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Review by Brad Green:
I prefer my James Bond songs stirred subtly, not shaken beyond recognition. The great tradition is to take the formula, lightly swirl it, and spice it with an artist’s own special twist. Madonna isn’t one to bother with tradition. Her title song pays about as much homage to the archetypal Bond-tune as the plots of the post-Sean Connery era have paid to the Ian Fleming novels. The stories have continued to succeed (though they hardly touch the early films) on a mix of wit, self-parody and high octane action. On hype alone, Madonna’s song will succeed in hurtling up the charts with the speed of a turbo-charged Aston Martin. In all likelihood, a little time will also register it as one of the weakest in the franchise’s history. 

The song begins promisingly enough, with the fractured rhythm effect that is becoming a Madonna signature. Strings and vocals are gated abruptly, and the silent interstices actually help propel the beat. As well, Madonna’s quirky Bjork-like vocal is intriguing, for about half a verse. Unlike Bjork (who interestingly has collaborated in the past with both Madonna and David Arnold, who provides the score for this soundtrack), Madonna doesn’t seem to appreciate that a good introduction is not parlayed into a memorable song via infinite repetition. The melodic scope here wouldn’t stretch Shirley Bassey if she were gagged, bound and drugged – even before a secret service agent showed up to rescue her.

Ever since the wonderful Dick Tracy soundtrack, Madonna’s cinematic career, both on screen and soundtrack, has been plummeting like the stuntman in the opening sequence of Goldeneye. No amount of Xmas cash taken by this effort will ameliorate the fact that in a critical sense it hastens the decent. In shattering the mould with the same enthusiasm she lays into the museum cabinets in the (admittedly eye-catching) video, Madonna was duty bound to produce something seminal. If it were just another Madonna single, the song would be passable. In this context, and with the added weight of attempted innovation, it fails miserably.

Fortunately, the score makes a credible grasp at sky high expectations. As has become inevitable, the best bits are still the old John Barry bits, but Arnold does much better here than he did with The World Is Not Enough. One of the most difficult assignments is to get the balance right between old and new themes, and between modern sounds and nostalgic orchestration. In this sense Arnold is right on the Moneypenny. Electronica for the most part is used to up the sense of action rather than carry cues. 

After a reasonable, if rather pointless, dance-mix of the full theme by Paul Oakenfold, Arnold gets stuck in early with the high-energy cue Hovercraft Chase. To his credit, he also soon finds room among the action for variety and dynamics. Welcome To Cuba is a vibrant Latin romp, preceding a couple of string-laden romantic cues that introduce the Jinx Jordan character.

Towards the latter half of the score a male chorus empowers the orchestration. It’s a rare sound for a Bond soundtrack and works well. Firstly helping the cue Icarus to take flight, the chorus’s wordless chants melt away during the electronic-heavy Laser Fight, only to find their wings again for the final cues. 

It’s hard, perhaps impossible, to live up to the great John Barry scores of the past. But Arnold utilises those marvelous motifs cleverly enough, while offering some worthy new music, to make the soundtrack a success. Despite Madonna’s egregious effort. 

All things must move with the times. Bond himself has more-or-less been reinvented as a sensitive new millennium agent; M’s had a gender swap; and the cold war no longer provides the principal catalyst for a British spy’s derring-do. These things are all right and proper. But if any composer in the future tries to do to the theme music what Madonna has done to the title song, it’ll be time to re-point Goldfinger’s laser at a sensitive section of anatomy; with no last second reprieve. That sort of escape is reserved for a secret agent with the world’s greatest theme music. 

Published December 19, 2002

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Andrew L. Urban meets PIERCE BROSNAN, Rosamund Pike and the Bond Team

HALLE BERRY INTERVIEW by Jenny Coony Carrillo

TITLE: Die Another Day
ID: 325583 016950
SCORE: David Arnold

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