Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Review of the "Die Another Day" Expanded Soundtrack


Last December, I ranked the Bond scores.  That was a very fun post, and within it I mentioned that I might end up doing a track-by-track review of this:


  
  
   
  
I've tended to not do much in the way of current-events-in-the-world-of-Bond type stuff here; that's just not where my interests lie as a Bond blogger.  However, I think this particular soundtrack release is well worth taking a look at, and so I'm dipping my toes into the water with this.  Four months or so AFTER its release, I will grant you; but for me, that's current.
  
In case it's not clear what product I'm actually talking about, I'm referring to the La-La Land Records edition of the Die Another Day score by composer David Arnold.  (Which is still available here, by the by.)  The soundtrack that was released around the time of the movie's release represented only part of the score; it's like an abridged audiobook, whereas this La-La Land edition is like an unabridged one.
  
Now, depending on your level of interest in such things, you may not need the full score.  Heck, you MAY not need even the abridged version.  But I certainly did, and I'm hoping to persuade a few of you that you do, too.
 
Here's what I had to say about David Arnold's score when I reviewed the movie itself:
 
This is a solid score which occasionally devolves into tuneless noise, like many of David Arnold's scores tend to do.  But even then, it's functional tuneless noise.  And there is some good stuff mixed in there, too: the hovercraft chase, Bond's escape from MI6 detention, Jinx's appearance out of the surf, the romantic theme for the final scene; all of that works quite well.

My favorite bits, though, are the cues which signal Bond's arrival in Cuba.  That's very fun, and I wish that side of Arnold had been able to come out and play more often.

Final note: I suspect Arnold wrote a theme song for this movie which was ultimately rejected; there is a theme which pops up on occasion (examples: a low-key version that plays while a freshly-shaved Bond contemplates himself in his Hong Kong hotel room, and a more robust version that plays when he drives to Graves' ice palace) that, to my ears, seems like it is being used in a fashion similar to Arnold's use of "Surrender" in the Tomorrow Never Dies score.  But if this is the case, it seems to be a secret, because I've been able to find no evidence of it.  So maybe it's just my imagination.
 
Interesting!  The score I awarded was 004/007.  Let's see how that stance maintains over the course of this new review of the full score.
 
We're going to simply proceed track by track, and go wherever we are taken.
 
Disc 1:
 
Word of warning: the title song by Madonna is not included on either of the two discs.  This is par for the course with expanded score albums from the specialty labels.
 
(1)   "On the Beach" (extended version) [3:57] -- This cue, a shorter (by about a minute) version of which was on the original soundtrack, begins with the gunbarrel statement of the Bond theme and moves fairly quickly into a really strong new theme that lasts for about a minute.  Great stuff.  Another theme, which is reminiscent of Monty Norman's Bond theme but is not quite the same thing, comes in, accompanied by some very modern-sounding effects.  I think of those effects as being quintessentially David Arnold, and I love the fact that as he progressed in his career as a Bond composer, he brought more of his own style to the proceedings.  And he did so without having to betray what many of us think of as "the Bond sound" (which really just means "the John Barry sound").
 
(2)  "Bond Meets Moon / Hovercrafts" [2:16] -- Previously unreleased.  Some really good ominous moments representing the villains.
 
(3)  "How Do You Intend to Kill Me Now, Mr. Bond?" [2:04] -- Previously unreleased.  The Bond theme is present here, mixed into a frantic bit of action music.
 
(4)  "Hovercraft Chase" [3:49] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.  This is a good piece of action-movie music, and there is a melody in there that -- thanks to the liner notes for the album -- I now know to be from the song Arnold wrote for the movie. 
 
Referred to as "I Will Return," it was never recorded, and though some work had been with lyrics, that process was apparently never completed.  But in my movie-review post, when I said I was hearing what I thought could be a theme-song melody?  Yep, this is it.  And it is ALL OVER this score.  Once you know it, it's very difficult to hear this score in any other way.
 
