50 Years of Bond: ‘Skyfall’ Score proves Thomas Newman as a versatile composer

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Skyfall

Composed by Thomas Newman

Sony Classical
November 6th 2012

It’s been 25 years since John Barry scored The Living Daylights, his final Bond movie, and since then, every composer who’s tackled a Bond score has tried to step out of his shadow, with varying degrees of success. David Arnold racked up 5 Bond movies as composer, but it was time for him to step aside once Sam Mendes came on board as director of Skyfall. Mendes went with a reliable choice in Thomas Newman, who rose to prominence scoring movies such as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. He’s at his best when working with dramas, and his suitability to a Bond movie has been questioned, but we’re happy to report that he’s risen to the challenge admirably.

The score itself runs to just a shade over 77 minutes, with 30 cues featured (and Adele’s “Skyfall” omitted – some would say for the better, as it just seems like a second-rate Shirley Bassey impression, its re-imagining as part of “Komodo Dragon” faring far better), but never once feels like it’s outstaying its welcome. There’s an intoxicating Middle Eastern flair present in some of the pieces here: “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul” kicks things off at a high dramatic pitch, its energetic approach heralding the start of something new for Newman. “Voluntary Retirement “and “New Digs” both help to cement the score’s style, and more importantly, its sense of style; the use of a full orchestra adds plenty of colour to the musical palette, and when it is allowed to take centre stage for a little while, as on “Brave New World”, the variety it displays in a piece lasting for less than 2 minutes is impressive.

Something which may surprise long-time fans of Newman is the amount of action music he has included in the score; there may be some moments which seem a little ‘by the numbers’ – whilst brief and powerful, Silhouette wouldn’t sound out of place in any other big-ticket action flick from the last few years – he gives typical action fare a darker twist in Jellyfish, which sets the scene with rushing strings, ebbing and flowing between all-out attack and reflective serenity in a manner that marks it out as a highlight of the entire score. The impressively varied approach to instrumentation means that such pieces rub shoulders with an all-too-brief moment of tenderness on Modigliani, which itself paves way for appropriately cinematic atmospherics on Day Wasted”. It’s as though Newman knew what was expected of him and tried to wrong-foot the listener at almost every turn.

“The Bloody Shot”, meanwhile, deserves to count among the finest pieces Newman has composed in recent years, and proves beyond all doubt that he can indeed cut the mustard as an action film composer. It is at this point in the score that Newman truly comes into his own, and from that point on (with 16 cues left), he’s on top form, as evinced by the sweeping grandeur of The Chimera(which is so vivid and vibrant that if one closed their eyes whilst listening to it, they could picture the scene perfectly) and the remarkable 5-piece run that begins with”Gransborough Road” and ends with Skyfall itself (unrelated to the movie’s theme tune).

There’s even a full appearance of the iconic Bond theme in “Breadcrumbs”, and the moment it arrives is immediately striking, given that Newman has been teasing the listener with quotes from it almost every chance he gets. From there, things become progressively more intense, and it’s only penultimate cue Mother” that offers a brief respite. This full-on approach is certainly different to Newman’s usual fare, but it is refreshing to hear, and it’s opened him up to a whole world of composing opportunities. It remains to be seen if he’ll get the call for Bond 24; those who are tasked with looking for a composer for Bond 24 would do well to keep him in mind. Even if Mendes is not at the helm for that movie, hearing that Newman has proved himself as a versatile composer who’s able to work well out of his comfort zone, should keep him in the running.

– Garreth O’Malley

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