As my friend Mr Southall will attest to, I don't like John Barry's Bond scores. I have no idea why this should be, I can't explain exactly what it is I don't enjoy about them, but on the whole I've just never got them. When I heard The Living Daylights I was absolutely enamoured, everything about it I enjoyed. I was also surprised at how much it sounded like a slightly more subtle version of David Arnold's Tomorrow Never Dies score (which I thought was great). Of course Barry got there first, even if Arnold did do cod, techno John Barry very well. The title song has to be one of my favourite Bond songs, it does have a rather curious vocal performance, but it's enfuriatingly catchy. The amazing thing is how great the other two songs are, which admittedly have a much more Bond sound to them, more of the sassy brass and gutsy vocals, well Where Has Everybody Gone has anyway (a title which doesn't exactly imply a really gutsy song really it has to be said). In the film it functions quite nicely as the theme for the henchman-du-jour Necros, who's first major appearance is posing as a milkman and he is listening to the song on headphones. It appears in instrumental form on his subsequent appearance (Necros Attacks for example) and works brilliantly as an action motif. The second song (which is the end credit song in the film) is the basis for the romantic music, which usually appears in Barry's favourite bass flute which does enhance the slightly unromantic Timothy Dalton (in his first - of two - Bond outing).
Due to a curious contractual reason, Ryko were forced to place all the material not appearing on the original album, at the end of this disc. Quite irritating if you have to program your CD player to the correct order each time, although the excellent liner notes do helpfully list the correct order. For this reason, the brilliant opening track, Exercise in Gibralter appears in the middle and so after If There Was a Man, you get that immortal brassy opening to the Bond theme as the gunbarrel introduces proceedings. There is some brief suspense type music, but soon an incredibly funky electric bass line appears to really push the Bond sound world into the 90's, but sacrificing none of the traditional Bond brass. A short violin motif is introduced in this cue and it appears like an almost descant to the title song theme, not actually quoting the tune, but suggesting very subtly. If you do order things correctly, this makes a corking opening track (and the one that must have inspired David Arnold for his equally thrilling opening cue for Tomorrow Never Dies). Many of the later action cues also have this electronic bass, most notably in Ice Chase. The a-ha opening song gets a few work outs as an action motif, particularly in Hercules Takes Off (a moment that works superbly in the film) as well as other moments where different parts of the melody are used for less strikingly heroic moments. A mild hint of exotica is mixed in for cues such as Mujahadin & Opium and Afghanistan Plan, and is pleasantly low key and doesn't feature great swathes of ethnic instrumentation, just enough of the harmonic language to suggest the setting. Makes a refreshing change, the composer not ramming the ethnic angle down your throat; it also helps it fit in better with the rest of the score.
We should certainly be ultra grateful to Ryko for producing such a marvellous release of such a great score. It is unfortunate that they weren't permitted to sequence it correctly, but it wasn't their fault and so we can only praise the quality of the extensive liner notes and general production values. The sound quality is notably crisp and dynamic and the Bond theme explodes from your speakers at the opening of Exercise at Gibralter splendidly. If you thought that John Barry just wrote lots of dull music to go with landscapes then purchase this immediately and have your mind changed, a lot. I wonder if younger action score junkies will find it a little lacking in excessive bombast. Barry is not one prone to throwing in every part of the orchestra just so he can drown out the sound effects, but orchestrates to get the best mix possible and it's this extra touch of finesse that makes this one of the most consistanly enjoyable action scores of recent times. Buy it and be impressed.