Arguably Pierce Brosnan's best Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies benefits from superior set-pieces, villains, girls and gadgets. Brosnan, now comfortably ensconced in the role of the world's most famous secret agent, hones his sense of suave sophistication and single-minded ruthlessness, whilst Jonathan Pryce is an enjoyably hammy antagonist in the manner of previous Bond megalomaniacs. The adventure this time sees 007 attempting to foil a devious media baron, Elliot Carver (Pryce). Carver is attempting to instigate World War III and boost the power of his conglomeration by providing blanket media coverage. The overtones of William Randolph Hearst lend Dies a slightly satirical edge absent from many Bond movies but the film's biggest success lies in how it polishes all the pre-requisite elements.
Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin isn't a damsel in distress but Bond's equal and Teri Hatcher turns up as an old flame, whose ultimate fate unleashes real darkness within Bond's character. And unlike Goldeneye, the car (a BMW 750i) is also put to excellent use in the film's best set-piece, a thrilling chase around a Hamburg car park. A real bone of contention in Goldeneye was Eric Serra's badly misjudged score, one which favoured ambient, electronic textures and failed to enhance the movie itself. When it came to Tomorrow Never Dies, the filmmakers sought new blood, and, spurred on by the recommendation of original Bond composer John Barry, they hired David Arnold. Barry had been impressed by Arnold's work on Shaken and Stirred: the David Arnold James Bond Project, in which major artists covered classic Bond songs under Arnold's direction.
The combination of Arnold's frenetic voice (already established in the likes of Stargate and Independence Day), combined with his respect for the traditional Bond sound laid down by Barry, meant that Tomorrow Never Dies would become his greatest Bond score. Arnold's large-scale orchestrations and confidence with electronic effects was a brilliant fit for Brosnan's incarnation of Bond, and yet he also composes the music with tongue firmly in cheek. Compared to later efforts The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day, the balance between orchestra and electronics is brilliantly managed in Tomorrow Never Dies; the only one that really comes close is Casino Royale.
Yet it wasn't an entirely smooth process. Just as the production itself was beset with problems, so Arnold saw his title song relegated to the end credits instead of the opening ones. Surrender by K.D. Lang is terrific, a swaggering brass undercurrent mixing perfectly with Lang's sultry vocals and brilliantly reflecting the danger and sensuality of Brosnan's Bond. It's also a very malleable theme: Arnold makes regular use of it in the underscore for the movie, tying the music together and ensuring it remains coherent. However, the completed film instead featured Sheryl Crowe's Tomorrow Never Dies as the opener: a decent song but one that's unrelated to the score material in the film.
Another issue is the score's release history. The original CD missed out virtually all the music from the second half of the film, which was rectified by the next CD release in 2000 (the subject of this review). However, this presentation is by no means complete, missing some small but crucial action statements which help bind things together. The barnstorming opening set piece "White Knight" kicks off with the classic Bond theme before meandering around with brushed cymbals and pensive strings. There's even a hint of Oriental percussion reflecting the location at the start of the film. This creates a delicious sense of anticipation when it all goes skyward in the latter half of the track, Arnold's famously bombastic approach going hell for leather. The hallmarks will be familiar to fans of Independence Day and the like: rowdy snare drum clusters, incredibly complex brass writing and heroic thematic statements (of both the Surrender and Bond themes) building to frenzied climax. The series of brass statements referencing the Barry's From Russia With Love Theme will be immediately pleasing to fans.
"The Sinking of the Devonshire" is another long track, expertly building tension by bringing in a dark choir on occasion with overtones of Stargate. Once again, the eerie strings, subtle electronic embellishments and percussive elements circle around each other in an expert updating of Barry's classic sound. The track eventually picks up a sense of urgent desperation as the vessel Devonshire is sunk at the start of the movie, inaugurating the plot. At the tail end of the track, we hear the first strains of the villainous motif for Carver on wailing brass.
"Company Car" proceeds with a wonderfully sexy and over-the-top rendition of the Bond theme, brass, bass woodwinds and guitar going full pelt. Arnold's commitment to the central tenants of the Bond universe is what distinguishes this score from Eric Serra's work on Goldeneye, and it's enormous fun to hear the obvious relish with which Arnold goes about it. "Station Break" once again flirts with more brutal material before "Paris and Bond" introduces the first beautiful strains of romantic theme number one (yes there are two on the album!) Deeply impassioned with a sense of melancholy not normally present in the music for Bond's conquests, Arnold expertly depicts the history between Brosnan and Teri Hatcher's characters.
