With the new Bond film due for release around the end of October, it was about time to reveal this instalment’s theme. Since 2006, the Bond themes have – like the movies – become more modern and reflective of the current popular music scene. The last few years have seen modern songs written that still retain the classic Bond feel of grandiose and class. Adele’s Skyfall was a slight departure from the standard, going for a slightly darker sound than its predecessors, but still keeping that intangible Bond factor.
The task of writing the new Bond theme for Spectre fell onto relatively new pop superstar Sam Smith. Rising to prominence in 2013, Smith has been churning out hits for two years, with Stay With Me, Like I Can, Money on my Mind and I’m Not the Only One all achieving chart success. Writing slow, soulful music, many see him as a replacement for previous Bond writer Adele, who has been on an extended break from music since releasing Skyfall. With the song being released last week, it has become the first Bond theme to reach number 1.
The song itself is a relatively standard Sam Smith song. Slow, retrained vocals and music throughout with Smith showing off his falsetto to full force. The problem is it simply doesn’t work as a Bond theme.
Writing on the Wall sounds like an extra, unused track from his last album that has been hastily repurposed for the Bond movie. The opening salvo doesn’t really match the rest of the song, and is unsurprisingly the most ‘Bond’ part of the song. The rest is a Smith special power ballad (allegedly written in around 20 minutes) that never really kicks out of second gear. It is obvious Smith is trying to replicate Adele’s Skyfall (not a bad way to go about writing in theory due to the similarity between the two), but he simply doesn’t manage to do it.
Adele’s Skyfall soared and slowed in the right places, and had a strong musical presence outside of the vocals. It effectively represents the darker tone of Skyfall (compared to the previous Bond movies) and the unusually personal storyline between Bond, M and Silva. Spectre is reportedly the darkest Bond movie yet – which would seem to requisite a darker theme song. Whilst Smith’s song is certainly dark and sombre enough to qualify, it is missing one vital property – subtlety. This song is desperate to tell you how dark it is, suffering because of it. The epic feel and confident swagger present in the previous Bond films has been completely lost in favour of self-indulgence from Smith, who seems bent on showing most of his vocal range in every song.
It is a shame that the newest theme turned out how it did – Smith is a talented enough vocalist that with a different writer pushing him out of his comfort zone he probably could have made a very strong theme. Instead though, his song will fall down everyone’s list of Bond theme songs to around the level of 2008’s mediocre Another Way to Die.