James Bond Soundtracks - The Timothy Dalton Years

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The music for the Timothy Dalton films is - to borrow a sporting cliche - very much a game of two halves. The Living Daylights has a great John Barry score while Licence To Kill ventures into more generic territory with Michael Kamen. The series was never quite the same after Barry departed and you can't help wondering what Licence To Kill and GoldenEye would have been like with Barry's music. A lot more Bondian I'd imagine. The Living Daylights remains the last great James Bond film I think. Timothy Dalton was clearly way ahead of his time, presenting a more serious 007 but one who was still quite debonair and looked like James Bond. His first introduction during the PTS war game on Gibraltar remains one of the best and you accept him as James Bond almost as soon as you see him. I do anyway. It's like some sort of surreal unfunny joke that the homely and diminutive Daniel Craig has already made more films than Dalton ever did. I love the cinematography in this film and the European locations but most of all I love the music by John Barry. This was the last James Bond film he ever scored so it truly was the end of an era and to say the franchise missed him would be something of an understatement. The Living Daylights soundtrack album begins with the title song, performed by eighties Norwegian pop chancers A-ha. I am not terribly familiar with the (ahem) collected works of A-ha but although this isn't that well regarded in the world of Bondage, the Bondosphere, the Bond Bubble, I rather like it myself. It's a difficult one to describe other than eighties pop trio A-ha meet the great John Barry. A mixture of the old and new. The attempt to fashion a more modern theme doesn't work as well as it did with Duran Duran's A View To A Kill but it's not bad at all. A-ha and John Barry famously did not get on and by all accounts he wanted to strangle them in the end. They released their own preferred version of this on one of their albums and I did have a listen on YouTube and would have to say the official Barry produced incarnation is much better. Simply put, he added all the Bondian bells and whistles and made it sound like a Bond song.
Necros Attacks is next and very representative of the sound and feel of the music that drives the film. Barry's big bold brassy James Bond sound is still wonderfully evident but he laces it with electronic beats. There is a repeating looping structure to the music that is almost hypnotic and I love the sense of tension he manages to infuse this piece of music with. I believe this was used in the film when the assassin Necros raids the MI6 country safe house disguised as as a milkman - complete with explosive milk bottles. This music also uses strains from The Pretender's Where Has Everybody Gone - which features later on and is like the unofficial theme of Necros. He's listening to it on a Walkman in the film. How very appropriate for a killer to have this as his anthem. The Sniper Was a Woman is a much more low-key piece of music but still with those trademark Barry signatures of strident chords. This is beautifully atmospheric and was used in the film when Bond is in Bratislava with his sniper rifle and refuses to kill the cellist Kara Milovy. "Stuff my orders. I only kill professionals. That girl didn't know one end of a rifle from the other. If he fires me I'll thank him for it!" That's James Bond. Not Daniel Craig running around with an earpiece doing anything Judi Dench tells him to. A really solid piece of music that reminds us of how much poorer the Brosnan films were for not having Barry's music to lift them up a few notches.
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Ice Chase is fantastic and was used in the film when Bond and Kara escape to Austria in his gadget laden Aston Martin. Rockets, missiles, lasers. "I've had a few optional extras installed." A great action beat for the sequence. It has a funky bass, what sounds like a drum machine, a backdrop of orchestration and - after a typically grand but slightly restrained start - kicks into gear with what is sort of like an electronic bass sound that drives the whole thing along as Barry then adds stratospheric horns and then the chords of the James Bond theme. It does its business on the music in recent Bond films from a great height and is just brilliant. Kara Meets Bond is (yes, you guessed it) taken from the first meeting between Bond and leading lady Kara. It seems to consist of flutes and is very soft and low key. It's supposed to be romantic I suppose. It flirts with a slab of cheese and some crackers but just manages to reel itself in from the precipice. Not the sort of thing you'd listen to much though, certainly in isolation. Koskov Escapes is the backdrop for (amazingly enough) the escape of Koskov from the MI6 country safe house. It's very John Barry, with horns, strings and that gently building ominous air that he always suffused into his music. He had such an uncanny knack of doing that. Roger Moore could be dressed as a circus clown but with Barry's music it was still sort of tense because he makes you feel like something is going to happen at any minute. I suppose this is sort of like "stock" Barry music but as far as stock music goes it's great.
