Michael Kamen composed a competent score for "Licence to Kill." Of the "non-John Barry" scores on CD, this my second favorite after the issue of David Arnold's stand-alone score for "Tomorrow Never Dies."
Kamen once again demonstrates his ability to score with great power and strength as he did in "Die Hard." "James & Felix on Their Way to Church" is a tour de force of Kamen's ability to unleash the dynamic energy of the orchestra.
However, the score as heard in the film is a major disappointment for several reasons. It actually seems to lack power and energy and sounds somewhat diluted. It is also has a very lethargic and dreary quality about it. "Licence to Kill" is not an uplifting film, but the score spirals it into an even deeper abyss of despair from which it never ascends once Bond arrives in Isthmus City. Only some action scenes bring the score out of the doldrums, but it never recovers from its shroud-like gloom.
His interpretation of "The James Bond Theme" is inaccurate in many scenes. No, I am not saying that he got the notes wrong. In fact, he interpolated the theme throughout the film changing or eliminating notes here and there putting his own stamp on it. No, I am not referring to that either. What is inaccurate is giving "The James Bond Theme" a Latin sound via playing the familiar chords on a Spanish acoustic guitar.
This is similar to the mistake George Martin made with his score for "Live and Let Die." George Martin did not give us a Bond score. Being influenced by the "Black Film" genre of the early 70s Martin delivered a score akin to "Shaft." Given the subject and cast of villains in "Live and Let Die" that approach may have worked for major parts of the score. However, James Bond and the musical queues associated with his presence on the screen should remain constant. "The James Bond Theme" should not be influenced by local, genre or setting. That is inappropriate in my opinion. That approach could be taken and rightfully so with the film's main title theme, but not with Bond's theme.
If you examine John Barry's score for "You Only Live Twice" it is has a very rich oriental quality to it evoking the Japanese setting. However, when he employs references to "The James Bond Theme" the score reverts back to a more constant musical orchestration departing from any reference of the local and shifts focus to James Bond the secret agent.
James Bond is an agent of the British Secret Service. He is a familiar figure to audiences for his endeavors into the world of espionage, foreign intrigue and action adventure. That is the image that "The James Bond Theme" conjured up for audiences in "Dr. No" and has always been the one constant cohesive element throughout the entire series. It may have been updated through the years. The updates, however, have always been made in tandem with musical trends in action and adventure scoring.
Giving the character of James Bond a Latin musical motif whenever he appears on the screen in "Licence to Kill" is a mistake. The film dealt with an elusive South American drug lord and his illicit money making empire. James Bond, out for revenge, destroys Sanchez and his empire along with him. Besides attempting to be an all out tale of revenge, the story is also about a clash of cultures and values, an avenue that the film superficially touches upon. This is where Kamen missed a great opportunity to musically score those contrasts and greatly improve this film.
"Lead or silver." That is what Leiter prophetically tells Bond at his wedding. That's Sanchez' way, not Bond's. Kamen should have created a distinct difference between the two men and their worlds. Unlike "You Only Live Twice" where Blofeld was just as much on foreign ground as Bond, here we have Sanchez born, bread and operating from his home country. In "Licence to Kill" Bond is the foreigner and is very much out of his environment and alone in hostile and deadly territory. The musical avenue for exploring and bringing to the forefront the confrontation of these two adversaries was missed. There was a great opportunity to strike an emotional chord with the audience. We should have been sitting in the theatre cheering on Bond as one loathsome character after another was put out of his misery, of coarse within the constraints of the cinema. Musically this never happened.
As far as the CD is concerned, most of the orchestral tracks are musical composites taken from different scenes. Again, the music demonstrates Kamen's ability to powerfully score action sequences. That is the primary focus of his contribution on this recording. Despite my views on Kamen's handling of the Bond theme, track 10 "Licence Revoked" is an excellent piece of colour and movement. It acts as a musical suite to the film and it delivers a knockout punch. Kamen has often been unfairly criticized for not being able to compose distinct melodies for his films. Track 4 "Pam" is a good example that Kamen is quite capable of doing this. "Pam" is a very good impressionistic love theme. Kamen doesn't like to hit you over the head with a melody, but instead delivers it with impressionistic strains. Dimitri Tiomkin also had that quality about his music.
The orchestral tracks on this CD are very good and stand alone on their own merits. On that I recommend this album. The score presented in the film, is an entirely different entity unto its own.