Jack White puts a bomb under Bond for `Quantum of Solace`
Fans will be shocked by Jack White's dark, daring theme for the new 007 film Quantum of Solace, says Neil McCormick in The Telegraph
The new Bond theme has been unveiled. Shirley Bassey fans might be advised to look away now. There are certainly some John Barry-esque strings and horns, sinister piano tinkles and an electric guitar riff that subtly hints at the familiar motif for the superspy, but after that all bets are off.
With garage-rock guitarist Jack White at the helm of an unlikely duet with classically trained nu-soul queen Alicia Keys, Another Way to Die uncoils as a sparse, low-slung, mid-tempo, distorted, dirty Delta blues-rock wail, short on melody and high on attitude.
Predictably, it has been murder on the message boards, with Bond fans bombarding the internet with hostile commentary, many immediately declaring it the worst Bond song ever. Increasingly, it seems each new Bond theme is greeted with a mixture of high expectation and bitter disappointment, perhaps because after 46 years and 22 (official) films, we all have fixed ideas about what a Bond song is supposed to be, probably conforming to wherever we made our own attachment to the long running series.
"The Bond song was absolutely defined within a period of three or four movies with John Barry," according to film composer David Arnold, who has scored the soundtrack for five consecutive Bond films, from Tomorrow Never Dies to the next month's Quantum of Solace. "That little run of Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and [the instrumental] On Her Majesty's Secret Service casts a very long shadow.
"There is an expectation that you will hear strings and brass, you will have an aching kind of melody and a sense of excitement. It probably does become more difficult every time, because you are walking in the footsteps of fairly major talents and huge successes."
The danger, of course, is that the more formulaic something becomes, the more open to spoof it becomes. It is hard to imagine a gothically melodramatic ballad or sassy come-hither belter thriving in the era of Austin Powers. Just as the Bond franchise had to be reinvented to stay relevant, so has the music, and Arnold has been pushing it in interesting directions. Madonna's cut up R&B Die Another Day and Chris Cornell's hard-rock-flavoured You Know My Name (theme to 2006's Casino Royale) may not have been greeted enthusiastically by die-hard fans, but they actually managed something no Bond theme had achieved since Duran Duran's A View to a Kill in 1985: they got into the pop charts.
"I think there is a formula for songs that want to be Bond themes, but the great Bond themes don't necessarily adhere to it," says Arnold. "Live and Let Die is a big rock song with a reggae section. I am of the opinion Bond themes become great Bond themes because they become the sound of that film."
The theme for Quantum of Solace was originally supposed to have been sung by Amy Winehouse. With her sexy, retro style and dangerous, contemporary edge, she seemed a perfect fit. Hip producer of the moment, Mark Ronson, even recorded a backing track for a moody Dusty Springfield-style soul ballad, but sessions with the troubled star were rumoured to have been disastrous.
There were suggestions that Winehouse, beset by health and substance-abuse problems, failed to record a usable vocal, although the singer later claimed she just didn't like the song. Much media speculation ensued about who might take her place, with Duffy, Grace Jones and Adele all tipped.
Apparently, there is no shortage of volunteers to record Bond themes. "Every time we do one you get asked by some of the biggest artists in the whole world," reveals Arnold. "It's frankly embarrassing to be saying to some of these people, 'I'm sorry, you're not right.' But, from my perspective, I look at it like casting a movie. Who can exist alongside this film and feel like they are part of the fabric of it?"
Despite the multitude of rumours, the Bond producers quickly settled on the unusual pairing of Jack White and Alicia Keys. The White Stripes guitarist and singer used to play Barry's soundtracks before gigs and had long dreamed of writing his own Bond song. Indeed, he claims to have originally conceived his riffing hit Seven Nation Army as a Bond theme. He had also been looking for an excuse to work with Keys.
Although the two might seem to belong in different musical worlds (she the sophisticated urban star, he the rootsy, indie rocker), they share an openness to collaboration.
"They're very raw, very cut and dry," Keys once commented on the White Stripes. "I think we could do something really interesting that mixes rock and soul together, the blues and emotion, and it could be really touching." According to White: "After a couple of years of wanting to collaborate with Alicia, it took James Bond himself to finally make it happen."
The basic track was written and recorded by White in his Nashville studio, with Keys adding piano and vocals. "Alicia put some electric energy into her breath that cemented itself into the magnetic tape. Very inspiring to watch," says Arnold. "You're definitely taking on a responsibility. There's a tradition of powerful music in all these films. But that's why I'm involved creatively with music, for challenges like this."
Arnold acknowledges that the song is far from typical Bond. "It's not a big tune with the kind of long leading melody John Barry used to write. But there's something about the duality of those two voices that mirrors what's happening in the movie. Its dirty and raw, and yet there's an element of sophistication with Alicia's involvement, and that's kind of what you get with James Bond in Quantum - he's sitting there waiting to explode and barely keeping a lid on it.
"The way it drops in the film, it's exactly the right temperament, exactly the right vibe, and it means business."
Discuss this news here...