In which I whine incessantly about that terrible SKYFALL song

So apparently I’m blogging on Fridays now? Okay. Cool.

In this week’s episode of our pop culture podcast, Do I Dare To Eat A Peach?, my brother and I took a long (probably too long) look at the Bond movies, and specifically at the Bond theme songs. Our goal, inspired by a similar Tor.com article, was to determine which movie had the widest gap of quality between movie and song: a terrible song with an awesome movie, or vice versa. This was timed, in part, to get us ready for the release of the new Skyfall theme song by Adele, which came out last night. Obviously we haven’t seen the movie yet, so we can’t do our full quality differential analysis, but we can at least comment on the song.

That terrible, terrible song.

Adele, to be fair, is a fantastic choice for a Bond song. She’s got the kind of power in her voice that Shirley Bassey would be proud of, and her classic, old school sound is what made her famous in the first place. That’s part of what makes this song so disappointing. Admittedly, the song doesn’t really give her a lot to work with, but she still manages to sing it with as little personality as possible. If I hadn’t found the song on her personal YouTube channel I’d be convinced I’d accidentally stumbled onto the leaked demo version that’s been floating around, because there’s no way this feels like a polished version of a real performance.

The lyrics are the worst offender, so I’ll save those for last. First I want to complain about the way the music doesn’t build to anything. Yes, we get a full orchestra coming in on the chorus, but there’s no power behind it. It’s the most laid-back orchestral kick you’ve ever heard. Meanwhile, the verses themselves are as straightforward as they can possibly be, without anything interesting to distinguish them. Compare, for example, the first two verses of Goldeneye: the second one has a wonderful little high part behind it, almost like the music is sneaking around behind Tina Turner’s voice. It’s telling a story. It has personality. All Skyfall has is a nonchalant dedication to finishing the song without dropping the book it’s trying to balance on its head.

And now: the lyrics. The first stanza is actually pretty good:

This is the end.
Hold your breath and count to ten.
Feel the earth move, and then
Hear my heart burst again.

It’s determined to keep that rhyme going, but it does it smoothly, without cheating on its rhythm and always maintaining a standard flow of speech. That’s how a normal human would construct a sentence, which is more than a lot of songs can say. Then we get to the second stanza, where this all goes out the window and she really has to stretch to get the right syllables on the right beats:

For this is the end.
I’ve drowned and dreamed this moment
So overdue, I owe them
Swept away, I’m stolen.

Cheating on the rhythm? Check. That’s not how “moment” is pronounced, Adele. Cheating on the cadence of normal human speech? Check. I couldn’t even figure out how to punctuate the two middle lines. And we haven’t even gotten to the worst part yet, which is every time she says the word Skyfall:

Let the sky fall, when it crumbles
We will stand tall
Or face it all together
At skyfall.

Skyfall is where we start
A thousand miles and poles apart.

I was with you on that first instance, when you broke the word in half. “Let the sky fall” is a great apocalyptic line, and very fitting for a Bond song. The second instance, referring to the falling of the sky by the compound noun “skyfall,” is less forgivable, but it’s the name of the movie so I’ll let you get away with it. “Skyfall is where we start,” on the other hand, is just lazy writing. It doesn’t mean anything, and it’s a baldfaced attempt to cram in the title of the movie again, in case we forgot it. It’s verbal product placement, like including a line where she sings about how Coke is so refreshing. This seems like a weird thing to complain about after I’ve just praised the Goldeneye song, which uses the word “goldeneye” pretty constantly despite it never really meaning anything, but the difference is that Tina Turner sells it. She sings with attitude, and that covers a multitude of sins. Adele sounds like she’s sight-reading to see if the song’s in her range, and it never gets off the ground, and that makes every lyrical shortcut sound worse.

