Film scores

Soundtrack review: James Bond – Spectre (Thomas Newman – 2015)

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Whenever a new James Bond movie and score come out I’m afraid I will have too many thoughts and I will talk too little about the music. This franchise means so much to me and I am very passionate about it. Now that the movies have recovered from the mess of the Brosnan area, ironically my worries have become solely about the music. I am a big David Arnold fan and I still haven’t gotten over his departure from the series. I am a big Thomas Newman fan but I don’t think he’s right for Bond. Or, should I say, Skyfall made me think that. I didn’t like that score, it didn’t have the Bond spirit. Now he’s back and until a week before the release this was the first Bond score I actually wasn’t excited about. One of my favorite moments of the year had lost its shine. But then something happened, in the last moment. I heard Newman’s “Bridge of spies” and my faith was restored. That score was thick and dark and … different. So I come into “Spectre” with renewed hope.

Then there’s the vocal theme… as always, one of the most important parts of the Bond system. With “Skyfall” Adele set a standard so high that no matter who came to write for Specter, short of Elvis’ resurrection, it wouldn’t have been good enough. And then Sam Smith, already a controversial figure for his Tom Petty troubles, comes in and says he recorded the theme in 20 minutes, insulting the intelligence of everyone in the music business and minimizing the efforts of the countless members of this team who worked for editing, polishing, arranging… Anyway, to my surprise, despite this entire backlash from the press and fans… I discovered that “The writing’s on the wall” is actually an excellent Bond theme. The instrumental part is to die for and even the low key and depressing musings of Sam Smith grow on me.

I can’t wait for the movie and I can’t wait to hear the music in context. But also I am not patient enough to wait to hear the score for the first time there, so I wanted to grab it fresh on release morning. The opening makes me instantly think of the John Barry scores from the 60s. “Los muertos vivos estan” has that wonderful nostalgic combination of the original Bond theme and Latin guitars that’s already part of Bond legend for me. Well played, Mr. Newman! Let’s not leave this place. I’m already getting goose bumps.

The composer does here exactly what he didn’t do in Skyfall: weave the Bond original theme and that sound in the fabric of his score. I listen to a misty and mysterious cue like “The eternal city” and I know that it belongs on a James Bond score. It has the darkness, the astuteness this character needs and it also has motifs that tie it firmly to the franchise. No, I don’t actually have a checklist of things I need to hear in a Bond score to be happy but after Skyfall I am just happy to be home again.

I’m also enjoying the fact that the year of minimalism is touching this score as well with just enough silent moments as to give it meaning. The theme for Monica Belucci’s character “Donna Lucia” is one that belongs in the pantheon of Bond girls themes with Elektra or the other romantic moments that are still a joy to hear after all these years. The other Bond girl Madeline gets an even sweeter theme.

The action moments are fast and spectacular and they make me excited about the movie. “Backfire” is the first one and it’s a spectacle or adrenaline. And of course, at the end of it, that little stamp that reminds us we are in the James Bond world, one of those few seconds orchestral inserts stemmed from the original theme. “Snow plane” explodes in wonderful, epic orchestral action that confirms the state of grace Thomas Newman is in.

Complete with the spectacular and rich instrumental version of the vocal theme which shows me even more that on this level it’s one of the best ever (no checklist, I promise) “Spectre” is a true James Bond score worthy to stand in the temple built by John Barry and David Arnold. All fans should revel in this one and I’m sure this composition will please even film music fans that are not invested in the franchise. The week of Thomas Newman’s 60th birthday was guarded at both ends by two of his best scores ever. That’s something to remember!

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 56 / 80

Album excellence: 70%

Highlights:

Los Muertos Vivos Estan (featuring Tambuco)

The Eternal City
Donna Lucia
Backfire
Kite In A Hurricane
Snow Plane
Secret Room
Hinx
Writing’s On The Wall (Instrumental)
Silver Wraith
Day Of The Dead (featuring Tambuco)
Tempus Fugit
Blindfold
Detonation
Westminster Bridge

 