This theme is then continued with a lovely acoustic guitar/woodwind wash in "The Last Goodbye". We return to business as usual in "Hamburg Break In", a terrific piece of suspense music that manages to remain interesting thanks to Arnold's intricate web of electronics, strings, xylophones and jazzy rhythms. When it breaks out in the Bond theme, it's brilliant. On listening to the incidental music in Tomorrow Never Dies, it's clear why Arnold was Barry's heir apparent – it's all in the attention to detail, particularly in the sections where the music could easily become mundane.
"Hamburg Break Out", as the title suggests, is the energetic flip-side to the previous track, erupting with a brilliant sense of attitude as the electronic rhythms play atop of the muscular Surrender theme. "Dr Kaufman" introduces the now desolate strains of the Paris/Bond love theme before darker material takes over. "*-3-Send" briefly erupts in furious dissonance as Bond has his vengeance and dispatches Paris' murderer before the familiar Bondian style once again takes over.
"Backseat Driver" then ushers in the film's most famous set-piece, as Bond controls his BMW from, yes, the back seat. In this particular track, the throbbing electronic rhythms are placed front and centre but are nevertheless mixed brilliantly with the orchestra. Here is where the Surrender theme makes its most dynamic appearance, weaving around the Bond theme and the action material. What's most impressive is the way Arnold maintains a sense of coherence: there's loads going on but it's always listenable and well-structured. The jazzy piano around 2:30 is a notable delight, a clear indicator that Arnold has his tongue firmly in cheek.
"Underwater Discovery" again takes the score in a moodier direction. Arnold uses a harp to reflect a cold underwater environment (always an effective technique) and eventually the piece builds to yet another brassy climax. Different textures in "Helicopter Ride" reflect the new environment of Saigon, an electric cello mixing with the synths and clattering percussion. "Bike Chase" then kicks off the next mammoth set-piece, really putting the orchestra through the wringer over the course of 6 intensive minutes. Listening to the track away from the sound effects in the film, one can better appreciate the onslaught of percussive effects, brass stingers and whirling strings, all held together by loud blasts of the Bond theme.
"Bike Shop Fight" begins quietly with more emphasis on Oriental tones. The piano is also placed at the foreground for the first few seconds, a nice texture amidst the onslaught of the earlier pieces. There are slight traces of the new romantic theme, demonstrating the burgeoning relationship between Bond and Wai Lin. However it doesn't last: the track soon erupts with some of the score's most dynamic and thunderous material for brass and percussion as Yeoh's Wai Lin demonstrates why she's very much Bond's equal in the fighting stakes. "Kowloon Bay" calms everything down again with a more grandiose interpretation of the Bond/Wai Lin theme, first on piano, then on flowing strings and koto. It's one of the most attractive pieces on the album.
"Boarding the Stealth" kicks off the action-packed finale, the Surrender theme being propelled forward with a greater sense of purpose by the strings as Bond and Wai Lin attempt to stop Carver's plan, an intelligent application of the theme. The different textures of the score begin to come together at this point including the Bond theme, the electronic percussion and the distant choir, representing the implacable forward march of Carver's stealth boat. "A Tricky Spot for 007" reintroduces the insidious little motif for Carver himself, absent from the middle portion of the album, dark hued strings reflecting the insanity of his master plan before it all kicks off with another statement of the From Russia With Love theme, rapidly followed by harsh percussion and some enormously complex orchestral work.
The real action highlight comes in the climactic "All in a Day's Work", where the orchestra gives off a greater sense of desperation as it works towards the end game. Arnold's brass clusters pile on top of one another as the music gains in fury before the enjoyably overblown finale raises the Wai Lin theme to gloriously brassy heights. It's a brilliant continuation of Barry's romantic material for the earlier films, melodramatic yet dramatically appropriate and highly enjoyable. Both track and score then conclude with the Bond theme – well how else was it going to end?
With Tomorrow Never Dies, David Arnold demonstrated the ability to both develop his own musical voice and bring the sound of 007 kicking and screaming into the modern age. It's a real tightrope act that he pulls off with aplomb: Dies is both its own animal and a score that is part of a rich heritage. Arnold invests the score with so many themes, motifs and nuances that listening to it away from the film is a real pleasure and in fact makes one better appreciate his understanding of the series' musical history. The interaction between the orchestra and electronics is brilliantly managed, as is the mixture of brazen and romantic material. In the pantheon of Arnold's Bond scores, it's undoubtedly the best, demonstrating real sensitivity and flair. Both The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day had their moments but it wasn't until Casino Royale until he would be able to conjure up the same wonderful mixture of the modern and the traditional.
As mentioned, the release history for Tomorrow Never Dies is patchy. The regular CD release is readily available on Amazon but misses out half of the material in the film. The 2000 release by Chapter III reinstates much of the missing material but not all of it, and is harder to come by, circulating most often around the secondary market. Here are the links for the regular album Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
CD Track Listing - 1997 Album
CD Track Listing - 2000 Album