R&B divo Sam Smith has finally released the theme song for the next James Bond film, Spectre. “Writing’s on the Wall,” a dramatic, strings-laden love ballad co-written by Smith and his “Stay With Me” collaborator Jimmy Napes, debuted Friday morning to mixed reviews. The Telegraph rhapsodized that “it may be the greatest vocal [Smith has] ever recorded,” while the Guardian called the song “an X Factor ballad” that obviously “only took 20 minutes to write.”
In July, Smith claimed to have no idea who would provide the soundtrack to the next 007 opening credits, but confirmed his role this month, tweeting, “This is one of the highlights of my career. I am honored to finally announce that I will be singing the next Bond theme song. I am so excited to be a part of this iconic British legacy and join an incredible lineup of some of my biggest musical inspirations. I hope you all enjoy the song as much as I enjoyed making it.”
With its air of intimacy and seduction, “Writing’s on the Wall” certainly sounds like a Bond theme, conjuring images of bowties and sleek ball gowns, and shaken-not-stirred martinis. But it stays meek in moments when it should boom (like when it launches into the chorus) and Smith’s anguished falsetto never quite lives up to the rumbling promise of his orchestra. It surely took more than 20 minutes to write (and, to be fair, X Factor contestants do pick great, classic songs to perform on-air), but it seems unfathomable that this was co-produced by Disclosure, masters of dance music. You couldn’t sway to this with any discernible rhythm, let alone shoot bad guys in style.
As of Friday morning, Smith was over the moon about the track, criticism be damned. He tweeted Friday morning, “I have been dreaming of this moment for a long long time.” The 23-year-old explained the song’s lyrics to NPR, saying, “My music is a diary and it’s a recap of my life, and I wanted to bring that kind of honesty. In the lyrics—‘How do I live, how do I breathe? / When you’re not here I’m suffocating’—I wanted a touch of vulnerability from Bond, where you see into his heart a little bit.”
This is the 24th official Bond theme. “Writing’s on the Wall’s” predecessor, Adele’s gorgeous, swooning “Skyfall” from 2012, is a pretty tough act to follow: It picked up an Oscar, a Grammy and a Golden Globe.