The best James Bond themes balance the moody with the meta; they portend danger, while winking directly at the camera. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, themes by Shirley Bassey, Nancy Sinatra, and Tom Jones created a haunting signature sound that combined Vegas bombast with international mystery. For a while, in the ’90s and aughts, they took a wacky turn. Bono and the Edge wrote a song for Tina Turner; Jack White and Alicia Keys did a duet; Madonna’s “Die Another Day” featured glitched-out vocals and electronics. The franchise returned to its roots with Adele’s “Skyfall,” an update of the old Bond sound for a new era; the song’s producer referenced the musical code of the series and Lia Vollack, Sony Pictures President of Music, namechecked Shirley Bassey. Adele’s Oscar-winning performance evoked Bond tradition while capturing its changing spirit, and the two Bond themes since, including Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die,” are playing by its rules.
The dour and somber themes reflect the Daniel Craig era with minor key piano and sweeping orchestral flourishes. This background is well-suited to Eilish’s strengths. Her voice communicates dread without sacrificing its beauty, and her songs play with the concept of grimness. Her debut album channeled the frights and shudders of her night terrors, and she wrote a song from the perspective of the monster under the bed. The lyrics reflect the betrayal hinted at in the film’s trailer and embody the tension of espionage. “Fool me once, fool me twice/Are you death or paradise?/Now you’ll never see me cry/There’s just no time to die,” she coos, leaning into the bit. She hovers just above the strobing keyboard work of her brother FINNEAS like a fog rolling through until the song swells into a flurry of strings. As it opens up, her singing crescendos ever so slightly, and she manages to strike the tenuous tone with a ruthless precision, while never refusing to sacrifice her distinctive qualities. Her performance on “No Time to Die” carries the Bond legacy into a new generation.
Using his performance alias Against All Logic, Nicolas Jaar releases a new album, 2017 – 2019, composed of industrial drums, sound effects and pop samples—plus plenty of Jaar’s signature distortions. A standout single and the album’s opening track, “Fantasy” employs all of the aforementioned but ups the ante by sampling Beyoncé’s 2003 collaboration with Sean Paul “Baby Boy” for its hook, as well as filtered Baglama-like instrumental work throughout. Though “Fantasy” can feel chaotic, it’s a whirling, speaker-wrecking downbeat bop.
Gang Starr, the duo of Guru and DJ Premier, were one of the defining New York rap groups of the ’90s, and they remain the greatest, purest exemplars of that era’s boom-bap sound. Guru died in 2010, but last year, Premier assembled a bunch of the group’s unreleased tracks, dropping the posthumous Gang Starr album One Of The Best Yet. And today, two of the duo’s contemporaries have jumped on a remix.
“Bad Name” was one of the early singles from One Of The Best Yet, and it had Guru sounding off about the problems he had with latter-day rap music. On the remix, the great ’90s knuckleheads Method Man and Redman, still rapping together after all these years, both sound off on the same subject. This time, they have a new hook: Guru is gone, and none of the “weirdo” rappers of today can measure up to him.
This is standard-issue grumpy-old-man rap stuff, but it’s also a chance to hear Method Man and Redman rapping on a DJ Premier beat. That alone makes it worth hearing; please recall that Meth and Premier once made a Limp Bizkit single into something that justifiably got airplay on rap radio.
Gary Clark Jr. has tagged The Roots for a remix of “This Land,” debuted during the blues rock musician’s appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. While the remix is around 30 seconds shorter than the original, the revamped track does feature an additional verse from The Roots co-founder Black Thought.
Both his 2019 album, This Land, and the single just won Clark Jr. three GRAMMY wins for Best Contemporary Blues Album, Best Rock Performance, and Best Rock Song, along with a nomination for Best Music Video. In a previous interview with Rolling Stone, the Austin-born musician revealed that the song was written based on a “brutally honest account” of the racism he grew up enduring in the South.
Synth-pop stalwarts the Pet Shop Boys unveiled an infectious new rug-cutter, “Monkey Business,” set to appear on their upcoming album, Hotspot, out January 24th.
The track finds the duo fusing their classic synth sound with elements that seem expertly sourced from a vintage Giorgio Moroder disco track: a thumping four-on-the-floor, dramatic string swipes, lush horns and — for good measure — vocoder-laced vocals. The lyrics boast a delightful energy as well, with Neil Tennant singing, “Bring me margaritas/Champagne and red wine/We’re gonna have a party/Where we all cross the line/I’m looking for monkey business.”
In a statement, Tennant and Chris Lowe said of the song, “We’ve actually written, almost for the first time in our career, a groove song.”
The Pet Shop Boys will release a full “Monkey Business” single February 7th on CD, digital and 12-inch vinyl. Along with the original track, it will feature two remixes of “Monkey Business” — from Prins Thomas and DJ Friend Within — as well as another new song, “At Rock Bottom.”