Shadows of Spectre - From Russia with Love soundtrack review

The soundtrack album for the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love - composed of course by the incomparable John Barry. From Russia with Love is widely regarded to be one of the best two or three films in the series thanks to a classic villain (Robert Shaw's Red Grant) and a stylish sense of atmosphere, suspense and danger. I don't agree myself with the theory that the early Bond films were somehow grounded and serious and From Russia with Love is certainly not Wild Strawberries but it does seem less fantastical than the films that followed and the European atmosphere and sixties superspy intrigue was absolutely perfect for the sound that Barry trademarked. This was his first Bond score but he quickly became indispensible and one could argue that the Bond series never really recovered when Barry left in 1987. In the next few years he composed the scores for Zulu and Goldfinger and established himself as one of the great composers in cinema.
James Bond Is Back/From Russia with Love/James Bond Theme begins the album and is a medley composed for the titles (although this is a slightly different arrangement than the one used in the film). This is a perfect illustration of how fundamental John Barry was in establishing the James Bond template and it would be hard to imagine these Connery films without his music. His string laden James Bond is Back is elegant and bold but also charmingly languid and sixties lounge lizard and perfectly captures the era and atmosphere of the film. Then you get versions of the main title song and the James Bond theme, all drenched in a quintessentially Bondian John Barry aura.
Recent Bond scores have been rather generic at times but once this piece of music starts you are never in any doubt that we are back in the world of James Bond. It's like sonic pop culture, mashing up Barry, Lionel Bart and Monty Norman - something they couldn't do to save their lives these days. The opening chords foreshadow Barry's superb instrumental for On Her Majesty's Secret Service and the Bond theme here is the original classic version. The musical arrangement of the title song is rather fun too because it's a faster arrangement than the vocal rendition. Tania Meets Klebb is an appropriately moody piece next to signify Bond's encounter with one of the memorable villains in the film - SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebb. Some great work by Barry here. I like the way he slows the music down to create tension and then suddenly amps it up again.
Meeting in St Sophia is another classy piece but more of a dramatic composition with a heavy ominous intro that seems to incorporate clanking church bells. Great stuff but probably something that works better in a film than in complete isolation. The Golden Horn is a nice bonus in a sense as it doesn't feature in the film. Again very sixties and Bondian although your patience might be slightly stretched by the somewhat cheesy intro with an abundance of maracas. You can almost conjure a bubble machine.
Girl Trouble is another rich atmospheric piece that contains all the trademarks and little moments in time that one would expect from a Barry score. I think the way he would fuse the strings and brass section was always wonderful. So you have a classical backdrop and then all of these brassy effects to lace the music and make it more modern and exciting. Bond Meets Tania is a fine piece that is rife with intrigue and romantic tension and was scored for the scene where Bond first meets Daniela Bianchi's Tatiana Romanova.

They are being secretly watched by SPECTRE agents and Barry throws in some ominous piano chords to heighten the sense of danger. This is again positively drenched in Bondian atmosphere and has all the little cues and spikes that would remain an intrinsic part of Barry's work with the franchise. The electric little string cues are wonderful and are similar to the approach he would take with the PTS to Goldfinger. A slow build up to create a sense of atmosphere and then some marvelous flourishes and cues.
A classic version of the 007 theme next with more trumpets, trombones, French horn and tubas than you could shake a vodka martini at. This is a master at work and this incarnation of the Bond theme is one of the most timeless and iconic. The Bond theme is a great piece of film music that perfectly captures this new sixties playboy hero and it's rather ironic I think that they barely use it now because the new Bond films at all.
Gypsy Camp is another atmospheric composition written for the evocative gypsy camp scenes in the film. I love the strings here and there is some great guitar work. This feels like the first inclusion on the soundtrack so far that (in a sonic sense) is trying to mimic the style of the location that Bond finds himself in. Apparently John Barry had intended his entire score to be Turkish themed but he changed his mind and decided that approach ultimately didn't enthuse him enough and perhaps might be too constrictive. Death of Grant is fantastically John Barry and begins with subdued brass infused drizzle of the Bond theme meshed with the title song. It's very James Bond and has that vague element of melancholia that is detectable in a lot of Barry's Bond cues. This is Spinal Tap trademark John Barry turned up to eleven.
We move onto From Russia with Love's title song - sung by Matt Monroe. This was composed by Barry but written by Lionel Bart - who, on a note of arcane trivia, couldn't actually read music in real life. It's a great tune and works wonderfully when used as an instrumental in the body of the film but despite the high reputation it has I've never been that excited or charmed by Monro's crooning of the title theme song (played over the end credits in the actual film). This is a borderline dirge. Classy but fairly dull with a generous helping of cheese sprinkled on top. It's falling asleep on a Sunday afternoon. I feel that maybe the song could have been jazzed up more or given a female vocalist.
Spectre Island is again very moody with Barry's expert use of strings to establish a sense of unease. I like the chiming effect here. Very evocative of the era and great for the more tense sequences in the film. Guitar Lament is a shortish piece (about a minute) and I don't believe it was used in the film (although it would have fitted in well). As the title suggests, this is a soft guitar piece with a few fleeting snatches of the Bond cues and a weary air or sadness. Man Overboard/SMERSH In Action is a pivotal piece of music in the film because it's played while Kronsteen and Klebb are being questioned by Blofeld and covers Bond's escape on the train. Barry comes up trumps and once again atmosphere is the key (rather than action cues for example although action cues would feature more as Barry got his feet under the table and scored more Bond films). Not the most spellbinding piece of music in isolation but a great one if one is aware of the context of the piece.
James Bond with Bongos is a sprawling intoxicating composition of the Bond theme, just perfect for Sean Connery arriving at some exotic far flung locale and gliding out of the airport in a spiffy suit. Stalking is another atmospheric piece of music that stresses suspense and danger. Leila Dances is another piece that wasn't included in the film but is very easy to imagine fitting in somewhere. It's a jaunty more Turkish sounding piece of music. The sort of thing they play in old films when a belly dancer appears. Good stuff and a reminder that Barry was more versatile than sometimes given credit for.
Death of Kerim is a rather dramatic piece that highlights the big brassy sound that Barry trademarked. It's excellent but by this point you feel like you've already heard it before. I love the drumroll at the start. Finally, 007 Takes the Lektor has a gorgeous string laden fusion of Barry's Bond action beat and stattaco punctuations with just a hint of the 007 theme.
The soundtrack is unavoidably rather samey at times but there is always something unique and wonderful in each composition if you listen carefully enough. This is a great film score that captures a blossoming talent right at the beginning of his stint in Bondage all those years ago. Maybe not quite my favourite Barry Bond score but certainly a superior and very classy one all the same.
- Jake


c 2014 Alternative 007

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