20 October, 2008

Another Way to Die

In 1962 a cultural institution was born: the Bond legacy. Since the release of Dr. No, the Bond films have acted like a cultural and social barometer, reflecting our changing expectations of cinema in terms of content, attitude aethestics, and of course, most importantly music. Not only was one of the most iconic movie themes ever created with the Bond theme (composed by Monty Norman and played by the orchestra of John Barry, later soundtrack composer for the rest of the Bond series), but the “Bond Songs” have become an institution in itself, arguably more greatly anticipated than the films themselves. In the four decades since the first From Russia With Love, the Bond Songs have equally echoed the changing character of music and the changing character of the Bond films themselves.

Whether Madonna’s dance Die Another Day or any of Shirley Bassey’s oft-parodied soul numbers, the Bond Songs have been marked by (musical) seduction, sex, intense smoothness, bombastic production and big arrangements (with the possible exception of Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better, which omitted most of the above but sex). Quantum of Solace, just like Casino Royale, marks a departure from the Bond norm not only in terms of the film itself and its portrayal of the increasingly stagnant character of its protagonist, but also its theme songs. While Chris Cornell has probably come closest to the sexual character of Bond of all themesters thus far, You Know My Name has, with the release of Quantum of Solace’s Another Way to Die, proven itself the middleman sitting on the fence between Bond’s old-fashioned chauvinistic smoothness and his gritty, troubled but detached new self, poking his toe into the pool of progression. The entrance of Jack White onto the scene has probably changed what we know as the Bond Song for future productions, whatever course they might take. While at first the addition of Jack White to the Bond musical annals (thankfully beating contender Amy Winehouse to the post) seems incongruous at best, with his pared-down indie mentality, it can’t be denied that, whether you are a fan or not, he has already earned greatness status: enough to earn him the musical equivalent of the Bond Girl award for beauty, the coveted Bond Song.

Another Way to Die, especially when viewed as part of the Bond Song tradition, is an aberration. Anything but smooth, it is the first duet, and the one of the more abstract lyrically. Full of menace and darkness, it is not only a divergence from expectation in Bond terms but also in Jack White terms. Its genesis can be just as easily traced through the journey of the White as producer as it can that of Bond, or even of the music scene in general. Through the White Stripes, White betrayed his blues background and took it upon himself to create a new breed of indie, stripping away the excesses and returning to it a sense of innocence, as well as a completely new sound. It might be overstating the matter just a tad, but indie has never quite recovered: only in the last few years has it overcome its angular “Franz-guitar” fixation and with the gradual absorption of electronica followed White’s example and become less but yet louder.

The White Stripes’ last albums were moving steadily further away from their back-to-basics aesthetic and further toward a condensed but different style, and with the Raconteurs, Jack White finally admitted the debt he owes to rock and indie above blues. With Another Way… he equally betrays what he owes to R’n’B, represented by Alicia Keys. As a producer, more recent releases have shown an increased interest in layers and bigger textures: a fact to which Another Way to Die is a testament. Though at first the combination of White and Bond may seem frankly bizarre, but the melding of the brashness of Bond and the understatement of White creates something almost unique. The bold opening guitar riff is as perfect a mixture of early Stripes and Bond as they could have hoped to achieve, merging as it does with Keys’ piano and cohesive strings and brass. The combination of Alicia Keys and Jack White also inspired initial doubt, but her low alto and his distinct range and tone manage to provide both conflict and cohesion. Together with the gritty, almost subversive vocal parts, the result is an unnerving and threatening production to match the new Bond, full of mistrust and disjointed internal conflict left unresolved.

Bond Songs to Date:
• 1963 From Russia With Love Matt Monro
• 1964 Goldfinger Shirley Bassey
• 1965 Thunderball Tom Jones
• 1967 You Only Live Twice Nancy Sinatra
• 1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Louis Armstrong
• 1971 Diamonds are Forever Shirley Bassey
• 1973 Live and Let Die Paul McCartney & Wings
• 1974 The Man With the Golden Gun Lulu
• 1977 Nobody Does It Better Carly Simon
• 1979 Moonraker Shirley Bassey
• 1981 For Your Eyes Only Sheena Easton
• 1983 All Time High Rita Coolidge
• 1985 A View to a Kill Duran Duran
• 1987 The Living Daylights A-Ha
• 1989 License to Kill Gladys Knight
• 1995 Goldeneye Tina Turner
• 1997 Tomorrow Never Dies Cheryl Crow
• 1999 The World is Not Enough Garbage
• 2002 Die Another Day Madonna
• 2006 You Know My Name Chris Cornell
• 2008 Another Way to Die Jack White/Alicia Keys

Anna Murray

No comments: