"I remember I had heard that Sam Mendes was doing it," says Thomas Newman, the American composer charged with bringing life to Skyfall's score. He'd worked with Mendes before, on American Beauty and Road To Perdition, and quickly found Mendes was thinking along similar lines. "I very shyly gave him a call or emailed him and said, just so you know, I’d be overjoyed to do it, but would never want to be presumptuous. He emailed me back, saying I was just about to call you, let’s meet for lunch!"
The result is a fine Bond score, exotic and lavish with plenty of nods to the John Barry era; something that actually put the fear of God into Newman. "As much as I love John Barry and Monty Norman and the whole Bond experience, that’s probably more daunting than it is alluring for me. That’s got to be probably the iconic theme of all time and you wonder what you could add to it. The idea of a Bond movie, it’s a startling thing for me to think about in terms of action and personality and what I am versus what a Bond movie needs musically. I really wanted to take it on."
And here, in an Empire Online exclusive track-by-track, Newman takes us through some of the key moments, themes and motifs from his Skyfall score.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul (Track 1)
The opening track on the album, sound tracking Bond's chase scene with Ola Rapace's assassin.
"We start with that brass explosion, kind of out of the gate. We’re immediately thrust into action but it’s Bond coming down a hallway, and what’s he going to find? It began with psychological tension and when we hit the streets of Istanbul, it explodes into more of the flavor of the area. We’re off into a huge, huge chase. These reel one chases not only have to deliver on every level, but they’re typically cut late. I said to myself early on, I want to tackle Reel One early, I want to know what it is. But I think it was the last thing we completed!"
Severine (Track 4)
The theme denoting the introduction of Berenice Marlohe's sultry Bond girl is filled with lush, romantic strings; a clear throwback to Bond's past.
"It probably is a nod to John Barry, because of that minor-major thing and the use of harp, and the sense of darkness and exquisiteness and sexiness all at the same time. And there’s a bona fide theme – in the case of Skyfall, the Bond girl occupies more of a chapter than an entire novel. There wasn’t a lot of opportunities to exploit that theme – I think we use it maybe three times. That scene, we had to play it in its entirety.
It’s not like you say, I need an M theme, I need a Severine theme. Sometimes that has to happen, but for me the creative process doesn’t quite work that way. You find something and that leads to something else. There are elements of story in some of these cues and some of those lead to M because she’s part of the story. By the end you’re going, does Silva have a theme? Is it more of a motif? It’s probably wrong to think that a character needs a melody associated with him or her, but oftentime it does and in the case of Bond it does more often than not."
Shanghai Drive (Track 6)
As 007 heads to Shanghai in search of his quarry, Newman adds eerie, reflective elements into the mix.
"It begins with a deconstruction or a sample of three strings, a violin, a viola and a contra bass, put into a rhythmic context, but very evocative and rhythmically, I just started to add some backbeat to. I like it a lot when I can find something that does something to me in the way of a feeling I can apply to an image. Typically that’s how I approach writing for movies, to try to sit passively back and listen as an audience member and see if I like something genuinely, or if it’s because I wrote it! That’s a trap we can all fall into. I spent so much time writing this that I better love it. Btu that’s one of those samples that just seemed propulsive and provocative and had a certain amount of sexiness to it."
Silhouette (Track 8)
A heavily percussive cue as Bond fights for his life against Rapace in the movie's most visually striking action scene.
"I had written more for it but Sam really had an idea that he wanted that fight to be more stylised because there had been a fight between those two characters earlier in the movie. The idea of doing another straight fight between those two characters didn’t interest him. It was very visually stylized and I think he wanted it to be musically stylized as well as a matter of contrast."
Quartermaster (Track 11)
Another action sequence late in the pic, as Ben Whishaw's Q brings his technological skills to the fore.
"Q is such a refreshing character, by virtue of his age and generation, and this was an opportunity to try to bring a new element of spy music in, it was sequence-y, but it still had an element of classic spydom on a musical level. Because we were kind of in the middle of the movie, how could you refresh a sense of what action was and how action took place in a way that wouldn’t be redundant? The thing about action is that if strings keep sawing away over and over again, scene after scene, they almost stop having an effect. They become wearying instead of physically inspiring, so with Quartermaster it was a way of hopefully reinventing action with some degree of refreshment."
Komodo Dragon (Track 13)
In the grand tradition of Bond films, this cue - which plays as Bond arrives at the casino in Macau - heavily references the melody of the Bond song, in this case Adele's Skyfall.
"The Adele song was written by Adele and Paul Epworth. I had nothing to do with the song but I remember a meeting I had with Barbara Broccoli and Michael and Greg Wilson and Sam, and we talked about using the song again. They thought that this moment of Bond, who’d kinda come back from the dead and was finally shaved and wearing a tuxedo, that this was a classic James Bond moment, and it would be a good and fun idea to reproduce the song."
Breadcrumbs (Track 22)
Ah, yes. Hinted at throughout the movie, the revelation of the Aston Martin DB5 gives Newman licence to fully bring back another old favourite: the James Bond Theme in all its twangy glory.
"As much inspired by Sam Mendes. How could you not reprise the theme in that context? It’s just classic Bond and there’s the line, we’re going back in time and you see the car and hear the music, which is an iconic piece that makes people applaud. The image of the DB5 does as well. As an American, you just hope you’re doing the Bond theme service. It’s such a British institution so there’s probably a bit of fear that no-one’s going to roll their eyes when I’m not looking."
Skyfall (Track 23)
A moody, low-key cue as Bond and M drive to Scotland, and Bond's family home.
"I never thought that piece would make it for that very reason: it’s moody. I thought to myself that there had been so much action up to this point and then you go to this bizarre, vocalized piece of music and I thought it would be compelling just by virtue of its contrast."
Kill Them First (Track 24)
Bond, M and Kincade prepare for the arrival of Silva.
"Kill Them First is a preparatory sequence. It’s really a surprise act. On a certain level, you could wonder if things are going to end when Silva arrives at the enquiry and when it doesn’t, that’s refreshing and surprising. How do you set up this last act? How do you move through the last act? There has to be an art to it, so it doesn’t seem like it’s just silly action taking place again and again."
She's Mine (Track 26)
"We want to believe in our hero, in James Bond, and here’s that theme. What moments are moments of strength and they can become moments of confidence and that leads you back to that Bond motif."
Mother (Track 29)
A track that plays at the very end. We're saying no more.
"It’s an M theme, that we heard early on, that just reprises. Always in the case of M, I don’t think the music wants to be anything other than stoic and strong, as opposed to overtly emotional. She would disapprove of that."
Old Dog, New Tricks (Bonus iTunes track)
A bonus track, available only on iTunes, strangely enough. But its origin is noteworthy...
"There's a piece on the album called Close Shave, where Eve shaves Bond in Shanghai. It was a tough scene for Sam, in terms of what the music was saying and what was the nature of the relationship between Eve and Bond. Was it sexual? Was it flirtatious? Was it dangerous? And Old Dog, New Tricks was the first piece that he approved after rejecting many pieces before! It got all the way to recording and we recorded it with quite lush, quite Bondish, almost old-fashioned and we got to the end of the day and Sam said it doesn’t work. It was too romantic, it tilted too much to one area. The scene played on many levels and the music made Sam uncomfortable with the tilt. I wrote a staccato piece for strings and flute and Old Dog, New Tricks was thrown out. But we figured we’d put it on the iTunes album."
Skyfall is available to buy in all good record shops, and on MP3.