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  • Composed by Thomas Newman
  • Decca / 2015 / 79m

The 24th James Bond movie picks up plot elements from the preceding three movies in the series via a retrofitted connecting backstory and adds a big new (old) villain, with Blofeld back for the first time since For Your Eyes Only.  I really like that the Daniel Craig movies don’t have a big reset button at the end of each one – it makes Bond seem that little bit more human – and while it’s not as good as Skyfall, Spectre is an enjoyably daft romp with some spectacular action and I’d be disappointed if Craig decides – as has been reported – not to do any more.

With Sam Mendes returning at the helm, there was little doubt that Thomas Newman would take up scoring duties again, and while his Skyfall score wasn’t universally popular (it seems to be the same people who thought David Arnold tried too hard to sound like John Barry who think that Newman doesn’t sound enough like John Barry – in truth Arnold did very much stamp his own mark and Newman’s adaptation of his extremely parochial style into this sound universe is very carefully done) I thought it was excellent; so I’m delighted that Spectre is a continuation of that sound.

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

The title song (“Writing’s On the Wall”) is by Sam Smith and isn’t at the level of its immediate predecessor by Adele but it’s a very respectable Bond song far removed from some of the aberrations that have cropped up now and again since Barry stopped doing them, with a vintage orchestral introduction and a vulnerability to the falsetto vocal entirely in keeping with the film.  Stupidly, it joins two of the previous three Daniel Craig era soundtracks in not actually being on the album (the one that was – Quantum of Solace‘s – is easily the worst of the four).  There is an instrumental version, which is OK as far as it goes but a bit like those “Royal Philhamonic Orchestra play the music of Abba” CDs that were strangely popular 20-30 years ago.  Sadly other than that (which does – in a different guise – appear in the film) it doesn’t get integrated into Newman’s score, having been written independently.

The album pushes the CD format’s capacity to the limit and there’s a lot of impressive material in it, starting straight away in “Los Muertos Vivos Estan”, the Bond theme accompanied by Hispanic percussion (it’s amazing really that 24 films in, people are still finding fresh ways of using the theme).  And while it’s not pulsating action music, there is plenty of that later in the score.  After a jazzy flute riff on the Bond theme, “The Eternal City” presents heavenly choir ironically up against driving strings and percussion.  “Backfire” is the first all-out action cue and it’s a spectacular five minutes, full bodied and aggressive and based around a cracking little action motif.  Interestingly, the choir returns giving it a unique sound amongst Bond action tracks.  It’s gritty and energetic, dark yes but entirely melodic and very satisfying,  “Snow Plane” is just as good – based on the same motif, it’s no less intense, breathlessly exciting stuff – and I love the Derek Watkins-style trumpet solo (this is the first Bond score ever to be recorded without the legendary Watkins, who passed away in 2013).

“Tempus Fugit” is a brief action cue but it brings back music from Skyfall in a big way – it’s smoother round the edges this time, fuller, stronger.  “Safe House” is a great action/suspense track, building to the score’s biggest Bond Theme moment (albeit only the opening riff); and while the theme doesn’t get that many “classic” airings, it’s built deeply within the score’s DNA, appearing all over it, often very subtly, sometimes very unexpectedly.  “Careless” also brings back a bit of Skyfall and it’s another good piece of action, not as barnstorming as the other highlights I’ve picked out but as captivating in its own way.  “Detonation” introduces an air of desperation to proceedings as the film nears its climax before there’s one last action blow-up, “Westminster Bridge”, frantic and furious and brilliant.

Away from the action, a lovely romantic theme is introduced in “Donna Lucia” – it’s unmistakably Thomas Newman but there’s just a hint of John Barry not just in the swooning strings but also in the tragic foreboding.  The glassy “Madeleine” is delicate, absolutely pure Newman this time, the strings gently dancing around.  I love “Secret Room”, with a warmth added to the delicate colours.  By contrast “A Reunion” is exceptionally bleak, little textures – several of them electronic – playing off each other, conjuring very dark images indeed.  Finally (and unusually) there’s an lengthy orchestral end title piece, the second half of which is simply gorgeous and fascinatingly (and appropriately – but bravely) unresolved.

In many ways Spectre is a continuation and embellishment of Skyfall.  It’s a smoother, more consistent score probably and Newman is perhaps even more confident this time to be doing James Bond in his own image.  The long album does have a few moments that drag and I wish it had been tightened up a bit, but I probably like it on the whole a little more even than its predecessor.  It seems highly unlikely that Newman will visit Bond again unless Mendes does come back so the reigns will presumably pass back to David Arnold next time round to continue his always-entertaining efforts for Bond, but I’ve greatly enjoyed this composer’s journey to this world and think his pair of scores are probably the best the series has had since Barry’s swansong almost thirty years ago.

