There are few movie franchises that have created a whole music genre by themselves but this is exactly what the Bond movies have achieved. Now, I’m not saying that a genre is created by countless sequels; a genre is defined as a style or category of art, music or literature and that is exactly what the Bond soundtrack has become. In the past, the music has been written by the brilliant John Barry, who composed eleven soundtracks, David Arnold who, after revolutionising the sound of Bond with his release of ‘Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project’ went on to score five movies including the stunning score to ‘Casino Royale’. Other composers of note have included Marvin Hamilisch, Thomas Newman and Bill Conti. For Daniel Craig’s final outing as Bond, a film which the actor says draws several story lines together and brings his evocation of the character’s story arc to a close, the producers have chosen Hans Zimmer, a composer whose previous movie scores include the unmistakable music to ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Inception’, ‘Gladiator’, ‘The Dark Knight’ series, ‘Dunkirk’ and the Oscar winning ‘Lion King’. Movie legend Quentin Tarantino has said that “you could define the decade by” Zimmer’s score for ‘Dunkirk’. After listening to Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack to the latest Bond movie, you may well feel, like me, that you might be able to define Craig’s incredible Bond and his relationship to the character as a whole by Zimmer’s score for ‘No Time to Die’; it is quite simply a Bond symphony that will enthral the listener and transport you to a world of 007 without even having to see the movie. What Hans Zimmer has achieved is to take familiar themes from older movies and weave them beautifully with the new themes for this movie in a way that will be permanently in your soul.
From the opening track ‘Gun Barrel’ we are immediately in a world of martini, espionage and the secret service. We don’t need to be sat behind the wheel of an Aston Martin, or be wearing a perfectly cut dinner suit or expertly concealing our Walther PPK to feel like Bond, the music has done it for us. John Barry’s instantly recognisable theme is given just a slight twist to let us know this is a new soundtrack and as if confirmation was needed the next track, ’Matera’, weaves Barry’s ‘We Have All the Time in the World’ into Zimmer’s own ‘No Time to Die’. This is not the only time that Zimmer will play with themes from ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ in writing this new piece and it adds a nostalgia to the piece as a whole that links this closing of a chapter perfectly to the last time James Bond was in love, and we all know how that turned out.
The music is layered and offers an insight into the composers that Zimmer himself loves. In a track ironically named ‘Not What I Expected’ we are treated to an almost Ennio Morricone like guitar theme which drifts behind the strings of the orchestra. We lost Morricone during lockdown, a film composer of such note that he almost created a genre all by himself. I’d like to think that this is a nod from Zimmer, who many critics feel is the composer most like Morricone in the way he constructs his music, to possibly the greatest film composer of them all.
The whole album seems to move from piece to piece as if it is building to a crescendo. Tracks like the brilliant ‘Cuba Chase’, where strains of Cuban music drift in an out of the driving Bond music like a summer breeze across a desert of action, offer stunning interludes. The syncretic style of Cuban music lending itself beautifully to the big sounds of Bond music at its best. The brilliant way that the synonymous Bond theme transcends the whole thing only to morph into Cuban music styles instantly take us to a whole different place. With music like this who needs an audible book, we can create our own story in our mind as the music unfolds.
The music moves seamlessly into ‘Back to MI6’, Zimmer’s own version of the Barry theme that is surely the most famous piece of film music the world over, before drifting into ‘Good to have You Back’ which is unashamedly a stunning slow version of the theme from ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ and is another tie between the two films. This leads into the stunning ‘Lovely to See You Again’ which, by way of a haunting piano theme, becomes ‘Home’, a piece of music so enchanting and powerful that I can’t wait to see Hans Zimmer play it live. I’m sure it will become the centrepiece of a live concert in the way that music from ‘Inception’ has before. All the way through the music there are shades of the new theme just beneath the service like a lover’s whisper in the ear that slowly become a shout.
‘Norway Chase’ has a pocket watch style refrain just beneath the service of the pulsating theme that brings to minds ’60 seconds to what’ from ‘For a Few Dollars More’ that becomes an urgent, pulsating piece with a choral element that then slowly becomes the Bond theme which moves into the guitar driven theme of ‘Gearing Up’. This section of the music, in the way it is constructed, feels like an homage to Ennio Morricone as we then hear the familiar electric guitar chords and muted trombones of Bond in the background that remind us we are firmly in a Bond soundtrack.
The remainder of the soundtrack then moves majestically towards ‘Final Ascent’, a quite stunning climax to what has become one of my favourite Bond soundtracks. It pulsates like a living thing towards its finale which delivers a quite beautiful piece of music that feels like a lament, but at the same time a celebration, it feels like a goodbye, but at the same time a welcome back. It quite simply feels like a hugely emotional end to the film cycle of Daniel Craig’s Bond, a cycle that has been the longest in Bond history and given us a Bond that changed the face of this incredible character. To have been able to write a soundtrack to match all of these emotions would have been beyond most, but Hans Zimmer has created a work of such power that it deserves to be listened to in a single sitting through headphones so that you can immerse yourself in its folds. As ‘Final Ascent’ drew to its close and the strings accompany a simple piano theme to the end, I found that I had a tear rolling down my cheek as I remembered all that Bond means to me as I have grown up.
This soundtrack is quite simply a work or art which finishes with Billie Eilish’s haunting melody which sits atop the music. I’m sure that in the movie release we will hear the theme over the opening credits but I can’t believe it will have the power it has here as it comes at the end of Zimmer’s Bond Symphony. I have no idea if the film will live up to expectations as expectations for Bond movies have become something more and more difficult in the times we find ourselves but in creating this score Hans Zimmer has not only met expectations as he enters the hallowed genre of Bond composer, he has blown them out of the water, Thank you!