Don't know about you but I'm a bit ambivalent about David Arnold. He is undoubtedly a talented arranger and composer and he certainly came charging to the rescue back in 1997 after the rather disastrous score for Goldeneye indicated that much of what we all refer to as 'Bondian' often lies in how these films sound. There is nothing in the world more Bondian than the work of the guv'nor himself, John Barry. And unfortunately, any composer who gets on board with the Bond films is inevitably going to be compared to Barry.
Now, I think David's been doing OK with the scores to the Bond films since Tomorrow Never Dies. Indeed, I would go as far to say that the scores for Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough are excellent and fit well into the Bond idiom with their mix of Barry-esque pastiche and contemporary drum and bass. He's been modernising the approach to scoring the films and that's to be welcomed.
His work on Casino Royale two years ago also underlined his ability as a song writer and arranger in his collaboration with Chris Cornell on You Know My Name which was a gutsy, balls to the wall rock ballad that summed up the back to basics approach the production team were taking. The score, though, was low key and only came to life sporadically and didn't really do much for me, personally, the super bit of scoring for the free running chase at the beginning of the film aside.
But for all its frenetic, heavy handed bombast there's little warmth and hardly any of those delicious Barry melodies.
Well, here we are with Quantum Of Solace and I'm happy to report that this is more of an improvement. It's again characterised by skittering percussion, pounding drums and flaring brass which, if I'm to understand it, will fit in with the film's onslaught of action as highlighted in recent reviews. There does seem to be a much heavier emphasis towards the brass and percussion on this and there's a distinctly nervous energy permeating the album. But for all its frenetic, heavy handed bombast there's little warmth and hardly any of those delicious Barry melodies. What always characterised Bond scoring for me was that with Barry you got extremely memorable musical motifs that played melodically with the title song and permeated the soundscape of movies like Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Everyone remembers that music. I'm finding it hard to like much of the Quantum score. It's too busy for me. The opening salvo of Time To Get Out and The Palio are all fine and dandy but things only come to life melodically in Somebody Wants To Kill You which has a lovely Spanish guitar motif and some charging brass and percussion and surging strings.
The Barry-esque is certainly there in the moody Pursuit At Port Au Prince with good use of wind and strings which eventually up the pace with a combination of guitar and brass.Things do calm down on Greene & Camille with some low end atmospherics dotted with great pan pipes that add to the sense of menace. It indicates that Arnold is much more creative in the use of instruments and arrangements when approaching these subtler, more moodier pieces. It's one of the best tracks on the album especially when it picks up on the Monty Norman theme in the string and percussive lines. The Barry-esque is certainly there in the moody Pursuit At Port Au Prince with good use of wind and strings which eventually up the pace with a combination of guitar and brass. This then takes off with some great drum and guitar sections and has a wonderful urgency that actually does work because it is channeling some authentic Bondian motifs. Again, the brass is particularly strong here. It concludes with a smashing string section that again picks up on the Monty Norman theme, especially in the vibrant guitar passages.
No Interest In Dominic Greene is an interesting track. Lovely atmosphere with distorted music motifs, an undulating flute cue that's very Thunderball, nice swirly strings and spots of percussion. This is carried forward through to Night At The Opera which is another outstanding use of the string and wind sections. Big brass motifs too that make it memorably Bondian in flavour. Beautifully arranged and composed. Talamone is brief but Bondian with what sounds like lutes or balalaikas contributing to the flavour and Arnold concentrates on the atmospherics with What's Keeping You Awake, a very romantic string dominated track punctuated by a simple piano sting.
Off to Bolivia for the latter half of the album with a nice South American flavour that again picks up the Norman theme. Field Trip is briefly a pure piece of nostalgia using the classic Norman tune and Forgive Yourself is low key, dark and has a tremendous sadness conveyed through a memorable piano motif. Pan pipes and thumping drums open DC3 which briefly flares into life with brass and guitar. Back to the busy action themes for Target Terminated, which does have a storming brass section belting away even though it's basically more of the same that we had at the front of the album. It's tedious and lacks obvious melody lines.
The Bondian flavourings are very welcome but they are buried, for the most part, under histrionic, over stylised action themes that could belong to A.N.Other Action Blockbuster.Back to atmospherics with Camille's Story and, again, this shows Arnold's sensitivity with a gorgeous pan pipe line wafting through a base of strings and then accompanied by Spanish guitar and piano. Oil Fields again reminds you that this is a Bond score with some great brass renditions of the Norman theme and there's some hot and heavy drums and guitars and a string and brass motif on Have You Ever Killed Someone that's pure You Only Live Twice. The album concludes with the 8 minute plus Perla De Las Dumas, full of nice brass touches and that YOLT motif and the much vilified Jack White/Alicia Keys song Another Way To Die. The song's OK and I'm sure works in the context of the film and the titles and has bags more Bondian riffs in it than Arnold's entire score.
It's a disappointing album overall. The Bondian flavourings are very welcome but they are buried, for the most part, under histrionic, over stylised action themes that could belong to A.N.Other Action Blockbuster. Admittedly, it's difficult to assess something without knowing its true relationship with the film and how the music is integrated within it. But I always judge a soundtrack album by how well it operates as a stand alone body of music and I'm afraid this doesn't really pass that test. And that's what makes Barry the guv'nor and Arnold merely a composer pastiching what he thinks is the Bond style.
Quantum Of Solace: Original Soundtrack - David Arnold (Sony CD 88697405172 Released 27th October 2008)
Cathode Ray Tube David Arnold Quantum Of Solace music