Old school meets new.
Grammy award sweeping duo Billie Eilish and brother Finneas O'Connell are back in a big way. MGM and Eon Productions have partnered up with the pop sensations to release the new theme song for the upcoming Craig-era James Bond film No Time to Die. This time they are backed by industry legends Hans Zimmer of Inception, The Dark Knight and Dunkirk fame (orchestral arrangement) and The Smiths’ Johnny Marr (guitar) to help ensure the young pair rise up to the formidable task of writing a new Bond classic.
Billie’s offering needs to hold its own next to the classics from the likes of Shirley Bassey, Nancy Sinatra and Tom Jones and I think she stands up to the challenge admirably. The return of the piano-ballad intro instantly evoked flashes back to Adele’s Skyfall and Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall, two themes that were praised by critics for returning to the old school Bond themes with a modern facelift for the new generation. It’s also great to hear Finneas contributing an impeccable synth arrangement which melds a well-researched Bond sound with Billie’s signature pop-weirdness.
Billie’s vocal performance is certainly admirable and not to be thrown aside, but the previous Oscar-winning efforts from Sam Smith and Adele are just on another level. Every time I listen to a new song of hers, Billie sounds like she’s trying to make her vocals sound even more delicate than her last song, getting as close to disappearing as possible. In my mind however, fragility is not entirely displayed through quiet dynamics and the closer she gets to zero decibels, the more it cuts into the quality of her tone. I’ve always been fond of Billie’s signature wispy and vulnerable alto, but it’s clear that she is lacking some vocal training that could take her singing to the next level. Unfortunately you can’t just learn this stuff overnight – it takes years to craft truly exceptional vocal tone, putting a young Billie in a uniquely disadvantageous situation next to all the older, more experienced Bond singers that have come before.
It does draw to mind the headline of Billie becoming the youngest ever composer to write a Bond theme song – with a franchise that has been described as “perfectly satisfied with good enough”, to what extent was Billie’s involvement in the latest Bond film a simple PR stunt to help with the movie’s marketing? Billie is an interesting musician to appear in front of the spotlight in recent memory because she possesses such an enormous amount of talent for someone so young and her presence in the entertainment industry has been like a sonic boom from the moment she burst onto the scene. But does that make her capable or ready to take on such a weighty project like the Bond theme this early on in her career?
I can’t help but feel like Billie would have written something truly exceptional if she’d been allowed a few more years to grow as an artist before taking on this challenge. Nonetheless, No Time to Die is a moody and atmospheric single entirely worthy of its Bond title, nailing the franchise's tone but just playing it a little too safe.
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Tom Keogh is a 21 year old English Literature student at King’s College, London. He enjoys making music, visiting the bin and supporting shit football teams because he got into the sport late.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England. Subscribe to our mailing list below to be alerted every time a post is published on the site.