The First Review of David Arnold's CASINO ROYALE Soundtrack

by Greg Bechtloff

 

Being a mega-fan of the James Bond series and a fan of soundtracks in general, the release of the new soundtrack to a James Bond film brings great anticipation and anxiety. Will the new music be any good? Will it be Bondian? Will it live up to the long and glittering history of the past Bond film scores?

I am happy to report that David Arnold’s score to Casino Royale succeeds on a variety of levels, not only as a Bond soundtrack but as a soundtrack in general; something that non-Bond fans would be interested in obtaining.

First things first, Casino Royale is the fourth consecutive James Bond film that English composer David Arnold has scored and it is his best work since his debut with Tomorrow Never Dies. Taking a cue from what Daniel Craig said when he got the Bond role in 2005, Arnold has taken the music to a place where it has maybe never gone before.

After the experimental detour with Eric Serra on Goldeneye, the general consensus for Tomorrow Never Dies was to get back to the classic sound of John Barry’s Bond scores. Barring Barry returning himself, David Arnold was commissioned to bring Bond into the 90s but yet to not lose sight of the Barry legacy; a feat that Arnold achieved with great success for the rousing music to 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies.

Arnold returned for The World Is Not Enough in 1999 (the first time someone other than John Barry has scored more than one Bond film) which built on the score to Tomorrow Never Dies but which was ultimately not as memorable. By the time Die Another Day rolled around in 2002, Arnold’s music felt tired and uninspired. This was particularly disappointing considering that Die Another Day was the 40th Anniversary Bond film which should have been accompanied by a blowout score like John Barry delivered for the 25th Anniversary film The Living Daylights in 1987.

So it was with great trepidation that word came down that David Arnold would score Casino Royale, the film that would introduce a new James Bond actor and restart the entire film series. People wondered how the feel of the film could be different from the past if we were going to hear the same old music we heard in the last three Bond films.

 

Daniel Craig makes his debut as Ian Fleming's intrepid secret agent.

 

Surprising cynics like myself, Arnold has apparently reinvented his approach to the music much like the series itself has reinvented itself. Gone is the ‘’quoting’’ of little snippets from scores such as Thunderball and in fact gone is the conscious or unconscious channeling of John Barry altogether. The music to Casino Royale is unlike any previous James Bond film music. Sure there’s some rousing action cues such as ‘’African Rundown’’ and ‘’Miami International’’ but these function as good action music in their own stead.

What is very apparent to Bond fans is that the music to Casino Royale plays a major role in conveying the journey that the character of James Bond makes in this film. This film brings us James Bond as a newly minted agent, not the seasoned veteran that we have seen in every previous film. David Arnold’s music reflects the journey Bond will make from 'sojourn' agent to the James Bond ‘’we all know and love’’.

The primary method that Arnold employs to this end is by NOT using the James Bond Theme. As you listen to this score, every time you hear an action cue and expect the Bond Theme to fire up (per prior conditioning) it does not come. This is not a bad thing as reliance on the Bond Theme can sometimes be as trite as a gadget used to get out of a dangerous situation.

 

The poster artwork shows that this James Bond film is a complete departure to any other.

 

Arnold does tease us with hints of the theme and faux Bondian themes but it’s not until the very end of the score that we get a robust yet conservative reading of the James Bond Theme in all its glory. I’ve read that this is even mentioned in the script as it is not until the very end of the film that James Bond is completely ‘’James Bond’’.

The score is primarily orchestral in nature with not a lot of the synth elements heard in previous David Arnold Bond scores or Bond scores by other composers. As I mentioned before, after listening to Casino Royale, you cannot say, ‘’it sounds kind of like OHMSS or kind of like The Spy Who Loved Me’’. This one is an original which like the movie itself, augurs well.

Being a soundtrack fan in general, I was curious to see if there were any other action/espionage scores that came to mind after hearing Casino Royale. Things like Harry Gregson-Williams’ Spy Game and the music to the three Mission Impossible films come to mind but Casino does not sound like any of those films. Nor does the score sound like John Powell’s music to The Bourne Identity or The Bourne Supremacy, both of which Bond observers know consciously affected how this new film and the reinvention of the Bond series were conceived of in the first place.

Some traditions never change though and Bond fans will be glad to know that melodies from the main theme of ‘’You Know My Name’’ are used in the score but actually very sparingly. Quiet, somber and spare describe most of the themes involving Vesper and the casino action.

 

Vesper and Bond's love affair is the centerpiece of the story.

 

Regarding the infamous absence of Chris Cornell’s vocal to ‘’You Know My Name’’ from the soundtrack (the first time this has happened in the 44 year old series) the reasons involve record company business issues. Basically, Chris Cornell is signed to Interscope Records. This soundtrack is released on Sony Masterworks, a different label, simple as that. Word is that ‘’You Know My Name’’ will appear on Cornell’s solo album due out early next year. Get over it Bond fans, that’s just how things work in the modern world.

To sum it all up, David Arnold has redeemed himself for the disappointing score to Die Another Day with his excellent music for Casino Royale. You need to add this soundtrack to your collection.

Sony Masterworks will release the Casino Royale soundtrack on November 13, 2006.

 

Greg Bechtloff hails from the OC in southern California . He has been a Bond fan for over 25 years and has written articles for 007 Magazine and various Bond websites. He pretentiously says that he is a Bond expert. Greg works in the music business in Los Angeles.

 

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