This post is the last in a five part series.
One thing was certain. No Bond movie for six years meant no Bond music either. That was the worst soundtrack of all. But six years after Bond went rogue and capped off a bunch of drug smugglers, EON finally got the green light for a new film. It was time for a new face and a new direction. Pierce Brosnan finally got his chance to put on the tux (after being screwed out of it in the mid-80s thanks to his Remington Steele contract and TV producers too foolish to recognize the value of having a real, live Bond on their payroll.) U2 was on hiatus after their uber-successful ZooTV tour and were dabbling in soundtracks all over the place, notably contributing earlier in 1995 to Batman Forever. Bono and The Edge were asked to pen the title track for Bond’s new adventure and submitted an electronica-laden demo with Bono’s character “Mr. Macphisto” doing his distinct thing on the vocals. To give the song a bit more of a classic Bond sensibility, it was re-recorded in a new key with Tina Turner pulling another Homage to Shirley Bassey, like Gladys Knight did before her. The result is the perfect marriage of old and new.
Eric Serra, who composed the soundtrack for the film, also contributed to the closing credits with “Experience of Love.” Serra seems to channel Peter Gabriel in this hauntingly beautiful ballad. It’s not a very Bond-like track, but it stands alone as an intimate song begging for a slow dance at the prom.
Tomorrow Never Dies
They should have listened to the composer. David Arnold’s first and arguably best contribution to date found the perfect blend of classic Bond sound and techno. Furthermore, his collaboration with K.D. Lang produced one of the most utterly perfect classic Bond title songs. Rich, sexy, bold vocals matched with bawdy brass riffs, this echoed the most classic songs from the 60s Goldfinger and Thunderball.
And then it was bumped to the closing credits.
Somebody decided to hire a “name” by getting Sheryl Crow to write and record her own track for the opening titles. It’s a caterwauling, cringeworthy mess of a song that fits neither with the film’s score nor its on-screen visuals. It’s only saving grace is that it’s not worse than Swan Lee’s attempt at the title song, which was thankfully scrapped from the film and is out there only for afficionados.
Not surprisingly, fan edits have restored the K.D. Lang song and shown Tomorrow Never Dies as it should have been.
The World is Not Enough
Garbage. No, I’m not talking about Denise Richard’s acting performance. Well, maybe I am. But that’s not the point. Alt Rock Supergroup Garbage proved to be a redeeming choice for the title track. Working with David Arnold for another fusion of classic Bond with modern Techno, Shirley Manson’s sultry vocals made a Bond theme sexy again.
For completists, the soundtrack also sports Scott Walker’s mellow torch song “Only Myself to Blame.” Not so much a Bond song as a jazz-torch song to be enjoyed in low lights with a glass of single malt scotch to sip it has it’s place in your playlist.
More important was the first of several new, modern renditions of the classic Monty Norman James Bond theme for the closing credits in place of a second single. Arnold would would continue this for films to come.
Die Another Day
If only Madonna’s song would. Universally the most hated Bond Theme song, this is a bad song even for most Madonna fans. Purposefully disjointed and riddled with synth riffs that would go on to inspire Psy’s Gangnam Style a decade later, this train wreck of a song isn’t satisfied just sounding bad in your playlist, it utterly eviscerates the visuals of the opening credits which, for the first time in franchise history, actually attempted to say something and further the plot.
Once more, Fan Edits charge in to save the day. Beyond The Ice not only tries to redeem the film (goodbye invisible car, goodbye bad CG, goodbye bad actress known as Madonna) but it found the perfect song. Originally featured in the spy thriller The Jackal, the track by Dolls Head entitled “It’s Over, It’s Under” not only sound like a “new classic” Bond track akin to what K.D. Lang and Garbage offered up, but the lyrics so closely match the visuals on screen that if one didn’t know better, one would think the opening credits were actually designed against this song. There is no evidence to support this claim whatsoever, but the parallels are undeniable. Considering probably none of you have The Jackal soundtrack, seek this out. As for Pierce’s run with the character after this commercial success but artistic abortion of a film, “you gotta admit it’s over. I gotta admit its over now.”
