Bang! This morning we heard ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, the new James Bond theme by Sam Smith, for the first time. Here’s our debrief.
The good news: the instrumental is spectacular. Props to whoever did the arrangement: it smacks you round the chops with a big John Barry-esque intro, then settles down into icy majesty for the verse. There’s a really great piano build at the end. This all bodes very well for the ‘Spectre’ soundtrack as a whole.
The bad news: it’s kind of boring, isn’t it? ‘I’ve been here before’ is the first line, which pretty much says it all. Sam is on familiar balladeering territory (it’s no surprise to hear it took about 20 minutes for him and his regular co-writer Jimmy Napes to squeeze out another big one) but the actual chorus is a bit wet and unmemorable, and the lyrics are basic unrequited love shit with a gun metaphor lobbed in as an afterthought. We’re not bowled over.
More to the point, this is the second ultra-retro Bond theme in a row. Adele’s ‘Skyfall’ was a dead ringer for Shirley Bassey, but its brassy nostalgia was pretty novel after crappy rock themes from Jack White and Chris Cornell. Three years later a second stab at the John Barry legacy sounds tired and predictable. Wouldn’t it have been great if the Radiohead rumours had been true? Or if they’d parachuted in Lorde or Björk or even Jarvis Cocker? Daniel Craig’s Bond has mostly gone for gritty (sometimes downright depressing) realism rather than retro familiarity. So how come his last film as Bond gets a tasteful throwback intro?
Anyway, ‘Skyfall’ was a comeback for the ever-elusive Adele (who’d been out of the limelight recovering from throat surgery). Sam Smith on the other hand has become about as inescapable as Scaramanga lately: he’s on the front of GQ, he’s on the new Disclosure album, he’s won as many Grammys as he can carry. Doing Bond seems like a natural culmination for his astonishing rise to fame. Maybe it’s time he took a tip from 007 and went underground for a while.
Listen to ‘Writing’s on the Wall’: