Writing’s on the Wall has just been released. How does it stand up against the 007 classics? Here’s our checklist.
Does it hit a Tom Jones-style top note?
The Welsh singer reportedly fainted in the recording booth after singing the final high note of Thunderball. Smith might do well to sing this one sitting down: he swings back and forth between baritone and a falsetto worthy of Pharrell. Or a 16th-Century castrato. No wonder he asks in the song: “If I risk it all/Could you break my fall?”
Does it have sweeping strings? Haunting horns? A sense of majesty?
Yes to the strings – the first few seconds are signature Bond, and there’s the familiar feeling that an orchestra is lurking behind the Secret Service agent, moving between the shadows with him. But it’s a more downbeat offering than some of 007’s rousing tunes: majesty is replaced by melancholy, fitting for Daniel Craig’s brooding Bond.
Is there a whiff of gunsmoke and a suggestion of shadows?
Plenty of shadows – but not so much the assassin-hiding ones. This is Bond waking up with a start in the middle of the night, heart pounding, and staring into a different kind of darkness. It’s the blackness of an insomniac’s 4am; it’s Craig crouching in the shower gazing blankly at the tiles. As Smith croons: “I’ve spent a lifetime running/And I always get away/But with you I’m feeling something/That makes me want to stay.”
Does it also imply the world is about to end?
Not so much – this is more intimate ballad than apocalyptic barnstormer. If Bond has a soul, Smith is attempting to provide its soundtrack.
Does it go well with a helicopter barrel roll?
It might, if footage of the stunt was slowed down and immediately cut to a close-up of a tear rolling down Bond’s craggy cheeks.
Is it timeless or more like Duran Duran’s pop-with-a-sell-by-date?
Duran Duran’s 1985 track A View to a Kill is still the most successful Bond theme ever, but it has been criticised for sounding “stylistically mired in the tropes of the day, pandering to the very pop audience that propelled it into the history books”. Smith’s track is going for a timeless feel – although comedian David Schneider has tweeted: “The name is Bland. James Bland.”
Would it make Daniel Craig cry?
The star has said that he cried after listening to Adele’s Skyfall track for the first time: this one will have him curled up in a fetal position. Every chord change is tinged with regret; even the crescendoes are mournful. The comedian Omid Djalili – who appeared in The World is Not Enough – has tweeted that listening to Writing’s on the Wall left him in a broken heap.
Does it sound like a Tom Petty song?
The veteran US singer was awarded a share of royalties from Smith’s Grammy-winning Stay With Me after the Brit acknowledged similarities with Petty’s I Won’t Back Down; he said that it had been “nothing more than a musical accident”. There won’t be any calls from the Petty camp this time – although Writing’s on the Wall is drawing comparisons to the 1995 Michael Jackson hit Earth Song.
Does it fit with the rest of the canon?
Opinion is divided on whether Writing’s on the Wall can compete with classics like Goldfinger. But by veering into break-up song territory, it can’t be accused of straying too closely to former title tracks, as when the writers of Licence to Kill allegedly had to make royalty payments for using Goldfinger’s horn line. Smith’s emoting over lines like “When you’re not here I’m suffocating/I want to feel love/Run through my blood/Tell me is this where I give it all up?” isn’t likely to be mixed up with Shirley Bassey belting out “He’s the man, the man with the Midas touch”.
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