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Loony Tune for a Spy

Pointless and without passion, the title song for No Time Die is a sleep-inducing work of kitsch
By Ian Dunross
February 16, 2020
For clarity, song titles are displayed with quotations ("For Your Eyes Only"). Film titles, on the other hand, are italicized and shown with the capitalization used by the filmmakers (For Your Eyes Only).
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Throughout 2020, special performances and exhibitions are planned to honor Beethoven’s 250th birthday anniversary. Key cities in the great composer's life—Bonn and Vienna—will take center stage in the festivities. For MGM Studios and Eon Productions, purveyors of the 007 film franchise, it means commemorating the birthday boy by unveiling the title song of the new Bond movie on February 13, 2020. 

Wait, what’s that? The two are unrelated? Nevertheless, as musicologists and Ludwig fans embark on a Beethoven pilgrimage, reveling in these festive events, Western culture has reached its apex of creativity with something just as lasting and important: for here, in full glory, performed by the green-haired chanteuse of depression, is the song for Bond film number 25 No Time To Die, titled imaginatively, “No Time To Die.” The singer is, of course, the artist extraordinaire known for her Scarlatti harpsichord variations in baroque-inspired classics such as “Bad Guy” and “All The Good Girls Go To Hell,” to name a few. For the 007 franchise, it’s another giant step into a deep pile of kitsch.

The gushing PR adoration is in full sail: it’s “an incredibly powerful and moving song for No Time To Die,” proclaims producer Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, “which has been impeccably crafted to work within the emotional story of the film.” In other words, the new song is just as remarkable as the title songs of yore. In fact, forget those old Bond songs; for the new title song has the distinction of being “new” and readily available to be heard on the internet today, and will be heard in theaters at the time of the film’s release, which for the producers and their PR staff is enough to make the new song superior to all those older, more memorable Bond songs.

Thus, the torch has been passed from Bondian songstress Shirley Bassey to the Cybergoth du jour. The press kit informs us she is Wilhelm Baron von Eckhart Schopenhauer, best known for her stage name Billie Eilish, councilor to distressed tweens, certified thrasher of Beatles’ songs, and direct descendant of the pessimist-philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. The stage name derives from an old Romanian word for eyelash and the first name of punk rock icon Billy Idol, who has since changed his full name to Billy Bob Thornton in embarrassment. Evidently, the young Eilish hails from somewhere in Southern California, if anyone truly cares, but advanced satellite imagery pinpoints Area 51 in Nevada. There she was raised with extraterrestrial beings in captivity on the base (this would explain her passion for green hair) but eventually discovered her brooding nature in nearby Coaldale, Nevada. Although a ghost town today, the place was the epicenter of the cool Gangnam Style movement eight years ago. Here, in this quaint town, Eilish honed her songwriting skills and sang to the vastness of the desert and its silence, a metaphor (she realized) of the emptiness in all of life. 

It was enough for her internet sensation years to spring from such modest origins. Yes, in these latter-days, with Billie Eilish fever running rampant, you can hardly dash through a middle-school playground on a pogo stick without crashing into a kid with a Billie Eilish backpack (rigorous on-site testing has verified the certainty of such impact). Yet the reason for her popularity cannot be dismissed: edgy and grungy all at once, the songs of the Green-haired One are packed with tuneless, un-catchy melodies that fade from your mind the moment you’re actually hearing them—a phenomenon that even occurs when you’re sitting in a psychiatric ward for hopping with pogo sticks in middle-school playgrounds. Moreover, the appeal of her music is underscored by themes of depression and dark hopelessness, the dominant concerns of her listeners (so I’m told), all of whom model catatonic expressions with heroine-dilated eyes. 

Ah, but then we have the fanatical admiration of her voice: the raspy whisper-moaning has somehow been interpreted as something innovative and bewitching; and together with her lyrics, it all expresses some sort of deep “statement.” What could it be? Well, wrapped in the vagueness of the minimalist arrangements and bland drone sounds, it would be said preoccupation with depression, which points to her “aesthetics.” My own very humble contribution to Eilishian studies has been to point out that the so-called aesthetics is best summed as bleak, twisted, anguished—a description from the teenaged girls on my street, all of whom dislike this singer and her loose-fitting garb. In other words, Eilish music is the warm refuge for those in need of auditory suicide.