Where Has Everybody Gone is one of two contributions to the film by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders. I believe they were considered to record the main title theme but lost out because A-ha were thought to be more commercial at the time. A similar scenario to KD Lang being stiffed on Tomorrow Never Dies in favour of Sheryl Crow. This is (as we've established I think) the Necros theme and when used sparingly in the film very Bondian indeed. In isolation with much more Chrissie Hynde it's much more generic but not bad at all if you want some eighties power pop. Into Vienna is a rather cheesy piece of music that signals the arrival of Bond and Kara in, er, Vienna. It's a backdrop for some pretty establishing shots of the city and worked ok in the film. In isolation though and extended this is a bit cheese drizzled and dated. Like an electronic orchestra. Hercules Takes Off is the action score for the big Afghanistan plane sequence. It uses the main title theme to and is absolutely brilliant with big blaring horns and an immediate and driving sense of urgency. It almost has a sense of suave as well. Very James Bond. Mujahadin and Opium is the music used for the desert sequences in Afghanistan. Heavenly strings that almost chime and echo in your head and then some horns as the music progresses. Very classy and pitched right too. When David Arnold used to try and do this it was all too obvious somehow. Too treacly and overblown. With Barry it is effortless. Inflight Flight is more action beat stuff that again fuses in Where Has Everybody Gone. It's great but you feel like you've already heard heard this one on the album before.
More from The Pretenders next with If There Was a Man. This is the song played over the end credits in the film. "You didn't think I'd miss this performance did you?" It's a bit soppy but I like this. It's a big ballad with Chrissie Hynde giving it some welly. Love the very 1980s guitars. 
Exercise At Gibraltar is the music used for the PTS action sequence on the Rock. This is classic Barry. It begins (after the gunbarrel signature) full of atmosphere and mournful brass and then builds (and remember this music is designed to lead us into our introduction to the new James Bond) into a fantastic remix of the Bond theme. Great stuff. Approaching Kara is more retro with mandolins and vague strings. It's got a slightly Eastern European sound. Works ok in the film but not really something you'd listen to much in isolation. Murder at the Fair is a more haunting piece of music with those trademark Barry strings but this time more subdued. It's that Barry stock music that you feel like you've heard many times in his previous Bond films but if it's not broken why fix it? This was the backdrop for more Necros stalking capers. Whatever happened to the classic James Bond henchman? More Barry synth wonder with Assassin and Drugged. An action beat that remixes the title theme. Ok, we've practically heard this more than once already but it's just great. Airbase Jailbreak has bass and flutes and Barry on fine form. I think the key to Barry's music is the way he manages to infuse it with a majestic sweep. It's very evocative of the world of James Bond.
Some pounding percussion for Afghanistan Plan. Again the strings are great. The album is becoming a bit samey by now but you can't complain as we've heard some great stuff. Air Bond is big and brassy with a triumphant feel while Final Confrontation is a more suspenseful piece with that trademark Barry sound. This is very reminiscent of vintage Bond soundtracks he scored for the Connery and Roger Moore years and this anachronistic quality is quite charming. Finally, Alternate End Titles is essentially a Barry instrumental version of If There Was A Man. Very pretty. This is a great soundtrack and proof that one John Barry top trump will get you 57 David Arnolds and a gaggle of Bill Conti's. There are a couple of soppy interludes that haven't stood the test of time very well but the action beats are still tremendous fun. The Living Daylights simply has a great music score.
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Licence To Kill was the first Bond film for several years that had to cope with the absence of the famous composer John Barry and he's sorely missed here. At the time Barry was undergoing surgery and temporarily unavailable and it's a great shame that in the end he never returned at all to compose any more Bond films. I'm not completely sure sure what the real reason for this was but there is speculation that the Broccoli family (notorious skinflints at times) wouldn't meet his pay demands for GoldenEye in 1995 and so franchise and legendary composer went their own separate ways. I suppose it could just have been a case of Barry feeling like he wanted to do something new instead of scoring endless James Bond films for the rest of his days. The man chosen to replace him for Licence To Kill was the American composer Michael Kamen (who sadly like John Barry is no longer with us). Kamen first came to prominence in the seventies as an arranger working with Pink Floyd and Queen but by 1989 had established himself as a solid film composer with his work on Die Hard and the Lethal Weapon series. His score for Die Hard worked marvelously but for some reason Licence To Kill didn't really bring out the best in him and it stands as one of the more generic and less memorable James Bond scores. He would go on to do better work than this and struggles to fill the shoes of his illustrious predecessor. This soundtrack has dated much more noticeably than the John Barry scores and is very eighties relic but it does actually start in great style.
