GSCE Media Studies: Explain Madonna. Extra marks will be given for diagrams.
GCSE Music: Madonna hasn't written a good song since Vogue. Discuss.
First a confession. I'm not a great fan of Madonna's music and her continued success astounds me. She has written and performed some reasonable pop songs, but recent efforts such as Music and her dreadful version of American Pie have done little to convince me of her merits. It is unfortunate that she's probably the most famous star ever to write and perform a Bond song, but on the evidence here, this is clearly a bad thing. Die Another Day is simply dreadful, totally inappropriate, horribly arranged, offensively performed and lacking in every quality I associate with good music. You might not have liked Tomorrow Never Dies, may have felt Goldeneye was a bit feeble, but nothing will prepare you for the insipidness of Madonna's effort. And for the 20th Bond film on the 40th anniversary, what a way to celebrate. John Barry, please, please, please come back and show someone how it's done. We need you. I'll chip in if it's the money you're after...
After Madonna's effort, yet another remix of the Bond theme by the conspicuously untalented Oakenfold seems like a benchmark of quality, even if it isn't honestly any more interesting than some of the other contemporary arrangements. So to David Arnold's score. If Tomorrow Never Dies seemed like the exciting new era of John Barry on Valium, The World is Not Enough went a bit more techno and Die Another Day seems like the next logical step. Even more techno. The first couple of tracks are promising, some good uses of the Bond theme and plenty of brassy orchestra, Hovercraft Chase being an early highlight. After that it all goes a bit wrong. The World is Not Enough might have been heavy on the electronics, but there was usually some interesting component to the writing. Indeed, some of it was really very good indeed, Arnold had little motifs for his action cues, but now he's obviously become bored of inventing melodies and so just patches everything over with electronics, the action music simply clatters on aimlessly until it, well, stops.
One highlight, if only because it's jolly good fun, is Welcome to Cuba, a bit of exotic location music in the best Barry tradition. At least it has a funky theme, rather than a dispassionate barrage of keyboard players getting carried away, under strict instructions to drown out the orchestra if at all possible. Jinx Jordan, along with the romantic finale, Going Down Together (ho ho) have some nice homages to John Barry, but even they don't quite have the striking melody to stick in the mind for very long. Arnold's written some good romantic (such as it in Bond) cues before, but I think the lack of a song melody to use, seriously hampers Arnold's ability to come up with anything striking. His previous two efforts have had a song written by him and a melody to use, but here it just sounds like someone writing in the style Barry, but who doesn't want to run the risk of actually writing a theme.
Antonov is the final action blow out and while it has some exciting moments, it's essentially diffuse, never really growing in excitement. There are exciting patches, but little suggestion that it's going anywhere. The only noteworthy moments are where one of the motifs from The World is Not Enough makes an appearance and some generic imposing Russian choral music that is impressive by being loud and acoustic. A few good moments, but Arnold sounds like he needs a break from Bond, or at least someone to lock up his keyboards. This is a Bond score without a hook, without a melody to grab onto. Some composers can write a great score without a central theme, Bernard Herrmann made a career out of it, but Arnold really needs a melody to make his stuff interesting and that's where Die Another Day fails most conspicuously. My suggestion for the next Bond: Danny Elfman. Mission: Impossible was a great spy score with marvellous suspense and brilliant action, his electronics work is generally excellent, plus Elfman can pen a good tune. It won't happen of course, but Die Another Day seems like Bond music in decline. Depressing.