Which brings us to the “suicide” of the Bond franchise. Much of the success of a 007 title song hinges on the performer. In this case, snatching an 18-year-old pop fancy translates into a death knell. A Bond song (at least the effective ones) requires a singer who expresses a sense of world-weariness to convey the speaker of the lyrics as somebody who has been through love and life and can sing about such experiences with haunting, wistful maturity. In the song “Diamonds Are Forever,” in just a few lines, the speaker (under the guise of Dame Shirley Bassey) depicts the essence of a woman damaged by men and who finds meaning in diamonds, her shelter from the agony of love:

Diamonds Are Forever
Sparkling round my little finger
Unlike men the diamonds linger…
I don’t need love
For what good will love do me?
Diamonds never lie to me
For when love’s gone
They'll luster on…

By contrast, in “No Time To Die,” the speaker reminds us of those girls in high school who always whined about their maudlin teenybopper romances:

But I saw you there
Too much to bear
You were my life, but life is far away from fair
Was I stupid to love you?
Was I reckless to help?
Was it obvious to everybody else?

Written in three days in Texas, as Eilish admits, and recorded “in a bunk on the bus in a basement in the dark,” her admission prompts us to ask why it took three bloody days to crank out something so banal and unspectacular? Her Bond song is wretched, low-key, and sullen in atmosphere. Its main problem is that it lacks variations in color and structural transitions—the verses and the chorus sound the same. This leads to a lack of dynamics: the song stays on one level, which contributes to the lack of variations. Nothing truly gives it distinction. There is no musical “hook” to draw the listener into the song, to give it character.

The overrated Hans Zimmer had supposedly contributed to the orchestration. I had to laugh at that assertion: the damn piece barely has any orchestral arrangements. Subtle horns are somewhere in the background; a sparse riff from an electric guitar wails in the distance. The chord progression, as defined by the subtle piano arpeggio, is non-too thrilling, centering on E minor, reinforcing the underlying dark mood. It’s enough for Eilish to sigh and murmur against the drowsy backdrop. Her voice is the usual raspy moaning, barely discernible in her whispery approach. Just take a microphone and drag it along sandpaper—the sound you get is the signature Billie Eilish voice. If anything, it actually distracts us from the melody, or rather what little melody exists. Let’s face it: the piece is tuneless, without a memorable melody. Years from now, let alone moments after the title credits end, no one will be able to hum the theme. Oh, but let’s give it a try with an acoustic guitar by the campfire. Its wondrous melody is sure to entice everyone to a sing-along.

For all the babble from Eilish fans about how “deep” she is, none of that comes across in the lyrics. The song lacks vibrant imagery. The lyrics are built on too much “telling,” without any figurative language. We are light years away from, say, the song “Thunderball,” an outstanding piece in its own right. In a few lines, its lyrics render a distinct portrait of a man:

He always runs while others walk.
He acts while other men just talk.
He looks at this world, and wants it all,
So he strikes, like Thunderball.

The active voice maintains a vigorous mood; the last line “So he strikes like Thunderball” doesn’t particularly mean anything but lyricist Don Black evokes the Bondian imagery of male ruthlessness. This is a song for a Bond film, a song about a person with unrelenting individuality, a super cool spy, dammit.

As the backstory goes, singer Tom Jones (who belted out the theme) questioned the meaning of the lyrics during the recording session. Composer John Barry replied, “Tom, don’t ask.” For the maestro, it was his credo never to intellectualize the meaning of these Bond songs. “Take a leaf out of [Shirley Bassey’s] book,” he explained, and “get in the studio, sing the hell out of it, and leave. Please don’t get into it.” In other words, don’t take the song too seriously. Its function, first and foremost, is to enthrall the audience and put them in the mood for this special world of 007. “Shirley was good because she didn’t ask too many questions,” Barry recalled in one of his last interviews. “She didn’t intellectualize it. I mean, you didn’t want to think about it too much.” (Handy). 

Which takes us to the other problem of the Eilish song. The approach is all wrong because it attempts to be serious—and struggles to be taken seriously, which reflects the current idiocy of the Craigian tenure. Consistent in its kitsch, these films have focused heavily on personal emotional matters of the Bond character. In No Time To Die, the filmmakers are hailing the emotional aspect of the story (witness the remark again from the producers), and Craig himself has characterized the film as an “epic love story.” I take it such propaganda refers to the uninteresting romance that bloomed in Spectre, lingering in the new film as the aftermath of that 2015 film. What we have, then, is essentially a direct sequel to a five-year-old entry that suffered a lukewarm reception. To such idiotic absurdity, the filmmakers haven’t got a clue that nobody remembers the events of that film; yet onwards they marched, highlighting such saccharine drama for the new film as a sophisticated oh-so breathtaking doomed romance. This is underscored by what can be looked upon as the only hook in the Eilish lyrics: it’s the cliché phrase “fool me once, fool me twice,” which the speaker mutters in the chorus. Oh, dear. Welcome to even more kitsch. Combine it with the verses and you get a pointless sense of words thrown together. We’re left with the impression of the ramblings of a stoned guy attempting to be “arty” with an inane title of “No Time To Die.” 