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

12 Comments

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  • Hello
    Sorry I don’t agree with you, I’ve just been listning to the soundtrack of spectre, and I most say I really dissapointed with what he’s done with the score.
    I really miss the John Barry and David Arnold’s music.
    Thomas Newman might be a great music composer but he lacks the bond’s score.
    I think a good one would be danny elfman, you should listen to his mission impossibe score or Joe kreamer they would be good for a bond score.
    I’m afraid that I would give 50 out of 100 for this score.
    The careless one is very much alike the moors from skyfall.
    The best of them are: track 1, track 4, the track of writing’s on the wall instr.
    I believe there are still some more tracks of that movie, like the one when M and Denbigh talk. that does not feature in the album.
    The snowplane track is poor it should have been more with the hint of martin norman bod score.
    So that’s my review of that score.
    Have a nice day

  • I have been a die hard Bond fan for years. Of the many things Im fanantical about is the title song and score. First off, when I first heard that Sam Mendes wanted to use “his” compser, Thomas Newman for Skyfall, I was very dissapointed. David Arnold IS the James Bond composer, just like the great John Barry was. Why replace the man who knows what Bond music is and sounds like with someone who doesn’t? Anyway, the score to Skyfall was utter trash. Didn’t sound like a BOND SCORE AT ALL. It sounded like a Thomas Newman score to some other movie. The only good thing was the title song which did indeed sound like a Bond song. Thank you Adele for getting it right! Now, with Spectre it is the same thing! The score sounds terrible. Not Bond sounding at all! And that title song makes me want to jump off a roof because its so bad. I just feel Thomas Newman is the wrong man to be scoreing a Bond movie. Its time to bring Arnold back – a composer who knows what he’s doing and knows what fans want to hear. Im not asking for it to sound like Goldfinger here, but Newman just keeps missing the mark and really takes away from the film. He never really unleashes anything big and grand. Even with the more exciting pieces, it feels like he’s holding back. The music he is creating is just flat out boreing to me. Where’s the excitment? Where’s the escapism? Where is the grander than all sound? In the end, where is that definitive Bond sound? Im afarid its not here…again! And for a second time in a row. Also, he can’t just add the Bond theme here and there and call it a Bond score. I can only hope the Broccoli and Wilson will make the choice and bring the rightful king back to the throne – Arnold, regardless if Mendes returns or not.

  • This Spectre score is music by numbers. Dreadful wallpaper music. I don’t get me started on the song. Oh I miss John Barry.

  • I’m a big fan and follower of movie scores. I know immediately (at least for me) which ones complement the movie, and which ones are background filler. In my view, the best ones become another aspect of … another character in the movie. They help tell the story. James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer both do this well I think. For me, if I listen to a score and am taken into that movie’s environment without the benefits of seeing the filmed visuals, then the composer has done an exceptional job. I think this was the appeal of the original Star Wars soundtrack in 1977. Many of us grew up with that music playing in the background while we extended the Star Wars universe in our imaginations while playing with our spaceship toys. We didn’t need to be watching the movie.
    I read other people’s comments here about how much they miss John Barry and David Arnold’s music. For me, I enjoyed some of those scores, but mostly bit and pieces; for me, they don’t really come together as fuller, complete complements to their respective movies.
    I agree with your Spectre review and certainly with the part where you say that Thomas Newman has blended nicely a beautiful score with key Bond musical cues. To me, this score is among the best Bond scores to-date because of how Newman has done this. For a franchise “brand” like Bond, I think we expect to be reminded “that we are watching a Bond film”; I don’t want those cues to be overused, but I DO expect the composer to use them at the “right times”. For a franchise like this with such a definitive, well-known theme, I don’t expect the composer to recreate the wheel. That said, I also hope the composer will lead me the listener with new sounds and motifs in other parts of the score (Newman did this well too I think).
    For this Spectre score, stand out pieces for me are (as you state) Donna Lucia and Madeleine. For the action pieces, Westminster Bridge is powerful and exciting (I like to listen to this when jogging …); Backfire and Snowplane also are nicely done — they’ve grown on me. I also love the Northern Africa / Middle Eastern influences of Secret Room (and similar motifs sprinkled in other songs). Initially I wasn’t a fan of Los Muertos Vivos Estan, but it has grown on me because of the artful way Newman elegantly uses the Bond cues throughout the song. Now I can’t imagine the score without it.
    Spectre Score Rating: 9.5 out of 10 for me.

    • Wow. Thanks for this extended comment and for sharing your thoughts. This counts as a review 🙂 I’ve revisited Spectre since writing about it and it’s grown on me even more. If you read my other Bond reviews you’ll see I’m a huge Barry and Arnold fan but I can appreciate what Newman brought to the franchise and where he’s taking it.