For the last twelve years or so, I’ve thirsted for good music, or at least what I think is good music. I’m looking for something propulsive and exciting, that makes me want to get up and do something.
Earlier this year, I joined a gym to work off my middle-aged spread. One of the things that keeps me coming back is their music mix. I don’t like all the songs, but the music keeps me moving. Once in a while, they play something that I’ve never heard before that I really like. I then look it up to find that it came out perhaps ten years ago. Nevertheless, it’s a discovery.
This year, I was looking forward to two events: the new Duran Duran album, Paper Gods, which came out last month, and the theme from the new James Bond movie, Spectre.
Paper Gods was a disappointment, but that will be a discussion for another day.
‘Writing’s on the Wall,’ the theme from Spectre, is music with the power and sweep of a proper James Bond theme. On that level, it succeeds.
But the voice! If it had been performed by a woman, it would work perfectly. It might still work if performed in a lower register by a man. But the song was performed by Sam Smith in a warbly countertenor that just doesn’t fit for a James Bond movie.
Let me explain: most of the Bond themes are sung by women. When a man sings a James Bond theme, the music is necessarily very strongly associated with the character: one can (or should be able to) readily imagine Commander Bond taking the microphone at Karaoke Night in the MI6 Lounge (in the third sub-basement) and singing it himself.
‘From Russia with Love’ passes this test, although as the second Bond film, there was still room for experimentation. ‘Thunderball,’ ‘Live and Let Die,’ and ‘You Know My Name’ pass the test with flying colors. ‘View to a Kill’ and ‘The Living Daylights’ pass as well, although they’re more difficult to sing. But ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ flunks spectacularly. How could such an insecure wimp be a master spy?
But perhaps it’s consistent with the mood of the ‘rebooted’ Bond movies.
We all have our inner demons. We conquer them, coexist with them, or find a way to make them work for us. And we talk about them, if at all, only to our closest friends and family, or possibly to trained professional help if they’re really troublesome. We do not share our demons in our working lives. (At least, that’s the way I was brought up.)
The pre-Daniel Craig movies present James Bond as a man at work. He may have his fears and insecurities, but he sets them aside and presses on with the mission. We don’t see them in the movies because the mission is not the time or the place to contemplate them.
In contrast, we’re aware of the ‘rebooted’ Bond’s personal problems. He isn’t the stainless hero that we imagined. Perhaps the producers imagined they were making him more human, and more interesting, but it took away the cool factor.
So perhaps our new Bond could take the microphone and sing:
A million shards of glass
That haunt me from my past
As the stars begin to gather
And the light begins to fade
When all hope begins to shatter
Know that I won’t be afraid
But it just isn’t the same.
The writing is, indeed, on the wall.