It seems shocking Die Another Day is one of the most successful Bond's ever given how diabolical everyone seemed to think it was (although adjusted for inflation, I guess some of the Connery ones did better). Still, even though I thought it was unremitting crap, at least I can say that I met the director, which has a certain caché. If only I'd thought to ask him to sign something, but I was too busy talking to Jerry Goldsmith for that. Similarly, Madonna's hideous title tune was something of a hit. Casino Royale takes Bond in a new direction: backwards, as an origin story of sorts as the world's best known spy earns his 00 status. However, it moves forward with Daniel Craig in the title role who, despite initial misgivings, appears to have been a fine choice. More or less everything else stands still, with the same producing team, the director of Goldeneye and, of course, David Arnold in the composer's studio.
I can't imagine for what kind of moronic legal reasons Chris Cornell and Arnold's title song couldn't appear on the soundtrack album. It's not like Cornell is some major star, indeed I've never heard of him. Even more ridiculous is that the song melody appears within the score itself. I wonder how many people will simply illegally download it rather than seek it ought on disc as it appears to be quite hard to find. Then again, a few clicks through iTunes and it's yours and is worthwhile investment as it's a pretty good, rocky effort. It doesn't have the Barry sexiness and the orchestra is rather in the background, but the grit works in its favour and seems ideally suited to this new, more 'realistic' Bond universe. The melody can be a little hard to spot in orchestral guise on the album, but a listen to Solange brings it up with a more romantic flavour that is very appealing.
Unlike Die Another Day and its synth percussion heavy writing, Casino Royale mixes the orchestral excitement of Arnold's first Bond, Tomorrow Never Dies, but with perhaps a little less showiness of that first effort. The action is almost uniformly terrific. The opener, African Rundown, is perhaps the finest (and not an African music cliché in sight, either) while Stairwell Fight and The End of an Aston Martin are also thrilling entertainment. Unfortunately, the score's 12 minute centrepiece has moments of brilliance, but didn't perhaps need to be rendered into one long track as it clearly stops and starts in several places. It also lacks distinct melodic fragments to tie it together. While I can understand Arnold's very measured use of the Bond theme, it might have been nice for him to come up with his own proto-Bond theme, or maybe suggest Barry's 007 Back in Action.
Despite all the good things in Casino Royale, there are quite a number of mundane quiet and/or suspenseful cues that render certain passages rather tedious. The album has a lot of tracks and has a hefty running time, but in truth, cutting out almost all of the 2 minute and under tracks would have been a considerable improvement. Sure, there are some lovely quiet parts, Vesper and City of Lovers are especially fine, but it's one of those albums where minutes go by and nothing of consequence happens then suddenly you're plunged back into the action and you remember why you were enjoying it when it started. Still, there is more than enough good stuff here to make it an easy recommendation and despite the caveat of a few overtly low key passages, it shows Arnold hasn't quite yet run of steam in the way that Die Another Day suggested might be the case.