No Time to Die already has a lot going for it. It’s got an exciting director, a promising trailer and – if it adheres to the good/bad/good/bad pattern James Bond films that began all the way back with Goldeneye – it might mean that Daniel Craig goes out on a high. And now there’s another potential plus in its favour: Billie Eilish is doing the theme tune.
What’s especially exciting about this news is that, compared with the last couple insipid – though admittedly Oscar-winning – efforts, Billie Eilish is refreshing. She’s young. She’s authentic. She has a signature sound that doesn’t automatically align with the overwrought warbling , say, Sam Smith. The history the James Bond franchise contains a smattering fantastic outliers – Live and Let Die, A View to a Kill, We Have All the Time in the World – that have flourished precisely because they haven’t hewed to the ossified blueprint what constitutes a Bond theme. If this song is as good as the director and producer are promising, then we could really have something special on our hands.
Better yet, a title like No Time to Die is a songwriter’s dream, in that lots things rhyme with the word “die”. Daniel Craig’s Bond tenure has been littered with some truly abysmal titles that were no use to the musical art whatsoever. No wonder so many them had their performers squirming around loopholes. Nothing rhymes with “Casino Royale”, so Chris Cornell sang a song called You Know My Name. Sam Smith, knowing that any song entitled Spectre would have had to at some point use the word “hectare”, chickened out and sang Writing’s on the Wall instead. Faced with the abomination that was Quantum Solace, Jack White just made up his own Bond title with Another Way to Die. Only Adele took on the mantle writing a song named after the actual film, and even she screwed it up by rhyming “sky fall” with “crumble”. So this is a golden opportunity for Eilish. No Time to Die is an open goal a title, and she has the chops to really make it work.
However, let’s not get carried away here. This is James Bond we’re talking about, so we should never underestimate the franchise’s tendency to bungle a sitter. Because, yes, Billie Eilish is authentic and unique and unwilling to turn in a traditional theme. But that doesn’t automatically mean it’ll be any good. Remember when they got Madonna in to jazz up the Bond theme as a genre? Remember how horrible that was? Remember how Die Another Day sounded like a bad song being fed through a worse Bluetooth connection? Or remember how bad Another Way to Die was, with White almost rapping his verses and then Alicia Keys using the chorus to make a noise like she’d just found a dead snake in her bed? Remember Sheryl Crow? Of course you don’t.
And that’s the danger with No Time to Die. James Bond is such a creaky old antique a franchise that change has to come slowly. A nudge here. A bottle Heineken there. Altering the direction the Bond films is like piloting a cruise ship. Every change course has to be slow and incremental. Do a handbrake turn and you’ll kill everyone. Eilish’s minimalistic brand clicks and whooshes might be good by itself but there’s a real risk it’ll be like painting Pikachu on a Chippendale when it’s set to the hoary old pervert psychedelia the film’s opening titles.
Plus, as much as I hate to say it, one thing has got me really worried about Eilish’s participation in all this. When her involvement was announced, she released a statement saying: “It feels crazy to be a part this in every way. To be able to score the theme song to a film that is part such a legendary series is a huge honor. James Bond is the coolest film franchise ever to exist. I’m still in shock.”
Did you catch that? Billie Eilish thinks that James Bond is the coolest film franchise ever to exist. No, it isn’t. It’s trad and naff and a full 50% its instalments are absolutely terrible. Even Daniel Craig wanted out at one point, and he actually is James Bond. This statement shows a worrying lack taste, especially when the Mission: Impossible films exist. Maybe Eilish should try soundtracking the next one those instead.