Remember The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? Robert Vaughn and David McCallum running around solving The ____ Affair to the strains of Jerry Goldsmith’s uber-groovy theme tune? Well they’re back, but this certainly isn’t your father’s, um… uncle, with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer starring in a dreaded reboot. But don’t judge it yet, as behind the podium is up and coming British composer Daniel Pemberton. Today’s mission: The Blockbuster Newbie Affair.
First things first. Jerry Goldsmith’s theme to the television series does not appear, at least on the album. It may get an end credits reprise, I don’t know (I hope so). But while that element is missing, what certainly is not is wonderful music that is a hell of a lot of fun, with Pemberton embracing the swinging sixties style, albeit in a more contemporary form. This tale is essentially the origin of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., bringing Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin together for the first time at the height of the cold war, in a US-Soviet collaboration.
Pemberton understands this, and subsequently the score is based around a combination of American and Russian instruments and styles, often interpolated. The differing approaches work well – Solo has a confident and strident melody played on bass, while Kuryakin’s is more high-strung and sneaky, mainly on balalaika. The usage of instruments is half the fun, from the smooth electric guitar to the bayan accordion, as well as a shukahachi-esque wind instrument that features prominently.
The score’s overall tone moves fairly seamlessly while still maintaining its cool facade. It’s pretty restrained at times, and doesn’t go full-Hefti at any point, but its works in its action beats well. The focus is constantly on Solo and Kuryakin’s themes, and it succeeds as using them as propulsion, especially with the driving bass of Solo’s theme. The action music is great, with the intense and heavy melodies of ‘Circular Story’, like a prelude to a gunfight, while ‘The Drums of War’ evokes a Mexican stand-off with bold chords and threatening percussion.
In fact, the latter half of the score, intentionally or not, turns into a bit of a Morricone homage. His Western tunes are so iconic it’s hard not to hear it, and the big symphonic guitar and howling vocals don’t make it any easier, but the strong and insistent string tones recall his score for Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. It’s actually a genuine thrill when the orchestra takes over in full, and the finale cue – ‘The Unfinished Kiss’ – is a wonderful summation of how enjoyable Pemberton’s score really is.
Aside from the score, the album contains multiple source tracks from the era, with the likes of Roberta Flack, Nina Simone, and Louis Prima (although the Flack track – ‘Compared To What’ – is anachronistic, having been recorded in 1969, six years after the film is set). They’re not bad tracks by any means but don’t fit with the score really – more distractions than a part of the album. The album is quite long but rockets along, which is especially good considering how these kind of scores can easily become tiresome.
With Daniel Pemberton’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Joe Kraemer’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, we have two fantastic scores for espionage action thrillers within months of each other. This is a real achievement, and it might not be entirely unaccurate to see both as auditions for the role of composer on a future James Bond film. Right now, nobody’s doing it better.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. will be released on August 7th on CD and digital from Watertower Music