The Life Aquatic - The Spy Who Loved Me Soundtrack review

This is the soundtrack album for the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved. It's one of my favourite Bond films and the score is a lot of fun too. Rather dated and of its time but then that's a big part of the charm now. Before The Spy Who Loved Me came out people were starting to wonder for the first time if James Bond had outstayed his welcome and that maybe the franchise should gracefully retire. The Man with the Golden Gun failed to do much for either the box-office or critics in 1974 and legal wrangles had meant for the first time ever there would be a three year gap in between films (feels strange writing that in an era when Barbara Broccoli takes about a hundred years to produce one film). Not only that but Harry Saltzman had given up his stake in the series and producer Cubby Broccoli was now on his own. Broccoli, in his usual fashion, decided that he was going to prove all the cynics and doomsayers wrong and restore James Bond to his former glory. That he did with one of the most absurdly fantastical and lavish adventures in the history of the franchise. This is that insane late seventies Lewis Gilbert era with the great designer Ken Adam where Bond was gargantuan in scope and anything seemed possible. A return to the gilt edge Connery epics like Thunderball but with a wonderfully enjoyable kitsch seventies polish.
Undersea bases, supertankers that swallow nuclear submarines, Richard Kiel with steel teeth, Union Jack parachutes. The Spy Who Loved Me makes Skyfall look like some student film made in a garage over weekends. One important ingredient to the usual Bond stew would sadly be missing though. The legendary John Barry was living abroad for tax reasons and couldn't set foot in Britain without coughing up a very large sum of money to Her Majesty's Government so a new composer was needed. Who to choose? Step forward Marvin Hamlisch - the first American to ever be asked to compose a Bond score. Hamlisch (who sadly died only a few months ago) was rather young at the time but had a very interesting background. His first stage work involved playing piano for an eightysomething Groucho Marx at Carnegie Hall. Groucho would reminisce about his career and sing a few of the old songs like Lydia (I'm guessing) and the show was highly acclaimed. Hamlisch also scored two very early Woody Allen films (Take the Money and Run & Bananas) and went on to compose the soundtracks for The Way We Were and The Sting. The Spy Who Loved Me was sort of like a fresh start for the Bond series. Make or break. It had to go for broke. The approach by Hamlisch to the music was to partly embrace the disco era and a more modern sound but also stay true to the John Barry template with majestic strings, brass and melodies.
More of an electronic feel at times and appropriately over the top to reflect the incredibly daft and incredibly entertaining film they were shooting from Baffin Island to Sardinia. The end result was often highly entertaining and the perfect backdrop to Roger Moore saving the world in a pair of cream flares. The title theme Nobody Does It Better begins the album and is one of the most instantly recognisable and classic Bond songs. It was composed by Hamlisch and performed by Carly Simon (with lyrics by Hamlisch's girlfriend at the time Carole Bayer Sager). This is a very simple cheesy song, a big camp power ballad that is enjoyably melodic and somehow perfectly captures the seventies Roger Moore era. "Nobody does it better, Makes me feel sad for the rest, Nobody does it half as good as you, Baby, you're the best." It's like a masterclass in how to come up with a James Bond theme. It feels lavish, grand, and yet faintly tongue-in-cheek. It also has more of a traditional fade out here than the version used in the film. I believe this was the only the second of three Bond songs to receive an Oscar nomination. The lyrics are simultaneously both rubbish and brilliant (it's something of a tradition that Bond lyrics don't always make an awful lot of sense if you actually sit down and study them) and Carly Simon (whom I'm not familiar with at all apart from that Your So Vain song and this) provides a nice vocal. Bond songs never quite feel right unless they are sung by a woman and this is certainly one of the more memorable ones.
Bond 77 is next and a part remix of the James Bond theme that Hamlisch composed to use during the big action sequences like the ski chase PTS, the spectacular aquatic Lotus Esprit sequence and the extended action climax in the supertanker at the end. It's possibly my favourite ever remix of the James Bond theme and absolutely fantastic. It has funky squelchy guitars and synth beats and is so seventies it probably has yellow curtains and lives next door to Richard O'Sullivan. It's like a sort of disco version of the Bond theme but has striking electric cues that evoke John Barry. It transports one immediately back to a time when James Bond films were grand fun and fully embraced being James Bond films rather than pretentious middlebrow nonsense. I should point out that parts of this are different to the theme used in the film so even if you have seen The Spy Who Loved Me umpteen times it's worth listening to this soundtrack version too. This extended version goes somewhat twee at times but it's still great and one can see that like John Barry, Hamlisch proves to be very adept at inserting his own action beats. Even the cues that don't directly use the bars of the James Bond theme still sound very James Bond. It's clever the way the music is structured so that it has a driving beat that moves it forward. Perfect for the triumvirate of big action set-pieces that run through the film.