"Licence To Kill" was composed by by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff and performed by Gladys Knight. It's one of the most criminally underrated James Bond title songs and superior to anything in the Brosnan years or the recent films starring that little bloke who looks like Derek Deadman. Whatever his name is. It borrows the opening bars of Goldfinger and so has a stirring horn blaring intro that is pure James Bond. Gladys Knight is a class act too and really gives the song some welly. It's just a big fun Bondian epic with crashing vocals and a rousing chorus. The horns are just a trifle Barry too and give it a classic feel. The lyrics are completely rubbish but it doesn't matter at in the slightest. You don't need a wordsmith to write a good James Bond theme. It's all about the music and vocal. Trivia that you'll never need: Eric Clapton was first choice to write and perform the theme song but bailed out in the end to be replace by Gladys Knight and a brand new song. By the way, the music video for this is great. It was directed by Daniel Kleinman, who would of course go on to replace Maurice Binder as the title credits designer.
Wedding Party is next and I'm not sure why this is on the album to be honest. It's the (somewhat irritating) calypso ditty being played at Felix Leiter's sun drenched poolside wedding in the film. I think of it as brief background music in the film really rather than an intrinsic part of the score. It's not really something you would actually sit down and listen to in isolation. The same can be said for Dirty Love, a song performed by someone called Tim Feehan. It's the music that was playing in the barroom brawl scene when Bond meets Pam Bouvier and again more background music rather than anything you'd expect to find on the actual soundtrack. This is pretty horrendous. Some eighties rock pop dirge by someone who probably had a mullet. It sounds like Frank Stallone with a bunged up nose. Next is Pam, which is much better and seems to be practically the first dose of pure Michael Kamen here. This is rife with Latin undertones and weaves in some chords of the James Bond theme. It's quite atmospheric and at least strives towards a Bondian atmosphere. It's playful, romantic and tense at the same time and at least awakens the listener. John Barry did this stuff much better but this is still pretty good on its own terms. Kamen definitely has a distinctive sound and sometimes it meshes well with Bond and sometimes it sounds a trifle weedy.
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Next is If You Asked Me by Patti LaBelle - the song played over the end credits in the film after a tuxedoed Timothy Dalton has jumped in that swimming pool. This is rather cheesy but I like it. It's a big power ballad I suppose and sung very prettily by Patti LaBelle (who I'm really not familiar with at all outside of this film). It's like the perfect song to play over the end credits of a old Bond film. James & Felix On Their Way To Church is the music played in the PTS as Bond and Felix Leiter stage an aerial kidnapping of villain Sanchez and then parachute back to the church. The closing image of the PTS is very sweet. Michael Kamen's signature always seems to be Latin strains and Spanish guitars - which actually works relatively well for James Bond because of the retro feel it generates but lacks a timeless classic aura. This piece of music has some strident chords and action beats with some tense interludes and works ok. Again, not up to Barry's stuff but passable enough. His Funny Valentine is again very Flamenco Spanish sounding. The film is mostly set in the fictional Latin American Republic of Isthmus and so the music matches the imagery onscreen (unusually for a James Bond film, Licence To Kill was produced in Mexico rather than Britain). It's ok but the soundtrack does tend to get rather samey in this vein.
Sanchez Is In The Bahamas/Shark Fishing is again music from the PTS. This is more lively and orchestral with action beats and blaring horns with strings fusing the James Bond theme into the mix. Definitely one of the more listenable things here although Kamen's use of the Bond theme feels slightly telegraphed somehow. Ninja is not bad at all. This is tense mood music with little stattaco chimes and looping waves. It was used in the film when Bond is about to shoot Sanchez with his sniper rifle and accosted by a Ninja. I hate it when that happens. This is the closest thing to old school Bond although lacking that lavish John Barry sprinkle of stardust and elegance. Finally, we have Licence Revoked. This is the big rousing action theme used in the film, most saliently for the climactic tanker chase. It's great. Big drums and horns, Bond theme riffs, a moody piano tinkling away during lulls. Definitely the most exciting piece of music here and great fun. One wishes the album had included more of this.
This soundtrack album is really not one of the best. You would think that there was much more material in the film and so only ten pieces of music feels rather mean, especially as they include puzzling inclusions like Wedding Party and Dirty Love. Still, the title and closing songs are excellent and Kamen's music for the big action scenes are fun. The Licence To Kill soundtrack is a very mixed affair and horribly dated in places but there is just (stress on word just) enough of interest to make it worth a look for curious film soundtrack and Bond fans. Just don't expect anything in the realm of John Barry.
- Jake


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