its flaws it still makes for a good album.  It has a chequered release history, a pressing error causing the recall of the original CD, which became one of the rarest of all soundtrack albums; it did get a release on Rykodisc in the late 1990s, but the “bonus” addition of dialogue was not considered to be a bonus by many.  Not until its release in 2003 when EMI/Capitol put out remastered versions of most of the Bond scores did it become widely available without the dialogue (though it wasn’t one of the titles that featured additional music).  *** 1/2

Tags: , ,

  1. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Sunday 7 October, 2012 at 22:50

    One thing that always struck me about this score is that its action theme seems to be a preview of the approach Barry would take on his last two Bond scores. The “Snow Job” theme and “Necros” theme seem like direct descendents of Octopussy but with some interesting additions (electric guitar and drum machine).

    And two Bonds in a row! Are you going to round out the series in time for Skyfall?