After the first extracts of the new SPECTRE music by composer Thomas Newman had not exactly been able to impress, today’s release of the full soundtrack album offered room for a shift of opinion. Thanks to many pre-orders, the soundtrack had reached Number 3 on the Amazon UK charts and went straight to Number 1 in the German counterpart while lingering on Number 12 in the US.
With 26 tracks and a total runtime of just over 79 minutes, one somehow can`t refrain from thinking about how much of Newman’s score will remain unreleased material. Given that SPECTRE is the longest ever Bond film with 148 minutes, a couple of minutes seem to have been excluded from the album. Hard to evaluate without having seen the film first.
Let´s go into detail. Not by reviewing every single track individually, but rather highlighting those that stand out from the rest – positively as well as negatively.
First off, the album starts very promising with a track that Newman recorded in collaboration with Mexican Percussion ensemble “Tambuco”. Carefully placed hints of the iconic Bond theme are shimmering through, mixing with the exotic percussion like a perfectly blended cocktail. This genuinely raises my hopes that Newman might not entirely have brushed the critical voices aside that had complained about a lack of “bondness” in the soundtrack of previous Bond outing SKYFALL in 2012.
The orchestral might of “The Pale King” masterfully underlines the menacing appearence of SPECTRE before turning into a moody and mysterious piece that somehow generates a feeling of uneasiness and anxiety. A nail-biter, like when you feel watched.
Another one of my favourites is “The Secret Room” with its distinct oriental touches. Nothing particularly groundbreaking in this recurring soundtrack motif and yet, it still appeals to you with that whiff of foreign mystery. It’s in tracks like these that you hear Thomas Newman’s undisputable strengths. He clearly is not an action music composer, which is why tracks like “Backfire” and “Snow Plane” don’t thrill me at all. A brutal mélange of Hans Zimmer-like sounds at a breathtaking pace with little melody. With the sole exception of “Detonation”, a track with a decent buildup and striking Bond theme finish, the action tracks literally backfire. Pun intended.
The blunt re-use of music from SKYFALL’s train fight scene (2 times) and finale (2 times) puts the icing on the cake and makes you wonder, if just a pinch of originality might not possibly have improved the outcome. Sadly, all the fast-paced tracks for SPECTRE sound like an uninspired extension of the SKYFALL score. Unfortunate, since the major action sequences are the centerpieces that are supposed to figuratively grab you by your private parts and bark “THIS IS BOND!” I just hope this effect will still be there on screen…not that I would wish anyone to grab me anywhere.
The addition of the instrumental for “Writing’s on the Wall” is very welcome, although it is the shortened version. At least you don´t hear Sam Smith’s distant vocal in the background like on the single release. What I really enjoyed immensely was “Day of the Dead” – I absolutely did not see that coming! A track with mainly just drums and energetic, rhythmic singing brought a smile to my face and mentally transported me right into what promises to be one of the most visually stunning opening sequences of the Bond franchise.
All things considered, this soundtrack left me shaken and stirred. Not in a bad way, but not a good one either. First and foremost, there are only a few selected tracks that I would consider putting on my mobile to make the way to work feel more like being on a dangerous spy mission. Yes, that’s really one of my unbreakable, nerdy habits. Especially now with winter approaching where black coat and gloves dominate my daily style of clothing, I was longing for some new and gobsmacking Bond music in my ears.
With the exception of “Los Muertos Vivos Estan”, “The Pale King”, “The Secret Room” and “Detonation”, Thomas Newman’s score doesn’t entirely deliver what I was hoping for, but still isn’t a complete letdown altogether. Streaked by fine orchestral nuances, the occasional subtle bond guitar, sultry strings, mystical flutes and piano it intelligently reflects the complex, multi-layered world of Bond and SPECTRE.
Although there is no full blown iconic James Bond theme, Newman at least managed to integrate parts of it. With SPECTRE obviously reviving classic elements that made Bond so incredibly popular, completely relinquishing the world-famous theme in signature scenes would have been just wrong. The question is what each individual listener is looking for. One important fact has however become painfully clear for me personally: the days in which almost an entire soundtrack by John Barry or David Arnold was able to underscore your non-existent secret agent lifestyle in public is over. Bond music has changed just like the character has changed.
1. Los Muertos Vivos Estan – Thomas Newman, Tambuco
2. Vauxhall Bridge
3. The Eternal City
4. Donna Lucia
5. A Place Without Mercy
7. Crows Klinik
8. The Pale King
10. Kite In A Hurricane
11. Snow Plane
12. L’ Americain
13. Secret Room
15. Writing’s On The Wall
16. Silver Wraith
17. A Reunion
18. Day Of The Dead – Thomas Newman, Tambuco
19. Tempus Fugit
20. Safe House
24. Westminster Bridge
25. Out Of Bullets