The liner notes for this release contain some great quotes from Arnold on the subject.  The short version: he thinks a strong central theme is crucial for a Bond film, so he begins his 007 scores with that idea in mind.  Arnold says that the song being used or not doesn't matter that much to him, since it's the score that is most important.  As for "I Will Return," he liked the idea of point-blank putting the "James Bond Will Return" idea from all the films' end credits into Bond's own mouth.
 
(5)  "Bond to Jail" [0:51] -- Previously unreleased.  This brief cue led straight into the opening credits sequence, and Arnold has even ended the cue with a strings flourish that helps transition into the Madonna song.  So much so that I wish that song had actually been included; Arnold had no involvement in it, but what Arnold did with this cue makes the beginning of the song cooler than it already is.  (To be clear: I'm not a fan of Madonna's song, but I don't totally hate it, either.  I like the way it opens, for example.  And with this lead-in from Arnold, I think I'd like it even more.  As a matter of fact, I just paused my exploration of the two-disc album and played "Bond to Jail" with "Die Another Day" following it, and it is quite good until the song begins sucking.)
 
(6)  "Some Kind of Hero?" [4:34] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.  Some ethnic-sounding instrumentation here.  The "I Will Return" melody is here in muted format; muted, but effective.  This kind of score cue is the sort of thing that I could listen to all day long, but would probably bore a lot of people.  It's not super memorable in its own right, it's just there to unobtrusively back up the action that is happening on screen.  It does that capably.
 
(7)  "Kiss of Life" [4:48] -- Previously unreleased.  This cue is redolent of John Barry, and that's a good thing; but it's also redolent of David Arnold, which is also a good thing.  There's another theme (or motif) going on here; it's not "I Will Return," but something else.  Wait, actually ... I think it might be "I Will Return," but sort of in disguise.  I realize this must not mean much if you aren't listening along; maybe not even if you are!  Sorry about that; me describing music is an iffy prospect.  About three minutes in, this turns into a new type of thing, and it is awesome.  The Bond theme kicks in, and Arnold even samples some of the weird outer-space-sounding effects from the opening credits of Dr. No!  If you don't love this, I question your commitment to Sparkle Motion.
 
(8)  "Peaceful Fountains of Desire" [1:07] -- Previously unreleased.  "I Will Return"
 
(9)  "What's In It For You? / Cuba" [1:23] -- Previously unreleased.  A gentle flute (?) rendition of "I Will Return" kicks things off here, and then transitions into the awesome upbeat music representing Bond's journey to Cuba.  And hey, what do you know?  The melody for that Cuban music is, itself, "I Will Return"!  Guys, this score is kind of wonderful, way more than might have been apparent prior to this new album.
 
(10)  "Cuban Car" [0:52] -- Previously unreleased.  Another fun Cubanesque statement of "I Will Return," which transitions into the James Bond theme.
 
(11)  "Jinx Jordan" [1:30] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.  Arnold introduces his Barry-esque theme for Jinx, Halle Berry's character.  It's very good, although it is not developed quite as fully as I would have liked.
 
(12)  "Jinx & James" [2:05] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album. This cue is romantic, but also kind of tentative and mysterious; it doesn't quite trust in the romanticism.  Makes sense; neither James nor Jinx trusts the other, but that doesn't keep 'em from marinating in each other's juices for a while.  Ew; I just grossed myself out.  Then I thought of this and got over it:
 
 
from p. 5 of the liner notes

 
 
(13)  "Wheelchair Access" [2:24] -- Previously unreleased.  An excellent little cue with some Arnoldian effects and some nice hints toward the Bond theme.
 
(14)  "Jinx, James & Genes" [5:15] -- Previously unreleased.  This lengthy cue might bore some folks, but I love it.  A bit after the two-minute mark, there's a big statement of "I Will Return" in action-music guise.  Around 3:15, another one, similar to the hovercraft-chase music, kicks in.  A statement of the Bond theme on trumpet (or horn) closes the cue out.
 
(15)  "Gustav Graves' Grand Entrance" [1:36] -- Previously unreleased.  More Bond theme (backing up James flying back into England) at the beginning here; on the guitar, no less, as played by Vic Flick.  Then, the final third of the cue is electronica-infused music representing Graves' jump into London.
 
