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
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.