No Time to Die: what do the words mean?
As I’m writing this, Billie Eilish’s theme song for the new James Bond movie has been out all of 14 hours. So I had a listen. “No time to die”; what do the lyrics mean?
I’ve been aware of Eilish only since “Bad Boy”, which I’d qualify as great pop music. It sounds good, and I was intrigued by an overtly pop song that throws in a completely out-of-rhythm section, almost from another track. Isn’t that suicide for radio? But they did it. So, all good.
So “No Time to Die” – what to think of it? First of all, this a departure for Eilish and her brother. Bond is big, very big. The producers always choose the very best performers of the day to do their opening track. I’ve heard rumours about who was approached to write it. Impressive.
So ultimately, the question is: “How do you write a Bond theme song, knowing it is bigger than you will ever be?” I’d say Eilish and her brother have pretty much ticked all the boxes.
- It’s emotional
- It’s slickly produced
- It sounds like a Bond theme
- It doesn’t sound like a Bond rip-off
- It refers to the movie title but tells a coherent story.
Playing with the Bond theme
“No Time to Die” confirms everything I like about Eilish: It’s minimalist, but designed for impact. Start with the opening bars, that languorous, pained voice.
“I should have known I’d leave alone…”
The storytelling starts right here. What does this line tell us about the movie plot? Sounds like double-dealing to me. Plans gone wrong. But there’s also regret, a strange sentiment to put in Bond’s world. Yet here’s the thing, the new Bond (since the masterpiece “Casino Royale”) is in touch with his emotions.
“Goes to show that the blood you bleed is the blood you owe”.
The storytelling continues. Maybe the regret is just karma in action! The “blood you bleed” shows pain, suffering. But “the blood you owe” hints that it could be payback for hurt and suffering you could have created. And Bond deals in blood. What else happened? I’m curious already.
These lines show how cleverly Eilish has put this song together, as on the one hand it could be just another post-romance ballad of the type Adele specializes in. On the other, it fits the Bond narrative perfectly.
I let it burn
You’re no longer my concern
Faces from my past return
Another lesson yet to learn
[Chorus] That I’d fallen for a lie
You were never on my side
Fool me once, fool me twice
Are you death or paradise?
This could be a direct reference to the new Bond that has a heart that was broken in “Casino Royale”. But it also remains open enough to be, yeah, just another love song.
Bond references in a new generation
It’s worth remembering that both Eilish and her brother were brought up on the new Bonds, so their spontaneous references are Adele and Sam Smith. This is one of the very few Bond themes not to feature the John Barry’s distinctive Bond chord progression. But nonetheless, strings do kick in and lift the emotion by a notch or two. And it finishes on that strange suspending chord Em/maj9 – a very, very subtle homage to the Bond heritage.
So once again, the pair prove what consummate arrangers and performers they are while respecting the first rule of movie-making: don’t be boring. Plus, Eilish is singing beyond her age on this track. 18? Seriously?
From a business perspective, the Bond producers are again using the main theme as a promo tool nearly three months before the movie’s première. It works on me. How about you?
“Even though it’s Billie singing, we chose to really embody the character. You get to pretend you’re a 40-year-old spy who’s had his heart broken. What a thrill to write from that perspective!”
UPDATE: check Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell talking about writing for a Bond movie for ScreenDaily.