CD Review: QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Composer: David Arnold
Label: J-Records
Suggested Retail Price: $12.99
Grade: B

David Arnold will have a while to go before he closes in on John Barry with five 007 scores to that composer’s eleven. But he’s certainly sweating off the musical pounds while going for the gold, writing exciting, breakneck action for Bond that dramatically contrasts the slow elegance that Barry used when Bond exercised his license to kill. Now with QUANTUM OF SOLACE, Arnold’s exhilarating approach shatters every bone in 007’s body, and then some. For there’s little respite to be found in the adrenalized orchestra and bullet-blasting brass as Bond does his Bourne thing with rooftop jumping, rope swinging, and even an outrageous bit of plane parachuting to remind us that this is an 007 movie after all.

Yet David Arnold wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t hit the rhythms of QUANTUM’s mayhem, which he does with considerably more finesse than that film’s epilepsy-inducing action editing. Sure, Bond purists might take him to task for lacking the elegance of Barry’s action approach. But they’re forgetting that the Bond movies have been all about keeping up with contemporary tastes from action to music, especially since the agent’s “hip” rebirth with GOLDENEYE (which would have been lucky to have Arnold score it). While he may not have always been playing in the suave key of Barry since his entry to the series with TOMORROW NEVER DIES, Arnold’s love of the 007 maestro’s approach has always been apparent, from always using the mythic 007 themes to Barry’s overall tone of brass-jazz orchestral danger. And though it all might be too breathless for old-school Bond fans, Arnold’s retained his own stylistic voice by mixing his symphony with rock, techno and electronica elements to make Bond musically up to the minute.

While Arnold’s previous score for CASINO ROYALE had oodles of “down time,” its direct sequel QUANTUM OF SOLACE barely allows the composer to catch his breath. In that respect, this enjoyable movie is Vegas versus Monte Carlo, visual thrash that wins over its precious, and quite absorbing moments of character development. But even as most of the derring-do collapses into incomprehensibility, Arnold’s talent for theme-driven groove keeps a firm, melodic construction of the film’s set pieces. Cues like “Time To Get Out,” “Target Terminated” and “Perla De Las Dunas” have big, brassy balls to them, a macho sound that’s been with Bond since the gun barrel. All show off Arnold’s talent at build up the suspense until it explodes with his near-patented brand of aggressive Bond action. And joining such highlights as THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH’s “Submarine” and CASINO’s “Miami International” is QUANTUM’s “Pursuit at Port Au Prince,” as cool, tense strings are picked up by growling brass and electric guitar, the rock vibe taking command of the scene’s boat chase. Lush strings then arrive with a quote of the title song and the Barry 007 theme. It’s what great next-wave Bond music is all about.

For a Bond where the omnipresent “organization” makes S.P.E.C.T.R.E look like a bunch of pikers, Arnold gets across a sleek sense of menace in “No Interest in Dominic Greene” and “Night at the Opera,” with Barry’s classic themes always sure to pop up, no more playfully than in the brief “Field Trip.” Like Barry, Arnold is skilled at weaving the main title song through the score, even if it’s the hokey-pokey like rhythm of Jack White’s “Another Way To Die,” an Alicia Keys’ abetted song that works far better in the film than apart from it.

With QUANTUM globetrotting like no 007 film before it, Arnold goes for the ride with his most instrumentally exotic Bond score yet. Latin percussion and pan flute menace abound, with Cimbalom’s that bring back cool noir memories of the passé Commie villains Bond used to fight. QUANTUM’s thankful moments of introspection also give Arnold the chance to break the 007 music mold, especially as ethereal guitar playing accompanies “Camille’s Story,” and the simple, yet emotionally powerful piano of “Forgive Yourself” gets across the unconsummated bond between the heroine’s violently damaged soul and Bond’s- an aphrodisiac that’s also what’s best about Daniel Craig’s lethally neurotic take on 007. It’s in this kind of restrained elegance where Arnold’ really gets to dig into the character, and provide the QUANTUM soundtrack with its most lyrical, and most interesting music.

After this undoubtedly entertaining QUANTUM, James Bond will hopefully have the solace to do some light shaking instead of violently stirring, allowing Arnold’s music to take 007 in even more interesting directions. But given the 105-minute momentum machine that QUANTUM is, the fact that Arnold’s music is able to successfully keep pace with Bond is no small miracle.

Get David Arnold’s license to thrill here.

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