When Billie Eilish was announced as the next artist to perform the 007 theme, there were a few eyebrow-raises. The implication of Eilish’s appointment, some felt, was that producers are keen to appeal to a younger demographic as the franchise undergoes a number of other changes, such as enlisting Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge to liven up the No Time to Die script. Many wondered how the 18-year-old’s bedroom pop – which until this point leaned heavily on synths and hip-hop influences – would work with Daniel Craig’s suave, brooding spy.
But “No Time to Die” is a song that proves Eilish has a versatility that extends beyond the ghostly, ASMR-lite electronic sound of her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?. She pushes her vocals further here than on anything she’s previously released – while she begins in her trademark style (something between a mutter and a quavering wail), she hits an impressive belt at the song’s climax.
The song is gratifyingly subtle compared to the try-hard nature of Sam Smith’s effort, “Writing’s on the Wall”, which threw every Bond trope they could think of at the wall in the hope that something would stick. It’s not as good as “Skyfall” (some would argue Adele’s indecipherable lyrics bring the song down), although the two share similar elements, such as a move from stark piano into tense, shivery orchestration.
As a number of Bond tracks have done in the past, Eilish’s song interpolates Monty Norman’s famous theme, with a flourish of violins and the twang of an electric guitar that recalls Vik Flick’s riff. Eilish’s rise-and-fall melodies have something of Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” about them, although without the rock bombast. The build is akin to “Skyfall” or Sheryl Crow’s “Tomorrow Never Dies”; the faintest rumble of brass feels like a respectful hat-tip to the Sixties sass of Bassey and Tom Jones. What makes it “Eilish” is that ever-so subtle but effective synth motif that runs in between the piano chords on the intro – a 2020 twist that marks “No Time to Die” as perhaps the only Bond theme that addresses how technology has changed things for both Bond and the music industry.
The lyrics, meanwhile, cleverly play on Craig’s portrayal of 007, which has increasingly delved into the more toxic side of Ian Fleming’s character – Bond’s tendency to isolate himself, and how his cold, almost cruel treatment of those closest to him stems from a fear of placing them in danger. “I’d fallen for a lie,” she sings, “You were never on my side/ Fool me once, fool me twice/ Are you death or paradise?/ Now you’ll never see me cry.” “No Time to Die” is by no means a bad song, in fact, it’s one of the better Bond themes we’ve had in some time.