(16)  "Blades" [3:14] -- Previously unreleased.  Frantic, effective action music that gets intenser and intenser as it builds; this is the duel between Bond and Graves.  "I Will Return" is all over this sucker. 
 
(17)  "Bond Gets the Key / Virtual Reality" [2:03] -- Previously unreleased.  Have you been noticing how much of this stuff had previously not been released?  Quite a lot of it.  This is not necessarily one of the better cues.  It's fine, with some quality Bond theme action; but it's nothing special.  The action music representing the virtual-reality shootout is okay, and there's a fun bit -- or a cringe-worthy bit, depending on your perspective -- where Arnold electronically stops it by dragging the needle across the album, so to speak.  I kind of like it, but you could argue persuasively that it's a mirroring of the problem with the movie itself: the seriousness is maybe a bit too serious for how silly the silliness is.  Fair enough; but this bit of this cue, I kind of like.
 
(18)  "The Vanish / Bond Goes to Iceland" [2:12] -- Previously unreleased.  There's a great little subtheme playing within "The Vanish" (which is a separate cue from "Bond Goes to Iceland," despite the fact that they have been combined into a single track -- soundtrack shenanigans!).  As for "Bond Goes to Iceland," there is a GREAT full-bodied statement of "I Will Return," played in part on kickass trumpet.
 
(19)  "The Explanation" [1:38] -- Previously unreleased.  Music for the baddies.  The ethnic-sounding instruments return briefly.
 
(20)  "Icarus" [1:24] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.  The first appearance of my least-favorite aspect of the score: the vocal chorus.  I'm not a fan of that stuff unless it's done incredibly well; and this is generic, '00s-era action-music chorus stuff.  Not bad; just not really to my liking.
 
(21)  "Ice Spy" [3:02] -- Previously unreleased.  Nice cue title; I do love a pun.  Since this is 007-sneaking-around music, there are brief guitar hits and hints of the Bond theme.  About 2:15 in, the music gets more intense and insistent as shit in the movie gets real.
 
(22)  "A Touch of Frost" [1:52] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.  Some electronica, and then a piano statement of "I Will Return."  Then, some more electronica.
 
(23)  "Laser Fight" [4:37] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.  This is a really good cue, and I have almost nothing to say about it, apparently, apart from that.  I'd argue that at some point -- perhaps at THIS point -- the score begins to lose a bit of focus.  This is not surprising; the movie itself has lost almost all focus by this point, so it'd be unfair to expect the score to be unaffected by that degradation. 
 
(24)  "It Belongs to His Boss / Double Agent" [2:36] -- Previously unreleased.  Some cool mysterious-strings work at moments during this one.  Some cool electronica, too. 
 
(25)  "Whiteout" [4:57] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.  One of the score's best cues, and one of the best showcases of "I Will Return."  The chorus being present hurts it a little, but only a little; this is strong action-movie music.  And in the liner notes (which are excellent), Arnold gives a rationale for the chorus that kind of works for me: he says that a bunch of chanting human voices automatically puts us on edge, because we don't trust it and don't understand why the people are doing it.  He uses it in this score to represent evil, so as a piece of storytelling, I think it probably does work, in that respect.
 
(26)  "Bond Kidnaps Skidoo" [2:32] -- Previously unreleased.  One of the least Bondian cue titles in the entire history of James Bond, methinks.  James Bond + Skidoo = WTF.  This music is fine, though.

(27)  "Iced Inc." [3:10] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.  I don't always love Arnold's electronica, and I kind of don't love it here.  It kind of grinds one down after a while.
 
(28)  "Ice Palace Car Chase" [4:57] -- Previously unreleased.  This lengthy cue, obviously, represents the car chase sequence, which is among the silliest sequences in all Bond-dom.  David Arnold gives it his bloody all, though, and while I would not personally hold this up as being a favorite track, I think it's an admirable effort. It never gets too frantic to support its own weight, and it's bizarrely moving when it takes a breather for the moment in which Jinx is revived.  Nice heroic use of "I Will Return" toward the end.
 