Rating: ****

See also: Skyfall Thomas Newman (2012) | |

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  1. Ian Simpson (Reply) on Sunday 13 December, 2015 at 23:37

    I was very interested to see what your thoughts on Spectre’s soundtrack were. Overall, they’re very similar to my own. During the first half of the album I thought it was right up there with John Barry’s best, but I thought it fell away a little at times during the second half, though still with some great moments. It’s been a very good year for Thomas Newman, although I have a feeling that he’ll again be Oscar-nominated but not win.

    Oddly, I like the instrumental version of Writing’s On the Wall more than the song. I thought the song started promisingly with Barry-esque lushness, but then descended into mediocrity, but of course nothing like the depths of, say, Madonna’s Die Another Day.

    I never really got into David Arnold’s Bond scores as a standalone listening experience (apart from his first one, Tomorrow Never Dies, which I found quite enjoyable) but I think with the possible exception of Die Another Day, his music has always worked very well in the films, so he remains a solid choice.

  2. ViceWarner (Reply) on Monday 14 December, 2015 at 22:46

    Great review as always, James. I’m curious though. When are you going to review the Ludwig Goransson score for Creed? It’s probably my favorite score of the year and I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 15 December, 2015 at 19:59

      I have literally just received Creed but haven’t had chance to listen to it yet. Hopefully there will be time to review it soon – I’ve got a huge backlog of albums to get through.

  3. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Tuesday 15 December, 2015 at 07:58

    Well, it’s a lot quieter in the comments section than when you reviewed Skyfall! Even though I think you overrated this one even more. With the novelty factor of Thomas Newman doing action music having worn off, I think Spectre is even more of a disappointment and an unfittingly low-key accompaniment to Bond than Skyfall was.

  4. Ian Smith (Reply) on Tuesday 15 December, 2015 at 18:56

    There’s an horrible rumour doing the rounds that Christopher Nolan is being lined up for the next Bond. Imagine Hans Zimmer being let loose on Bond (shudder!)….

  5. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Tuesday 15 December, 2015 at 23:03

    Hans Zimmer quite aside (and yes, he’s one of the last people I’d want to see doing Bond), the thought of a grim and joyless Nolan Bond movie is not one I would look forward to. :\

  6. James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 15 December, 2015 at 23:39

    I’m not sure I like that idea at all.

  7. […] Here is link to the full review […]

  8. Ian Simpson (Reply) on Thursday 17 December, 2015 at 19:47

    Aye. Zimmer has written some good stuff over the years as well as some duds, but I don’t recall any of it being the sort that would suit a Bond film.

  9. Ian Smith (Reply) on Thursday 17 December, 2015 at 22:59

    In some ways though, I’d be more interested in seeing what Zimmer might do than more David Arnold. I’d like to see different composers tackle Bond each film just like different directors do. Some might work better than others but it would be fascinating nonetheless. Sadly we will never know what a James Horner Bond score would sound like (maybe it wouldnt have intetested Horner enough to accept the opportunity anyway) but in the same way, what would have a Goldsmith Bond score been like? We could still hear an Elfman Bond score one day. I’d like to hear that.

  10. Ian Simpson (Reply) on Friday 18 December, 2015 at 01:32

    I reckon John Williams could have written a good Bond score, but considering that he’ll probably be 87 by the time Bond 25 comes out, it’s unlikely that we’ll get to see one. (I’m mainly hoping that his health holds out for long enough to score the next two Star Wars films). I could say much the same of the similarly ageing but still-on-form Ennio Morricone.

    Both Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner had strong potential to write good Bond scores in my view.

    I actually have similar sentiments; I think a Hans Zimmer Bond score would be a risk, but I’d be more intrigued by the prospect than by another David Arnold score.

  11. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Friday 18 December, 2015 at 10:59

    Ordinarily I’d agree, but I just want to hear another David Arnold score (one that’s not Sherlock, I mean, one that’s actually memorable), and Bond seems like the only opportunity to get that in the years going forward. Man seems determined to do anything but score films.

  12. André, Cape Town. (Reply) on Wednesday 30 December, 2015 at 00:07

    Re: Ian Smith. Hollywood’s answer to Bond was ‘Flint’ … and JERRY GOLDSMITH tackled both ‘Our Man Flint’ & ‘In like Flint’. I have both the original tracks [as used in the Films] and, my preference, the re-recorded versions [as was the practise in the1960s] for the albums premiere release on vinyl. Don’t miss out on these scores Ian, particularly ‘Our Man Flint’ (now available on CD). I love BARRY’S songs for the Bond franchise {and MONTY NORMAN’S signature theme for Bond} but BARRY’S underscore doesn’t compare with the inventiveness of GOLDSMITH’S…a very youthful GOLDSMITH whose music was just coming to the attention of producers, studios and film music devotees.

  13. Ian Smith (Reply) on Wednesday 30 December, 2015 at 19:23

    Thanks for the tip, Andre, I’ll certainly give ‘Our Man Flint’ a try.