The music of James Bond part nine: Craig to present
Casino Royale saw a reboot of the character. We saw a tougher Bond who showed us the dirty sides of espionage. Craig started off as a very physical Bond to the extent that veteran actor Robert Hardy commented:
"I don't think he's a good actor, but he's very good at jumping"
Director Martin Campbell was well versed in Bond. He managed to bridge the gap between Bond traditions and a totally new approach to the character.
Casino Royale was David Arnold's fourth Bond soundtrack. While having been a safe pair of hands in the past, Arnold did something incredibly stupid: he substituted the James Bond Theme for the chorus of the theme song You Know My Name. Why on earth not use one of the most recognisable pieces of music in the world if you can?
Strangely enough, the song performed by Chris Cornell was not included in the soundtrack but only released as a single. Although critically and commercially successful, the song is ultimately bland and forgettable.
Quantum of Solace was meant to feature the ultimate Bond song by one of the most gifted singers of her generation: Amy Winehouse. But due to her very public issues, it was decided not to use her for the main song.
That, to me, is a true tragedy. The Bond song that could have been. Instead, Another Way to Die was performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys — big in Europe; ignored in the States.
I'm not entirely sure what happened there. Keys is a fantastic singer with a tremendous range, but Another Way to Die didn't really allow her to show off her talent. White and Keys don't fit together. The song is hectic, whereas Keys is perfect for monumental ballads. Yet, that's pretty much valid for the overall soundtrack. Quantum of Solace is a film that can be described as fragmented at best — and so is the soundtrack. Again, Arnold makes minimal use of the James Bond Theme.
Skyfall was Craig's third outing, and you could see that he was getting tired of the role. In many ways, Skyfall tried to incorporate elements of classic Bond films like M, his office, the vintage Aston Martin, and the PPK, etc.
The song by Adele was classic Bond: orchestral arrangements, fantastic vocals — never mind the fact that the lyrics make no sense whatsoever. The song became a huge hit all over the world. Interestingly enough, the album with music composed by Thomas Newman was the highest-charting Bond album in 27 years. Adele's song was not even included. Again, the Bond Theme was hardly used.
No one is less James Bond than Sam Smith. Writing's on the Wall (not included in the soundtrack album) was a very melodramatic ballad that actually did refer to the storyline of the film. So it somehow made sense but was totally out of place.
In the UK, it became the first James Bond theme song to reach number one in the charts, with Adele and Duran Duran having peaked at number two. The rest of the world was not particularly impressed. The instrumental soundtrack by Thomas Newman was so unremarkable and bland that trailers actually used John Barry's OHMSS compositions.
So all in all, although many Bond songs are iconic pieces of music, quite a few of them were not really hits at the time, but have become evergreens over the years.
Some songs were good, some bad, and some indifferent. Yet, they hardly ever matched the commercial success of the films. The biggest issue seems to be capturing the US, European, and Asian markets at the same time.
Bond films seem to be universal, whereas the music isn't. The tremendous instrumental soundtracks were by the great John Barry, who has also put music to many other excellent films. His most impressive offering was OHMSS.
The younger composers seem to try to make their own mark, which is fair enough. Still, they do it at the expense of sacrificing traditional elements of Bond music. Quite frankly, I find that rather disrespectful to John Barry.
The current strategy to choose a performer who is successful at any given point in time has produced several forgettable yet highly profitable songs. But to me, the stylistic uncertainty in the music department illustrates that Bond is in limbo. No one really seems to know where to take the series or how to develop the character.
Thorsten has been a Bond fan since 1977. He teaches at DHBW University in Germany and writes books — but mostly on very boring topics. Asked if he fancies himself as James Bond, he replied: "More as James Bond’s accountant".