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Fantastic action score is Barry's most dynamic for Bond since the 60s

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Album cover copyright (c) 1987 Danjaq, LLC; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall

After the increasing self-parody of the Roger Moore Bond films, the series got itself back on track in The Living Daylights, a far grittier and more interesting film than those which came in the decade before it.  It was Timothy Dalton's debut as Bond - sadly, the public never seemed to take to him, but I found his more serious approach a refreshing change and wish he'd had the chance to do more than two movies as Bond.  The plot sees Bond go off trying to stop a rogue KGB agent from starting a world war - it's well-written and surprisingly intelligent, though does veer off into ludicrous territory on occasion.  Dalton's great, Maryam d'Abo is lovely and there's fine support from Joe Don Baker, Art Malik and Jeroen Krabbe.

Unusually, there are three original songs here.  The title song is performed by a-Ha, and written by them too - John Barry shares the writing credit, but seems to have only written the instrumental hook which opens the track and arranged the orchestral accompaniment.  It's a daft song, but good fun.  Barry had far more involvement in the other two songs, which he wrote with Chrissie Hynde and which she performs - "Where Has Everybody Gone?" is the closest Barry got to doing a classic-style Bond song (rather than the ballads he favoured in most of his later movies) in a long while, and is a great, over-the-top one; and "If There Was a Man", used over the end titles, is a lovely love song given an edge thanks to Hynde's typically-classy delivery.

The first thing to note about the score is that Barry incorporated electronics into the action music far more than in any other score that he's ever done - it's only a drum loop and some synth bass for the most part, but it's very surprising to hear it from this composer, and - while occasionally it's undeniably dated - it's good stuff for the most part.  He introduces the style in the pre-title sequence, "Exercise at Gibraltar", adding the electronics to his classic Bond Theme; and later offers up orchestral versions of both "The Living Daylights" and "Where Has Everybody Gone?" in the style, serving as dynamic action music.  The latter works best, in the terrific "Necros Attacks" and "Inflight Fight", the pick of the score's action; the former, not so well (the melody really is a bit inane) in the strangely-titled "Assassin and Drugged", but a little better later on in "Hercules Takes Off".  There's another great action track based on the Bond theme in "Ice Chase" where Barry cleverly weaves it around the electronics.

"Airbase Jailbreak" is a more traditional Barry/Bond action track, driven on in far more considered style than the synth-accompanied tracks - the bass flute is here, the snare drum's here, if the xylophone appeared we'd be back in 1962!  It's actually probably the standout action cue on the whole album, vintage stuff.  Late on, there's even some more exotic stuff for the scenes in Afghanistan, with some sweeping desert music and some pounding ethnic percussion in "Mujahadin and Opium" and "Afghanistan Plan".

Being a John Barry score composed after 1980, there is no shortage of romance here; most of the material is based around the "If There Was a Man" melody.  "Approaching Kara" very subtly suggests the melody in a slightly darker piece, but then "Kara Meets Bond" expands upon it, there's a pop instrumental style arrangement in "Into Vienna" (which is a bit cheesy) and an absolutely lovely orchestral arrangement in the alternate end title, which is vintage Barry romance music.

This is easily the most action-packed Bond score from Barry since the 1960s, a hugely-satisfying listening experience that makes one wonder what he might have done with any subsequent movies in the series if he'd scored them (it certainly exposes the frequently-stated view that he'd lost the ability to write exciting music as being ridiculous).  However, it's always best to go out on a high, and The Living Daylights is certainly that.  The score was released on CD in 1987 but became incredibly hard to find, very quickly; it was then reissued in expanded form by Rykodisc in 1998, and again by EMI in 2003.  Sadly the album stupidly just puts the extra music after the previously-released tracks, making it unlistenable, but resequencing it into film order is the right way to go - 13-1-3-6-2-7-14-5-8-4-15-16-17-10-18-9-11-19-20-12-21.


  1. The Living Daylights a-Ha (4:16)
  2. Necros Attacks (2:04)
  3. The Sniper Was a Woman (2:30)
  4. Ice Chase (4:05)
  5. Kara Meets Bond (2:47)
  6. Koskov Escapes (2:23)
  7. Where Has Everybody Gone? The Pretenders (3:37)
  8. Into Vienna (2:50)
  9. Hercules Takes Off (2:11)
  10. Mujahadin and Opium (3:13)
  11. Inflight Fight (3:12)
  12. If There Was a Man The Pretenders (2:53)
  13. Exercise at Gibraltar (6:22)
  14. Approaching Kara (2:21)
  15. Murder at the Fair (2:22)
  16. Assassin and Drugged (2:43)
  17. Airbase Jailbreak (4:37)
  18. Afghanistan Plan (3:34)
  19. Air Bond (1:46)
  20. Final Confrontation (1:58)
  21. Alternate End Titles (3:20)