Billie Eilish’s new James Bond theme, “No Time To Die,” continues the smooth and lounging legacy of musicians entering the throne room of the super spy. Her rendition translates the royal sense of decadence and cunning, and the grit of adventure and resilient opposition into the stylistic circumstances of today.
Like the shadowed bodies which dance within the beginning credits, or Bond’s grey Aston Martin DB5 from 1964’s “Goldeneye,” Eilish’s single joins the sleek collection of 007 motifs.
Since its Feb. 13 release, “No Time To Die” has sat atop
of U.K. charts, being the only Bond song to do so other than Sam Smith’s 2015 hit “Writing On The Wall.” It had the most successful opening week for a Bond track, and is the first U.K. Bond bestseller by a woman.
“No Time To Die” exists with lightness, as the slow piano seems to perch itself in the foreground, prepared for the careful entry of Eilish’s voice. The intro continues to become unwrapped by the whispering vocal melody, supplemented by the atmospheric superimpositions of producer Finneas O’Connell. The classical sophistication of an orchestra blends into the focal point, and its intermittent pushes and pulls seal off the single’s connection to its distant past Bond-theme relatives.
Yet Finneas also introduces a slight techno house-trance drum texture, which wields the hyper-modern edge needed to position 007 in a world of fluorescent lights and digital weaponry. It is a sonic low-lighting, a shape-shifting and devious presence of a smoky muted-horn nightclub that somehow maintains its posh cleanliness.
It joins its predecessors in melodically profiling James Bond’s persona. In Shirley Bassey’s 1965 “Goldfinger” theme, she sings of the villain as “the man with the Midas touch.” Her early track was arguably the beginning of the essential Bond aura, as even the villain was described in elevated language drawn from Greek myth.
In 1962, just before Bassey’s lyrical rendition, John Barry had composed the original Bond theme song, an iconic instrumental track. Barry’s instrumental piece began the vivid yet unspoken ordinances of the super spy. Bond is represented as an international gentleman, with American jazz backing the soloing Asian flute like you’d find in the classic “Jonny Quest” theme song, or a sort of Mexican guitar sound that could be found in a spaghetti western. The adventure and grit of the track is cloaked in a smooth ride cymbal rhythm, anchoring the listener in a foreign and high-caliber jazz club. Barry continued the international Bond with the 1963 theme “From Russia With Love.”
Themes “No Time To Die,” “You Only Live Twice,” and “Die Another Day” depict an archetypal hero who seems to cheat the great force of death, incapable of losing to his foes. Adele’s “Skyfall” theme is the extreme, describing a time designed for Bond’s help, “where worlds collide and days are dark.”
Bond themes are an opportunity for artists to allow their generation to define his person, yet by every standard, he seems always to fall into his mysterious lion persona, who retains his hero status by defining his own rules, and ever returning from his decadent international life as a premium instrument of good.