He’s blond. He’s Bond. Get over it.
It happened before. After You Only Live Twice they got a new Bond and gave the character darker, more complex places to go while taming the outlandishness of the last plot. People liked the old way better and the movie failed. After Moonraker they had to get Bond back to being a spy. The art was better but the box office sagged. When Dalton came on the scene he too tried to take Bond to darker places. But he was everybody’s second choice after the Pierce Brosnan contractual screw up. Once again, the new guy floundered and they blamed the actor and the material.
The choice of Daniel Craig was risky after the four-year hiatus. People liked Pierce. Apparently they liked Die Another Day judging by the receipts. And people absolutely HATED Daniel Craig.
Until they saw him act. Never had so much crow been eaten by the media. In a post 9/11 world, Bond’s reboot as the tough, gritty Bond of Fleming’s novels finally resonated with audiences. Lazenby and Dalton were simply ahead of their time (and are now recognized as such).
But this is about the music, so I should get on with it …
The gritty new Bond needed a gutteral, gritty song to go with it. To sing the title song, Chris Cornell (lead singer of Soundgarden) was as risky a choice as Craig himself. The last time a dude sang, things didn’t go so well (the song by a ha if you’re keeping score). Cornell blew everybody away too. A loud, aggressive alt rock piece invoking imagery of games of luck and killing, “You Know My Name” was as much of a wink to the franchise’s history of lead actors as it was to the plot itself. Tying in with the other score one could argue as Arnold’s best, it has just enough elements of James Bond music under the distorted veneer that it delivers on the level of rockers like “Live and Let Die” and “A View To A Kill,” only meaner. The film’s version of the song is notably different from the single, featuring a horn section to give even stronger ties to the film’s score.
Quantum of Solace
Again, it should have worked. Take two of the hottest artists on the scene and have them create the franchise’s first duet. Again, the failure is directly proportional to the ambition and expectations. “Another Way to Die” not only has a clunky title that is a little to close to “Live and Let Die Another Day because Tomorrow Never Dies” (please, no more superflous “Dies” in any Bond songs) Jack White and Alicia keys collaborate to make a memorable Bond song. Memorable in the way a cat fight in the woods is. That’s a sound you want to forget but never can. The song is a caterwauling mess that might have been well titled “Ode to Fingernails on a Chalkboard.” At one point they attempt to invoke live Zeppelin by trading riffs, but the attempt is so far from the mark that it’s an embarrassment to fans of hard rock everywhere. Many people dislike the film. In truth, it’s not that bad, it was just rushed to avoid the Writers Guild Strike and it shows. It could be that so many people have a bad taste in their mouths for this film because the opening song starts the film off on the wrong notes. Literally.
The movie had a lot to redeem. The public still had faith in Craig, but seemingly lost it in EON. Bond’s return after another 4 year hiatus delivered in ways nobody expected. The radical choice to hire an artistic director and give him substantial rein allowed the film to genuinely resonate with audiences. As mentioned before, the choice of Thomas Newman as composer was equally brave.
But for the opening credits song, there really was only one choice. In a market saturated with overproduced junk, 2012 was the year Adele busted onto the scene with full force and brought popular music back from the depths of hell. More torch singer than pop star, unabashedly frank, unquestionably talented, and undeniably British, Adele was the perfect choice to resurrect the sound of Bond. Her theme for Skyfall has resonated with listeners in a way commensurate with the film itself. Time will tell if Adele’s contribution to the most successful film in the franchise will let her be the first singer since Shirley Bassey to Live Another Day.
James Bond will return. He always does. And he will bring music that becomes part of the legacy. Sometimes it will be ok. Sometimes it will be awful. Sometimes it will positively dazzle. No matter what, it will always be immortal.