Quick Review - Skyfall

Music composed and Conducted by Thomas Newman
Orchestrated by: J.A.C. Redford
Additional Orchestrations: Steven Bernstein, Peter Boyer, Carl Johnson

Additional Arrangements, Programming: Simon Franglen
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios
Album time:  77 minutes
Available on Sony Classical

Bond is back.  Following in the footsteps of Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008), Daniel Craig returns as Bond.  This time we get Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes in the director chair, and his main music collaborator (of 5 films) Thomas Newman as composer.  Knowing his past films, many score fans thought Newman was an odd choice for the Bond franchise, but no surprise knowing the relationship.  Previous Bond composer David Arnold, who spent most of his time as music director of the Olympic games, is certainly missed.

For those looking for the stunning Adele song, "Skyfall", you are out of luck.  It is nowhere to be seen on this album, but there is a interpolation of the song in only one track.  

From the get-go this looks and sounds like a Thomas Newman album.  There are typically many short tracks, and this is no exception (his Finding Nemo album had 40 tracks).

The album begins with Grand Bazaar, Istanbul.  This track is perhaps the most Bond-sounding track.  After the two brass hits, the electronics come in and give hints of an exotic locale.  Some ethnic percussion and instruments get added into the mix as the action gets ratcheted up.  A hint of the brassy Bond theme kicks in as the track fades.

Next up is Voluntary Retirement, which begins with noble horns and later adds some fast moving strings, but generally stays quiet.  There is a good amount of tension in this cue.  The guitars return in New Digs, giving off a Bond vibe.  This track feels like Newman trying to shy away from his normal writing-apparent in the strings before vying off to more of the Bond sound.  The flute starts off the plaintive melody in Severine, the leading lady of the film.  The tune is nice and not overly romantic.  I wish it went on a bit longer and developed the theme even more.  The spy sound is evident in Brave New World, with low tremolo strings, low flutes and hints of the Bond theme.  The track takes off with more exotic sounds.  The full electronics come out in Shanghai Drive, but the track doesn't really go anywhere.

Jellyfish will instantly bring to mind a bit of the Hans Zimmer sound, with churning strings and booming low brass.  The track shifts to a more ominous underscoring.  The fast-paced action starts right off in Silhouette.  Percussion carry most of the track, intermingled with some odd sounds that come and go very quickly.  Modigliani is a short, slow moving track, with quiet piano solos in the background.  It almost segues into Day Wasted - another atmospheric track until glimpses of the Bond theme appear on guitar and strings.  Quartermaster is a nice track, especially when the action kicks in.  The added electronics do benefit the orchestra in track like this.           

Someone Usually Dies features more suspenseful strings, but leads to the great track Komodo Dragon.  The only album track to incorporate Adele's title song, this track is pure James Bond.  The music also works nicely in this scene.  Action picks up in The Bloody Shot, one of the more action-heavy cues of the score.  The brass and percussion go into full drive with a wailing trumpet rendition of the Bond themes.  Overall, a great track.  Enjoying Death is mainly exotic underscoring with a flute solo.  The Chimera is another standout track - although it seems the best moments are just that--moments and not sustained sections.                   

A lighthearted sound appears in Close Shave, and most listeners of Thomas Newman will recognize his often-used pizzicato with a nice flute solo over it.  Heath & Safety will make those same listeners check their album to see if they're still listening to Skyfall or another Newman score.  Another action cue is Granborough Road, with plenty of suspense-filled interludes before finishing off with a guitar rendition of the Bond theme.  Tennyson is a tense and nicely dramatic cue, which fits very nice with M's monologue.  It slowly builds to seque into the next track, Enquiry.  The energetic track features more Bond theme, and the French horns get featured along with serviceable electronics.  If you were wondering where the moment that will make Bond fans smile - it's in Breadcrumbs, which sounds just like the original Monty Norman version with a slightly modern edge.    

The track Skyfall give the listener a moment to breath after the last few great tracks.  Kill Them First and Welcome to Scotland bring back the menacing horns with plenty of string ostinatos.  She's Mine sounds like many modern scores, which builds with great excitement while featuring hints of the Bond motif.

The Moors is another exotic sounding track, with a throbbing electronic beat.  Deep Water starts off with a bang and keeps chugging.  In its quietest moments, the track keeps the suspense as it crescendos.  Mother is one of the more gentle tracks, with a brass choir leading off to the strings.  Electronics pick up in Adrenaline, and the exotic strings make it one of the stranger tracks on the album.  iTunes has the exclusive track, Old Dog, New Tricks - a relaxed track that probably won't be missed by the average listener.        

First off, the album is very nicely put together.  Even through the long running time, it never is a labor to listen to.  

Thomas Newman has always been a good composer of atmosphere.  He hasn't really been attached to themes and motifs, which is apparent in the score.  His way of building the moment really helped in a score like this.  I give credit to him for not completely sounding like his predecessors.  Thankfully the score doesn't stay very long in the modern score sound, but instead mixing his style and the previous Bond styles.  The action cues are surprisingly good, sounding like previous scores while maintaining the edge of modern film scores.

Newman's score rose above my expectations of what I thought he could do for an action score (Adjustment Bureau, anyone?).  Personally of course I enjoy the recent David Arnold scores more, but Newman came in with all the hype and showed off his skills.   Good work.

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