Disc 2:
 
(1)  "Switchblades" [3:25] -- Previously unreleased.  There's a significant theme in this cue, but I'm not sure what it represents.  A four-note piano phrase is introduced that will feature later on as well.
 
(2)  "Antonov" [11:53] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.  That's not a typo; this IS a nearly-twelve-minute-long cue.  Such things are by no means unheard of, but you don't get them every day, either.  The way I see it, it's an achievement for a composer merely to finish such a cue; it being good is icing on the cake.  This is good; it might wear you out, but it's good, and might even be referred to as a tour de force.  The descending four-note piano motif -- which seemingly foreshadows the eventual crash of the plane -- is present here quite a bit, as is the chorus.  At about the five-minute mark, there's a vaguely middle-eastern-sounding bit for wordless female vocalist that I don't like much.  Around the six-minute mark, the descending four-note motif gets briefly transferred over to the horn section, who make it sound both Barryesque and more urgent.  Around 8:45, there's a very brief statement of what sounds like a wholly new theme; it's really good, but unless I missed it, it's noplace else in the score!
 
(3)  "Antonov Gets It" [3:22] -- Previously unreleased.  Frantic and effective action music.  Some interesting stuff in here; I lack the vocabulary to specify what I mean beyond that. 
 
(4)  "Moneypenny Gets It" [1:12] -- Previously unreleased.  Kind of a Moneypenny love theme, mixed -- as it would be -- with the Bond theme.  Good stuff, even if this scene in the movie itself is complete bollocks.
 
(5)  "Going Down Together" [1:40] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.  A lovely, Barryesque cue that even contains hints of Barry's "You Only Live Twice" melody.
 
From here, most of the second disc is devoted to alternate versions of some cues.  but we'll have a look anyways, because why wouldn't we?
 
(6)  "On the Beach" [2:51] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.
 
(7)  "Hovercraft Chase" (film version) [3:49] -- Partially unreleased.  I have no earthly idea what the differences are between this and the album version, but I assume they must exist.  I could't -- or didn't -- notice them on listening.  This will be true for many of these tracks.
 
(8)  "Some Kind of Hero?" (film version) [4:33] -- Partially unreleased.
 
(9)  "Peaceful Fountains of Desire" (alternate ending) [1:08] -- Previously unreleased.  I probably just haven't listened to this score enough to notice the difference in the ending.  Let's assume there is one.
 
(10)  "What's In It For You?" (orchestra only) [0:43] -- Previously unreleased.  An alternate mix of this short cue, missing the leadin to the Cuban music.
 
(11)  "Welcome to Cuba" [2:09] -- Previously released on the original soundtrack album.  This version does not actually appear in the film, and presumably was expanded so as to enhance the soundtrack album itself.  Which it totally does; this album, too.  If you want the Cuban music-- and you do -- then this is the best way to get it.
 
(12)  "Jinx Jordan" (orchestra only) [1:29] -- Partially unreleased.  I can't tell a huge difference, but it's there.
 
(13)  "Jinx & James" (film version) [2:08] -- Partially unreleased.  As with the previous track, I can hear differences, but not enough to matter to me one way or the other.
 
(14)  "Wheelchair Access" (original version) [2:24] -- Previously unreleased.  THIS one, I can certainly hear differences; this is a different cue entirely, though it has similarities with the eventually-used version.  The replacement is better.
 
(15)  "Party Trick" (source) [1:39] -- Previously unreleased.  Source music, for those of you who may not know, is music that is intended to be heard within the movie itself.  In other words, it's playing on a radio or whatever.  Like, when the action music is playing during the "Blades" sequence, James Bond can't hear that music, you know?  But THIS music, James Bond can hear.  Make sense?  Sometimes source music stands out like a sore thumb; other times, it sounds like it could be an actual part of the score.  This is somewhere inbetween, leaning closer, I think, to sore-thumb territory.
 
(16)  "A Touch of Frost" (film version) [1:51] -- Partially unreleased.
 
(17)  "Laser Fight" (film version) [4:41] -- Partially unreleased.
 
(18)  "Whiteout" (full mix) [4:57] -- Partially unreleased.  Not sure what "full mix" means.
 
