Adele’s Skyfall theme song: our verdict

Review 5 Oct 2012 - 11:41

The theme song for Skyfall takes a delicate approach, but how does it stand up against earlier Bond tunes? Here’s Ivan’s verdict…

It's never easy to release a new Bond song. A key part of the 007 formula, those four minutes can turn off a bunch a fans as easily as Daniel Craig's hair colour once did. But Adele's Skyfall, written with Paul Epworth, grows on you quickly. The opening bluesy note, shot through with a brassy suspension, is a statement: forget Jack White and Alicia Keys' noisy Another Way To Die, we're back in firm Bond territory.

Skyfall is, in many ways, exactly what you'd expect from an Adele Bond song. It's played as a straight ballad, carefully abiding by the Bond song rules. There's a lot of piano, there are four beats in a bar (Tomorrow Never Dies remains the only non-4/4 Bond theme tune), plus it goes for the For Your Eyes Only tactic of mentioning the title every few seconds, just in case we forget what we're listening to. (Fact: The word ‘Skyfall’ appears in the song a total of 15 times.)

Skyfall also recalls Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever - partly because of Adele's powerful pair of lungs and partly because its main hook is an interval of five notes. Add that to a strict verse/chorus/middle eight structure, and this is very familiar 007 territory. The cryptic, almost laughable lyrics could even have come from a Bond tune of old. “This is the end,” Adele sings. “Hold your breath and count to ten.” It's easily on a par with Paul McCartney's nonsensical Live And Let Die.

But most crucially of all, the song draws its progression from Monty Norman's original theme. Beginning with that minor fifth echoing on the piano, the bass soon takes on the familiar shift to a major chord and then back, a cycle that repeats throughout - the same cycle that made Casino Royale's title and score such a strong composition. The verse's tune, too, sticks almost exclusively to the first three notes of the scale, made famous by Vic Flick all those years ago.

It's that tight structure that keeps Skyfall's song together, allowing Adele some wriggle room to make the tune her own. She's closer to Whitney Houston than Shirley Bassey - gone are the days of clean, dramatic notes, replaced by that incessant wobbling melisma - and that hurts the third line of the chorus, never really hitting a clean climax. And the use of a backing chorus, a mistake last heard in License To Kill, takes a lot of getting used to.

But Monty's old tune - helped, bizarrely, by Another Way To Die's shuffling drumbeat - drives the 4/4 theme along, the trumpets and strings building to a rousing finish. Here, Adele finally shines. Earning bonus points for avoiding a key change, she opts instead for a Nobody Does It Better-style coda; the 77-piece orchestra turn up the volume, while she belts out a high-pitched refrain over the top.

And then that sexy blues chord returns. Mmmm, nice. 

The result is an average song, but one with a strong start, a catchy hook and an equally solid finish. In 10 years’ time, when we play this back on the Bond 60 compilation album, those wobbly notes in the middle will fade away and that's what will stay in the mind. Well, that and the word Skyfall. 15 times? Blimey. That's even more than Moonraker.

Now the question is: what exactly does the title mean? If those lyrics are to be taken literally (a dangerous thing in Bondland), it might well be a place… 

You can listen to the full Skyfall theme song here.

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Huge fan of "The World is not Enough" never into Garbage, loved that song.

Oh, please! It is just sooo dull!
Brilliant analysis though!

You are correct: Skyfall is a place. It's the family estate of the Bond family. And it is where Bond's parents are buried.

My three word review: Rubbish and dull. Surely this could have been mixed up a little.

Did anyone notice that it uses the same chords as "Another Way To Die"? That piano progression at the start of the song, which is later used for the verses... And well, the brass just before the bridge also sounds similar to the tune from AWTD, although that's mostly a staple of the last handful of Bond theme songs, too, which White just added a few notes to...

I don't think 'This is the end, hold your breath and count to ten' is nonsensical at all. It sounds to me like a clear apocalyptic/end of the world reference, as in 'let the sky fall'.

I think its boring and predictable.

"Beginning with that minor fifth echoing on the piano"

Okay, enlighten me: what is a minor fifth?

