"I've been expecting you, Mr.Bond!"
As regularly and predictably as 007's adversary utters this customary line, does the listening public have to field yet another compilation of Bond music covers. For this hapless reviewer, the incredible familiarity of the music that accompanies cinema's most successful hero in its most successful series is both a boon and a burden. More so if you are a purist, (and, largely, a Barry loyalist).
This release is a mixed bag, with much to enjoy but moments which make the listener cringe. The later renditions seem to fare better (perhaps due to the glut of interpretations of the classic themes). So, in 'Bond' film order, some individual track thoughts: "The James Bond Theme" is treated reverently and in parts manages to muster the requisite excitement, though the plusses and minuses of the whole album are present in this first cut. The rhythm is strident and compelling, but sometimes a touch too brisk, and it tends to remain the same throughout many of the later works. Strings are lush but the trademark brass not quite powerful enough. The guitar here is adequate but the introduction of an uninspired piano accompaniment midway is the albums greatest flaw.
The instrumental version of "From Russia With Love" is suitably sweeping and romantic; there are only two vocals on the disc. This is a wise move as, although the singer is accomplished, Bond songs largely rely on the unique persona of their (often famous) vocalist. "Goldfinger" succeeds and with its guitar melody line echoes Barry's single version from '64. Who could fail to remain thrilled by those opening two notes though? A gift, though watch out for that pesky piano again!
"Thunderball" is a powerhouse tune and suffers slightly from reticent brass and the odd shamefully wrong note. At this point, it's worth noting that possibly the most annoying aspect of Bond covers is their inability to avoid the jarring 'off' note in either the melody or the Barry's carefully laid counterpoint. Artistic license is fine, but this amounts to substituting Shakespeare's words when differing interpretations of performance are all that's necessary. "You Only Live Twice" starts well, as it is a string-driven piece, but quickly descends into ominous cocktail-lounge production. The nadir of the experience is reached with "We Have All The Time In The World", (the main song from OHMSS). This is Barry and lyricist Hal David's crowning achievement, and here is so overproduced and clumsily arranged as to astonish in the context of the surrounding tracks.
"Diamonds Are Forever" is another classic poorly treated, being defined by its 'sparkling' motif in the original, which should be its backbone, but mishandled here. Again mundane piano work evokes an arrangement on the original soundtrack, which, tellingly, was source music. "Live And Let Die" picks things up with a good reworking of McCartney's song that was always better as an instrumental.
The Spy Who Loved Me's popular Hamlisch/Bayer Sager tune "Nobody Does It Better" is one of the vocals; a listenable version, but Carly Simon's distinctive rendition haunts by its absence. "Moonraker" proved one of Barry's plushest scores and the strings and arrangement here do it justice, while "For Your Eyes Only" is at home with this style, being another, almost formulaic (if pretty), cocktail piece.
"All Time High", the theme from Octopussy is sung here pleasantly but again is slightly too up-tempo. At least the notes all ring true. There's no "View to a Kill" but there is a rousing and largely satisfying rendition of "The Living Daylights". Likewise "Licence To Kill" has much to commend, with the fuzz guitar making a welcome return.
"Goldeneye" doesn't work really; I'm amazed how many times a minor melody line becomes a major one at the behest of an arranger. However, I enjoyed this "Tomorrow Never Dies" much more than Sheryl Crow's insipid vocal.
In all this is a noble effort but there are more lows then all time highs. I enjoyed the rich strings but this musical legacy is much more subtle and complex in its execution than this collection conveys. His name is Bond, not bland.
See also earlier review in December 2002.