(19)  "Antonov" (film version) [11:54] -- Partially unreleased.
 
(20)  "James Bond Will Return" [3:54] -- Previously unreleased.  Matter of fact, you didn't even hear this cue in the film!  It was intended to be an end-credits piece, but the producers opted to use a remix of Madonna's "Die Another Day" instead.  I can't blame them, although this is far from being my favorite cue on this album.  It doesn't give us a whole heck of a lot that we didn't get elsewhere via frantic-action / electronica-infused score.  It's not bad, but I'd argue that it's not really end-credits music; and it's not what I'd personally want from end-credits James Bond music.  So for me, this one is a swing and a miss from Mr. Arnold.
 
*****
 
The album overall is definitely a swing and a hit.  This score is vastly better than its original soundtrack, which in hindsight is a poor representation of the full piece of work.  That's not unusual for film scores, though.  My updated Double-Oh Rating for this one is probably a 005/007, maybe even a 006.
 
One can only hope that this release was the opening salvo in what will prove to be a years-long series of expanded-Bond-score releases.  If they turn out to be as revelatory as this one was, we Bond-music fans are in for some real treats.

2 comments:

  1. I usually read your Stephen King blog and often forget you have a few others, so it was a nice surprise when I finally swung by here again and found such a detailed score review. I'm always onboard when you get to talking about scores!

    Anyways, Die Another Day. This is possibly my least-favorite of David Arnold's Bond scores (tied with Quantum of Solace; where that one is a bit too subdued for my tastes, almost more Bourne than Bond, this one occasionally goes a bit too silly and over-the-top with the electronica). But given that even the least of Arnold's Bond work is very good, I still like it a lot, and especially now that the La-La Land boys corrected what was a rather poor representation of the score on its initial album release. (Incidentally, I feel like it's a mark of being a film score nut that the words "La-La Land" still primarily make you think of a record label rather than Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling...)

    The one point I'd out-and-out disagree with you on is your dislike of the choral writing, but that's just because I'm afraid I have no resistance to basically pretty much any sort of choral writing no matter what.

    Incidentally, that four-note phrase you mention in "Switchblades" and some other cues is a kind of little Arnold trademark that can be found in quite a few of his other scores. The "Pipeline" cue from The World is Not Enough is full of it, for example, and I swear it even pops up in Independence Day a few times. I guess Arnold figured if James Horner can have a four-note motif he uses in a ton of his scores, he might as well write one too. And I think the "interesting stuff" you noticed in "Antonov Gets It" might be the fact that in a score that's otherwise super heavy on the electronics, this cue feels much more traditionally orchestral (and totally un-Bondian, until the theme comes in at about the 2:30 mark that is). In fact it sounds more like a castoff from one of Arnold's big swashbuckling orchestral adventure scores like Stargate or Independence Day or The Musketeer. It's a great cue in its own right but it does stand out in a way that I'm not sure is 100% effective.

    Incidentally, did you hear that Danny Boyle is likely to direct the next Bond film? I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that, but I think it could turn out really well, and he feels like a better fit than Sam Mendes. Score-wise, he could stick with Daniel Pemberton who scored his last film Steve Jobs and also provided a wonderful retro-spy score for The Man from UNCLE, so I'd be on board with that. But just as on board if he gets Arnold back, whose disappearance from active film scoring in recent years has been lamentable.

    Ah well, I'm rambling. Great post, and I certainly do hope that other Bond score releases are on the ticket at some point!

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    1. "Die Another Day" MIGHT still be my least-favorite Arnold/Bond score, too; but that's become no insult at all.

      I definitely hope he comes back for the next film, whether it's Danny Boyle directing or whoever else.

      I totally agree about "La-La Land" -- that's hilarious!

      As for that four-note phrase, now that you've mentioned it, yep, I can totally bring up a few instances of it mentally in his other scores. You might be right about what I'm hearing in the "interesting stuff."

      Me talking about music: not quite like an elephant walking down the street depositing big loads of dookie, but sort of in the ballpark. Ah, well; I work with what I've got.

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