There is a hint of the alpine here too at the start. The music evokes shimmering mountain peaks and grand scale escapism. Most of all though this has a whimsical strain that matches the mood the film would strive for. It's a comic book film and the score reflects this but in a very stylish and entertaining fashion. No point in being too subtle or experimental because this film had to announce to the world that James Bond was back. Ride to Atlantis is the dreamy piece of music that plays when Bond is en route to Stromberg's undersea base Atlantis by speedboat. A scene as memorable for Caroline Munro as the far out sci-fi design. "What a handsome craft. Such lovely lines." It's another great piece of music. It starts quite bassy and then these wonderful string like synthesisers kick in. It's simultaneously both lavish and languid and feels like a perfect backdrop to the outrageous spectacle that the film throws at the screen. The thing I like most about this piece of music is that it even sounds aquatic. You can almost see the light reflecting off the ocean as you listen to it. This is again a slightly different version to the one used in the film. Goes a bit jazzy in the end with some trumpets threatening to outstay their welcome but it's a minor criticism. Love the way the music softens and becomes otherworldly.
The Deodato-like Mojave Club captures the playful mood of the Egyptian section of the film with a world music feel and lots of beats and flutes. Rather unique to Bond at the time in terms of sound and certainly fun - if not maybe something you would really go out of your way to listen to in isolation like the first three pieces of music. I wouldn't anyway. Does sound rather dated these days. Next is the instrumental version of Nobody Does It Better. It's interesting how they used to work an instrumental version of the main theme into the old films to wonderful effect but don't seem to do that anymore. Not sure why. It's softer than the Carly Simon version with more piano and strings. Quite moving actually in its own cheese drizzled way. Anya is rather generic and I struggled at first to remember which part of the film this came from. There is a good reason for that because it wasn't actually used in the film. A slight shame really because it would have fitted in quite nicely. It has a lot of flutes and sounds a bit too soppy for its own good at the start. It did grow on me though and this is one of the most purely romantic interludes on the soundtrack.
The Tanker is a strident brassy bold composition for the gloriously ridiculous and dramatic scenes involving the big supertanker that swallows nuclear submarines. Good stuff. More Egyptian infused capers with The Pyramids next. This was the musical backdrop for the neon hazed scene where Roger Moore and Barbara Bach visited the Pyramids at night. This part of the score is nicely atmospheric in a glitter disco sort of way. Eastern Lights is rather similar and (if memory serves) must be from a section of the film not a million miles away from this one. A lot of the cues from the Egyptian sequences feel more throwaway and less essential but it gives one an interesting insight into how a soundtrack is constructed and the different moods and sounds that are required. A piece called Conclusion is fun. This sounds like a heavenly choir and was played in the film when Roger Moore karate chopped the Russian agents working for Anya into oblivion by the Pyramids at night. I think that will always be the essence of cinematic James Bond to me. A man in a blazer karate chopping Russian agents. "Hope you enjoyed the show!" I'm only half-joking. Probably.
Another version of Nobody Does It Better ends the soundtrack. Begins in softer fashion and then goes a bit music hall/rugby singalong before morphing back into more conventional form. A bit silly maybe but this is The Spy Who Loved Me not Scenes from a Marriage. This soundtrack remains very enjoyable on the whole and the fact that you get some stuff here that wasn't in the film is a nice added bonus. The most salient weaknesses are the fact that this feels rather short (most of the Bond soundtrack albums seem to be have twice as many pieces of music) and some of the music away from the action beats are hardly essential. That aside though, this is great fun at its best and worth it for the psychedelic Ride to Atlantis and funky Bond 77 alone.
- Jake


c 2012 Alternative 007