Part of the problem, of course, is that Bond songs traditionally use the movie’s title as a refrain, and there’s just not a lot you can do with “Skyfall.” They could have done better than the elementary-school rhyme “we will stand tall,” but even then, it’s not a lot to work with. Compare The World is Not Enough, which is at least a phrase, and which Shirley Manson followed up with some interesting new ideas (“But it is such a perfect place to start” is deviously fun). Compare Die Another Day, which Madonna uses as a mantra in the chorus and then augments with weird, disjointed phrases in the verses (mirrored by weird, disjointed tuning effects, which holds it all together). If you really want to feel depressed, compare Another Way to Die, the theme song from Quantum of Solace, where Jack White and Alicia Keys just threw the title out all together and wrote a brilliant song full of clever lyrics, impressionist imagery, and a perfect suggestion of Bond, without just beating it over the head by saying “Skyfall” a hundred times.

To it’s credit, Skyfall is not the worst Bond song ever. We’ll always have All Time High. But as awesome as it could have been to hear Adele go back to Bond’s Shirley Bassey roots and sing the hell out of some killer nightclub torch song, that’s not what we got. The lyricist phoned it in, the composer painted by numbers, and Adele acts like she doesn’t know the mic is turned on. A solid remix with some new arrangement and more personality could save this, but they’re touting it as the official movie version, so I doubt it will change.

I just hope the movie’s better. History has proven that bad Bond songs tend to be paired with bad Bond movies. I really want to like this one.

17 Responses to “In which I whine incessantly about that terrible SKYFALL song”

  1. Megan says:

    Even more damning: Adele co-wrote the song. She writes all of her songs (with help, I’m sure) and she’s often criticized for her weak songwriting ability. Lyrics are sometimes confusing and meaningless, and melodies and production are sometimes “off” (like you noted in the post). For her first two albums, though, her AMAZING vocals made up for the songwriting. It pains me, but the vocals on Skyfall are merely good, not great. It sounds like Adele’s vocal surgery took a bigger toll on her voice than she’s letting on.

    Actually, I’m a huge fan of Adele, and to be honest, I still enjoyed Skyfall. I’d put up with a lot just to hear that voice. (I do the same thing with authors. If I love them I’m usually loyal even when they release something sub-par.)

  2. CM says:

    Actually, Dan, “Skyfall” does mean something in the film beyond “the sky falling.” And “Skyfall is where we start” is also a very specific reference in that context and makes much more sense (if only after the fact) than the Goldeneye lyrics. What it means is a spoiler however, so… you’ll have to wait and see. That does leave the problem of it seeming like nonsense now, but I actually like that about some of the Bond songs. You get a better understanding after watching the movie.

  3. CM says:

    My first comment seems to not have been added.

    Anyway, I basically said that “Skyfall” has a meaning in the film beyond “Let the sky fall” (which also has a more direct reference in the film) that will make much more sense of the lyrics. That is a spoiler (and I suggest staying away from google on this one) so I can’t say any more.
    I happen to like enigmatic Bond lyrics that seem like nonsense until you watch the film.

  4. Rhys says:

    Hmmm. I can see where you’re coming from, but musically, I do really like the simplicity of the song. I can see it fitting very well with an opening sequence.

    However, I would agree with you on some of the lyrics. Still, I’d say it’s one of the better Bond songs; even better than Goldfinger (I can’t stand Bassey’s shrill voice) in my opinion.

  5. Rhys says:

    (To clarify; I rather like the laissez-faire style in which Adele sings it and the apparent “lack” of any truly rousing chorus line- I think it works as a more subdued track)

  6. I disagree. Lyrics have never been Bond songs’ strong suit, so I give Adele a pass, even with those awkward rhymes.

    I love the song. I love her supple, smoky voice against the backdrop of the Dr. No theme. I think it strikes the perfect mood for the movie–which is going to ROCK.

  7. admin says:

    CM: OBVIOUSLY the word Skyfall has meaning in the movie. That doesn’t make this a good lyric.

    Rhys: I suppose you have a point about the simplicity of the song, but then i have to wonder why they hired Adele of all people to sing bluntly simple song.

    Luisa: I offered three examples of better Bond lyrics, and I could offer more if you like. Do you have anything to back up your claim?

  8. CM says:

    Dan,

    I didn’t say it was a “good” lyric. I was responding to the following,

    “The second instance, referring to the falling of the sky by the compound noun “skyfall,” is less forgivable, but it’s the name of the movie so I’ll let you get away with it. “Skyfall is where we start,” on the other hand, is just lazy writing. It doesn’t mean anything, and it’s a baldfaced attempt to cram in the title of the movie again, in case we forgot it.”