Still, the key takeaway is that the speaker cannot decide whether somebody is “death or paradise” and that

Now you'll never see me cry
There's just no time to die

Not to be punctilious, but every moment is a time to die. Everything we experience is impermanent, which leads to the unreliability of all we experience. Somebody has got to take the pot away from the speaker and point out that this is the fundamental condition of all life, heightened ever more when you happen to be a secret agent who can be killed at any moment. Anyway, those lines are so god-awful that it actually made me long for the text in a 1040 tax form. To say something nice, I suppose mumbling such lines was easier than tossing in allusions to The Canterbury Tales.

Since the song’s release, the media elite has showered it with praise. In this Woke culture, there is no room for dissent, lest you risk the PC inquisition. Thus, the uniformity of thought. No one will dare question this song. This cultural totalitarianism harks back to a collectivist utopia, a world where everybody will live in harmony, united by an enforced will and belief, without inequality evermore (ah, let’s not forget Éluard!)[1]. But in my own will to individualism, I’d say this is the worst song to date for the series. It makes Madonna’s horrible “Die Another Day” shine like any classic from the Sound Of Music. By the time the actual film is released in April, the song could be passé. Pointless, utterly boring and lacking a memorable tune, “No Time To Die” is not a true Bond title song—it’s another Billie Eilish piece that happens to be in a James Bond movie. Just treat it like a file-and-forget-it trivia bit for the 007 film series.


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Notes

1 It all sounds rather splendid, this business about unity and equality. But I bring up the French communist poet Paul Éluard because this cultural totalitarianism reminds me of how he positioned himself, after World War II, as the poster boy of the “poetics” of totalitarianism. He praised human solidarity in his ode to brotherhood, social justice, and better tomorrows, while the central planners of paradise (the Stalin regime) sentenced his friend, the journalist and historian Záviš Kalandra, to death by hanging for alleged treason—to which Éluard looked the other way, unable to come to terms with the horror, and publicly approved his comrade's execution. All is well in this collectivist utopia! So while Kalandras’s remains were thrown into a crematory, the smoke of his body drifting to the sky from the chimney, Éluard and so many others trembled in excitement in their shared rhapsody over the wonders of totalitarianism. This reflects the spree today behind the utopian world to come: namely, the hullabaloo for identity politics and its emphasis on race and gender and the great need to be "woke," even with trivial things such as a Bond song. And, by god, here is a bona fide female-written song. The grand march for its praise is the desire to paper over how tuneless and bland the song happens to be—just look the other way, because all that matters, the media elite seem to say, is that a young woman wrote and sang it. But however you slice it, all this noise echoes the class warfare at the heart of socialism, or rather Democratic Socialism, the new branding term of the progressive-leaning presidential candidates here in the US. Yet the goal is the same: the struggle to achieve race and gender equality, income equality, and the general paradise that comes from a magical state of equilibrium. Fueling this struggle is the old progressive dogma of redistributing the wealth and privilege supposedly hoarded by a minority. Overthrow capitalism, the patriarchy, heteronormativity, and any other bogeyman envisioned by progressives. Alas, it's not the wonderland as advertised. Because clinically sane people will not willingly surrender individual liberties, private property, and a competitive free market, Democratic Socialism (in its mechanism) is bound to be as authoritarian as the socialism of old. Inevitably (if such a political system comes into play), down the road is forced equality through shared ownership as enforced by an all-encroaching government. Sound familiar? It should. What we have her is the basis for Marxism. This is about as deep as I’ll delve into this matter because I’m out of decent pinot noir to help fuel such smattering of thoughts. Further discussion would also lead to an in-depth analysis, an endeavor that has no place here. I had never intended for this site to be political; but I find myself dragged into the politics of late that the Bond makers have positioned the series.

Illustrations

“Woman in Depression.” Created by the author.

Works Cited

Handy, Bruce. “The Man Who Knew the Score.” Vanity Fair, 8 January 2009. Web. Accessed 10 February 2020.
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