As we count down to the announcement of a new actor in the role of James Bond, it seems fitting to cast our ears back to 2008 and the second Daniel Craig outing Quantum Of Solace. It‘s hardly one of the best of the Bonds but at least it fared a little better than the chilly reception metered out to its theme song Another Way To Die. This oddity was written and performed by that scruffy bluesman from Michigan, The White Stripes‘ Jack White, as a duet with New Yorker piano prodigy Alicia Keys.
What makes a great James Bond theme song?
Traditionally, it has to sound good over silhouettes of women, guns, and other 007-related iconography, but in eras past, composer John Barry’s involvement in writing title tracks would lead to his unforgettable motifs being interpolated into the score too. In later years, as the producers have courted big chart stars the songs have often been separated from the scores, as was the case with 2008‘s fair-to-middling Quantum Of Solace.
On paper, the 007 series’ first two-for-one duet sounded too good to be true: Alicia Keys lacing some stripy swagger over Jack White’s signature fuzzed out guitar — what could go wrong?
Well, have you actually heard it?
Less a duet than the sound of two people singing vaguely similar songs (one garage rock, one R&B) at the same time, at no point is there any danger of their two mutually unintelligible styles cohering. Moreover, Another Way To Die may not share a title of the film to which it’s attached, but it was just as disappointing. But if there‘s one thing in their favour: you try finding a good rhyme for Quantum Of Solace. Perhaps they should have called it Seven Nation Barmy and be done with it.
Still the Detroit choonsmith was in typically ebullient form in the press announcement.
“After a couple of years of wanting to collaborate with Alicia Keys, it took James Bond himself to finally make it happen. Alicia put some electric energy into her breath that cemented itself into the magnetic tape. Very inspiring to watch. It gave me a new voice, and I wasn’t myself anymore. I drummed for her voice and she mimicked the guitar tones, then we joined our voices and screamed and moaned about these characters in the film and their isolation, having no one to trust, not even themselves. Maybe we became them for a few minutes. The Memphis Horns were there to help us out, along with some of Nashville’s finest. Might be the first analogue Bond theme in 20 years. We wanted to push soul into those tapes, and join the family of Barry, Bassey, Connery and Craig.”
These uneasy fusions rarely work. Like Olga Kurylenko and Daniel Craig in this movie, there’s zero chemistry between White and Keys, and their wonkily recorded voices fit together like James Bond and celibacy. The track quickly devolves into a screechy high-speed chase of runaway harmonies and crunchy staccato horn blasts.
Like the master plans of the franchise’s many nemeses, the idea here was strong — it was in the messy, ragged execution where things went up in flames. Still, the not so dynamic duo’s music video was nominated for a Grammy, even though White nor Keys chose not to perform the song at any awards ceremonies or indeed on television at all. Oh perhaps they just weren‘t asked.
Is the man from BAFTA in tonight?
Extracted from For your ears only: all 30 Bond themes ranked from worst to best here