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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