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QUANTUM OF SOLACE
Very entertaining album is Arnold's best Bond score so far
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Sony Pictures Entertainment; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
Quantum of Solace had a lot to live up to - Casino Royale was the best Bond film since Sean Connery departed, grittier and less gadget-happy in the post-Bourne world, but still very entertaining. For the first time in Bond history, this film is a genuine sequel to its predecessor, as Bond embarks upon a personal quest to find those responsible for the demise of his flame in the previous film. It isn't nearly as good as Casino Royale, but it isn't nearly as bad as some of the reviews I read suggested - Marc Forster was a bizarre choice of director and the way he edits the big action sequences is extremely frustrating, but it's still very watchable and better than any of the Brosnan-era efforts.
David Arnold continues as the franchise's composer-of-choice, this being his fifth Bond movie. Unfortunately (will they never learn?) the producers have - as happens on alternate films during his reign - not allowed him to write the main title song, which is a big problem. For one thing, the song that did get used, "Another Way to Die" sung by Jack White and Alicia Keyes, is never a Bond song in a million years - it's a decent middle-of-the-road hip-hop song, but the addition of John Barry-style brass bursts now and again doesn't make it into what a Bond song should be. Of course, it isn't the worst Bond song (it would take a rare ability to deny Madonna her crown there) but an even bigger problem than its inappropriateness is that Arnold is unable to use it as part of his score - he wove "You Know My Name" throughout Casino Royale, which gave it a solid identity; the continuing general absence of the main James Bond Theme (apart from snippets here and there) means it's much harder for this score to stand out from those for any old action movie, whereas in the past there was a much stronger identity for them.
That problem aside, this is generally a very fine score. It opens with an explosive action track, "Time to Get Out" - while this is identifiably similar to Arnold's earlier Bond efforts, going all the way back to Tomorrow Never Dies, he seems now to have become much more assured in his approach and this confidence leads to him no longer taking an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach. The slightly uncomfortable mixture of styles whereby Arnold would suddenly stop what he was doing and insert a track or two of fake John Barry has been abandoned completely, thankfully - Barry did these films brilliantly, but it's time to move on. The subtle electronics work very well in giving the music a very modern sound, but are never dominant - Arnold allows the orchestra to do the vast bulk of the work, which again is very welcome. This continues in "The Palio" and makes the opening eight minutes of the album absolutely thrilling - perhaps not quite on a par with the previous score's "African Rundown", but certainly not far behind.
"Somebody Wants to Kill You" includes the score's first hint of the Bond theme, and afterwards is a refreshing change of direction - guitars, ethnic percussion and flutes combine for a rich piece of action music. There's more fine action music in "Pursuit at Port-au-Prince" - Arnold is really stretching himself here, imposing himself on the film as he has never done before, and it works a treat. What I really like is that even most of the non-action music - which is where Arnold's previous Bond scores have rather fallen down - is interesting. Take "Night at the Opera", where the swirling suspense music is extremely impressive. While some of the shortest cues could have been excised to make a slightly tighter album, that isn't really a problem here at all - there's only 15 minutes less music here than Casino Royale but it is a considerably tighter, more satisfying listening experience. Even if Quantum of Solace doesn't quite have that score's highlights, it is much more consistent and impressive on the whole.
Not all of those shorter cues are redundant, though - occasionally there's a brief burst of energy from sonething like "Bolivian Taxi Ride" which is very welcome. The score all builds up to one final action spectacular, the eight-minute "Perla de las Dunas" (passing through the extremely wittily-titled "Oil Fields" along the way) which is pretty spectacular - but best of all, contains just a few bars which for some reason are absolutely my favourite few seconds of film music in a long time - starting at 2'41" in the track. Love it! After this, and a brief, mournful reprise of Vesper Lynd's theme from the previous film, all that's really left is the song, which belongs somewhere else. In the film, the end titles begin with a fantastic full-on performance of the Bond theme, which is absent here (perhaps it's the same recording as in Casino Royale - but even so, it would have brought things to a far more satisfying conclusion than the album is able to do). Quantum of Solace is Arnold's best Bond score - for the first time, there's a sense that he really does belong on his own terms in this world, and even when hampered by not having been able to write the song himself, he's delivered one of the year's more entertaining albums - and certainly the most action-packed.