Goldeneye by Tina Turner is the best modern Bond song. End of. :-)

When I heard this, I immediately thought Bjork's 'Play Dead' instrumental by previous 007 composer David Arnold would have sounded much more epic. On the first hearing, I don't think it sounds as memorable as the others in the series. I hope Thomas Newman provides a delicious Bond-esque sound to the soundtrack of 'Skyfall.'

he would answer but he is too busy sounding pretentious

On a standard scale, a fifth is the fifth note above the first. A minor fifth is a semitone below that. So, if you started with C, the major fifth is G, the minor - G flat :)

I love it reminds me of old school bond

Adele has a lovely voice, but the song is weak. Too balladic. Too much rhyming. And if Skyfall is going to be mentioned 15 times, it should be strong like Shirley Bassey's GOLDFINGER.

It is a place, Skyfall is Bonds ancestral home - come on DoG, every Bond fan knows that!!!

It sounds more fitting to the Bond-franchise than the song for "Quantum of Solace". I'm very much reminded of the opening songs for some of the older Bond-movies.

I thought it was a place? 'Skyfall Lodge' it's Bond's country retreat, it's the house that is seen in the background burning as Silva walks away from it in the trailer... am i the only one who spotted that?!

I may not be an expert, but I find this theme to be fantastic, and it catches the Bond mood perfectly well. Gets me excited for the film too!

Sorry,but I think that this is a very poor Bond theme. I have now listened to it a number of times and have given it a fair chance to grow on me. But, it is, I think, one of the worst and certainly will never become a "classic Bond theme". It has been likened by many to be in the Shirley Bassey stable of themes. Personally, I don't even think it comes close and is more akin to Sheena Easton. Only not as good. The deadness of the lyrical delivery is just awful. If the new theme was going to be this lazy, it might have been better to ask Dame Shirley to do another one. Adelle may be an award winning singer but, as I believe this song proves, she's just not suited for some things.

What a waste of this womans talent,this is one of the worst attempts at a Bond theme song for many years.Where's Shirley Bassey when you need her most?

PLEASE. Were we listening to the same song. I found it boring, predictable, had terrible lyrics and it failed to build ANY momentum. Sure it's better than QOS, but that was pig-shit.Bassey has nothing to be worried about.

"... it might be a plance." That thought popped up in my mind to. In the second half of the song Adele sings "at the sky fall" not 'skyfall'. So, that indicates a place, (or maybe a time,) doesn't it?

This review is way too in-depth. No offence intended, but before you start showing us how good of a musician you are, you need to realize something: no-one cares about your music skills, including other musicians. Listen to the song and just enjoy it for what it is. It's a Bond song! It doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel or anything, but it doesn't have to. I, for one, like it. I think it's simple and effective and fits right in with Bond canon. It's ok not to like it of course, but your reasons above are a bit much IMO. Whether a song is good or not has nothing to do with what notes of a scale are used. You must have a really hard time enjoying music if you analyse it so much. Remember, the songs that people remember the most are usually the simple and repetitive ones.
What did you expect from this: a Mozart composition?

I agree with you on the strange note at the end of the chorus and the use of backing singers - didn't work for me at all.

In diatonic harmony the fifth note of the major or minor scales is the same (seven notes from the root). This interval is a 'perfect' interval - it has no major or minor equivalent and is therefore normally referred to as a perfect fifth or just a fifth. The note a semitone below the fifth, which is the note being referred to in the review is rightly called a 'diminished fifth'. Or to put it another way, there's no such thing as a minor fifth. And I am a pedantic buffoon. Profound apologies.

Live and let die - time signature changes all over the place....

I agree with you mostly, Zaphod. However, as another musician reading this review one of my main concerns is their pretty dubious and inaccurate musical terminology in a number of places... if a reviewer wants to write a more technical review they should at least be accurate!

whine whine whine... yet you can't seem to explain your thoughts. Lazy how? Not suited how?

exactly, no such thing as a minor 5th. The reviewer tries to talk musically beyond their capability in a number of respects, i think.

no, I don't think you were listening to the same song :P

Minor 5th don't exist, because 4ths, 5ths and octaves aren't minor or major, but perfect

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