CD: Skyfall (2012)

November 24, 2012 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: Sony Classical/ Released: November 6, 2012

Tracks & Album Length: 30 tracks / (77:33)


Special Notes: 16-page colour booklet.


Composer: Thomas Newman




The producers of the Bond franchise have periodically experimented with a new composer, but with the exception of David Arnold (who scored the prior 5 films between 1997-2008), every other attempt non-Barry yielded a straight one-off.

George Martin’s Live and Let Die (1973) was an appropriate orchestral rock sound for the franchise’s lone (and frankly bizarre) foray into blaxploitation; Bill Conti’s For Your Eyes Only (1981) also yielded a hit song, but was perhaps too disco in style to feel fully part of the franchise’s sleek orchestral sound devised by John Barry; Michael Kamen’s License to Kill (1989) was largely successful except in the title song department; and Eric Serra’s orchestral-synth fusion for GoldenEye (1995) may have suited the all-out effort to restart the franchise after a 6-year dead period with a new Bond (Pierce Brosnan), a new director, and a new sound (which included one of the most aggressive audio mixes around).

Arnold was the next tryout after Serra, and with new director Sam Mendes involved with Skyfall, the director brought along his longtime collaborator, Thomas Newman, who’s written some of his best (and most iconic) work for Mendes, including American Beauty (1999), and Road to Perdition (2002).

Newman’s versatility in any genre is unquestionable, and as he demonstrated with Perdition – a film adaptation of a graphic novel – he could bring gravitas to material whose emphasis was on the visual, if not a specific mood. The Bond films, in their current reboot, mandate a grasp of action, tragedy, and slight humour, since Daniel Craig’s interpretation is much tougher, and his character affected by some grievous emotional damage; even musically, both Arnold’s Casino Royale (2006) and Newman’s approach for Skyfall declare Bond’s still a pro, but he’s likely to become a little mentally brittle in his senior years.

Newman’s score basically hits all the right marks, melding orchestral with pulsing electronic elements, a little exotica for the opening teaser, and the occasional quotation of Monty Norman’s signature theme during the CD’s first two-thirds, but there’s one major obstacle within Sony’s CD (which is either a lengthy yet distilled version of the score, or wholly representative of its filmic design): with the exception of a brief cue making use of the title theme, there is no title song.

Within the Bond catalogue, this marks the first time – including the non-Bond Casino Royale [M] (1967) scored by Burt Bacharach, and the ‘unofficial’ Bond Never Say Never Again (itself a remake of Thunderball, with an orchestral-jazz score by Michel Legrand) – when a Bond soundtrack album completely lacks any theme song.

“Skyfall,” as sung and co-written by Adele and Paul Epworth (with orchestrations by J.A.C. Redford), is a perfectly fine ode to the franchise with lush orchestrations that evoke more of Arnold’s own Barryesque theme tributes rather than Barry’s original work. The chords deliberately echo Norman’s theme, and Adele’s own vocals maintain a cohesion with the Arnold scores (themselves reliant on both material by Barry, Norman, the non-Arnold themes, plus Arnold’s own themes, which themselves hark back to Barry’s sleek strings and the franchise’s early orchestral-jazz sound).

Either Mendes felt Skyfall deserved a score more directly attached to action and subtext, or there was a conscious decision to strip away perceived thematic clichés to keep the score and film fresh, if not distinct from Arnold’s approach (which admittedly lost its potency as the franchise, during the Brosnan years, became dreadful).

“Komodo Dragon” excepted, references to Adele’s song is absent from the album, making it either a lean action score stripped down to its core Bondian mechanics, or a bit of a blunder. Adele’s song is available as a digital download and single release, but its omission from the official soundtrack album is just plain bizarre, and perhaps the only assumption is rights issues, or a peculiar contractual agreement (which frankly seems inane, given the franchise has been personally handled by the same key figures for decades).

The other possibility may be a forethought to release an eventual 2-disc edition which re-marries Newman’s score with both the film song and all its quotations within the score. It’s been a good 12 years since the Bond music catalogue was given an expanded release by Ryko, and as Lukas Kendall wrote of his experiences, his team was given a tight time-frame to mine the EMI archives, sort out the cues, remaster the albums with bonus content, and get masters delivered in time for the latest Bond release. A lot of albums were expanded, while for others, there simply wasn’t enough time.

Additionally, when Arnold’s 007 debut, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) was released on disc, it was a rush job, leaving indie label Chapter III to bring out a second disc in 2000 featuring much of the climax music left off because of time constraints. (Arnold’s Bond scores also went through some revisions, as when he had to make room for the meh Sheryl Crow vocal after writing his own theme, “Surrender,” featuring K.D. Lang; and when the Scott Walker vocal “Only Myself to Blame” was largely unused.)

Newman’s score stands fine on its own and provides a fresh sound after Barry and Arnold’s lengthy tenures, and his penchant for metallic vibes & bass lines (as in the opening of “Enjoying Death”) and percussion textures works well in several cues. There’s also a sold driving force which ensures the cues don’t feel like perfunctory mickey-mouse music whenever Bond leaps, punches, or scurries through insanely dangerous situations.

When Norman’s theme returns, it pops up first in a neo-classic Barry mold for brass orchestra, after which Newman does a few really clever variations, since the finale is where the Bond theme becomes (finally) dominant. In “Kill Them First” Newman focuses on grinding out the theme’s main chords in their most rudimentary design; and in “Welcome to Scotland” he applies churning strings and some counterpoint rhythms oddly reminiscent of Neal Hefti’s action writing (er, namely Batman).

Skyfall’s a great feather in Newman’s cap, and he’s now well-positioned to tackle another Bond after proving he’s capable of giving the genre sonic scope and emotional depth, if not a taut yet dramatically engaging action CD.



© 2012 Mark R. Hasan


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