    “At Skyfall” and “Skyfall is where we start” aren’t referring to “the sky falling” AT ALL (they are two different things that are linked in the movie). Again, it is a spoiler and I can’t really explain without spoiling, but the lyric is not referring to what you think. It is a valid criticism to say that “at the moment” it makes no sense, but not once you know what Skyfall is. I know you know that Skyfall is something in the movie, but your critique didn’t seem to take that into account and assumed it was “cramming” the title in by making up a nonsense compound. You are assuming that “Skyfall” makes no sense at all within the song and is only a compound word. It’s actually MUCH more on the nose than some other Bond titles in lyrics. You talk about Goldeneye, but what the heck does “Goldeneye” even mean in the song? I don’t remember anyone having a “golden eye” in the movie (could be mistaken).

  9. CM says:

    It will be a lot easier to talk about this once the movie is out.

  10. Rhys says:

    “but then i have to wonder why they hired Adele of all people to sing bluntly simple song”
    Well, commercially, I don’t think there’s been a more popular British singer/songwriter globally in the last 10 years, so I’m sure that played a part. However, I think Adele is a good fit; her voice certainly has that classic-bond-voice feel, and not ALL songs have to be complicated. Sometimes simple is better.

  11. CM says:

    “Yes, we get a full orchestra coming in on the chorus, but there’s no power behind it. It’s the most laid-back orchestral kick you’ve ever heard.”

    Again, I know nothing about music, but I just saw the opening credits recently and I think that it is definitely meant to be more somber in tone and not be as BIG as other Bond themes. I don’t think a big swelling of music would work with what they are going for. The song’s style seems much more fitting given how the movie actually opens.
    I’m very interested to hear what Dan thinks after seeing the movie.

  12. Martin says:

    While I agree that the lyrics could have been a lot stronger, I just came back from the movie and this song in combination with the opening visuals literally gave me chills. The orchestra really works in my opinion, and I don’t think Adele phones it in. If she does, then she’s still doing excellent work even when she doesn’t care. And I’m not even much of a fan of her in the first place.

    It was indeed not as powerful just listening to it independently, but in the movie, with the backup visuals, it’s pretty darn amazing. Great movie too, by the way!

  13. CM says:

    I think it is now safe to talk about (though I haven’t actually seen the film yet) Skyfall being Bond’s family home. What I was hinting at before was that the word Skyfall in the song is speaking of this place, rather than another assumed reference to “the sky falling”. The two are obviously linked, but the lyric is no longer “meaningless.” “Skyfall is where we start” is like saying “Wayne Manor is where we start.”
    And even before I knew Skyfall was his family home I figured from the lyrics (“…a thousand miles and poles apart”) that it was a place (or object) in the film that would be important.

  14. Skyfaough says:

    Cheesy lyrics? No problem. Hyperbole? NO biggie. Pronouncing “Skyfall” as “Skyfaouuuugh” is unforgivable. The accent is irrelevant (I love her accent), but it simply ruins the song for me.

    SkyFALL…

  15. Scotty says:

    I cannot believe how awful Adele’s song skyfall is, I have to hear it on the radio so many times it’s beginning to provoke a physical response. Honestly it’s not long until hearing this song actually makes me physically sick! , it’s just such an horrific melody with just the most awful examples of holding of notes & exasperating words.
    Adele has made some brilliant music in her time, but what an earth happened here!

    Its so awful I honestly thought….. “people are going to clock that this is a terrible song sooner or later and she’s going to regret putting such an hideous record out!”

    but no….I’ve just heard the news….& the song Skyfall has won an Oscar! ??
    Well that really really surprises me! & at the same time makes me lose all faith in this system. A self celebratory facade in which we ‘the 99%’ have to watch millionaires give each other golden statues…..
    Are you guys sure!??… I mean really?…..Have you heard that song??? wow!

  16. Jane Aiken says:

    I think Adele is normally great. This song is terrible. What exactly does she mean by a ‘crumb ball’ anyway?

  17. mary says:

    You people don’t even know what you are talking about have u seen the movie? This song fits it perfect!!

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