Did you know the 11th Commandment commands Adele to record a Bond theme? No, seriously. Right after he told everyone to respect their moms, Moses was like, “Thou shalt make a sultry, smoky-voiced chanteuse record a hauntingly beautiful theme for a James Bond movie.”
And 45 years ago, Shirley Bassey was able to fulfill that commandment and keep the planet from ruin. It was obvious she’d done right by God’s decree, because brassy, haunting songs like “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever” complement the allure of James Bond himself: The songs and the spy are both mysterious and restrained, and this control makes them alluring. Whether it’s Bassey’s voice or the sweeping arrangements behind her or Sean Connery’s cocked smile, you know you’re in the presence of something powerful and self-assured… something that can beckon you without needing you.
But Lord, we did foresake thee during many other Bond themes. Shit got crazy when Jack White and Alicia Keys took the mic, and though we doth love Sheryl Crow, her song fell flat.
The moment Adele became a star, however, it was obvious that she had the poise and talent and retro-leaning sensibility to bring Bond themes back to their cold, glittering peak.
And now we have “Skyfall,” the Adele Bond theme we’ve been waiting for.
I mean… damn. This song is just exactly right. As Adam B. Vary writes for Entertainment Weekly, the lyrics work as a stand-alone ode to messed up love, but they also imply Bond’s tortured inner life. Musically, the song is an unapologetic throwback—again, this plays to Adele’s skills as a husky-voiced singer—but the hook in the chorus is so catchy that it still sounds modern. That upward swoop on “let the skyfall” is enough to get the radio cranked up.
And don’t get me wrong: I like plenty of other Bond themes, from Madonna’s “Die Another Day” to Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only” to Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die.” But those songs don’t quite have the chilly eroticism that I want in a Bond theme. And while some may eventually bag on Adele for not pushing the envelope, I think that’s why she succeeds. She’s the first artist in ages to honor the classic formula for a Bond theme, and by doing that, she sounds fresh and exciting.
Mark my words: Adele is going to win an Oscar for this tune, and her Oscar-night performance is going to be full of orchestras and flawless nails and thirty-five gymnasts twirling over fires It’ll be glorious.
Mark Blankenship fancies himself to be icily erotic, even when he’s wearing flannel pajama pants. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship.