Man, what can’t Adele do? 2011 saw the British soulstress release her sophomore album, 21, winning six Grammys, spending 79 weeks in Billboard‘s Top 10 (24 of them at No. 1) and selling nine million copies in the U.S. (an unheard of number by today’s sales standards – it’s the best-selling album of 2011 and 2012).
Now, Adele ends her post-21 hiatus from the music industry this month with, of all things, a soundtrack song – a career move rarely taken since Lionel Richie said it for always (that’s the way it should be). But her new tune is no mere end-credits filler: she’s co-written and performed the title theme to Skyfall, the latest film in the long-running James Bond film franchise (which, as it happens, began exactly 50 years ago today with Dr. No and Sean Connery’s first turn as Agent 007).
The sociocultural currency of the “Bond song” hasn’t meant much since Duran Duran took “A View to a Kill” to the top of the U.S. charts in 1985. No theme from the series has even charted since then, be it good or beyond bad. And the songs since the rugged Daniel Craig was tapped to portray Bond have been oddball at best; Chris Cornell contributed a great, hard-driving song for Casino Royale in 2006 and Jack White and Alicia Keys bored audiences with their theme to Quantum of Solace two years later.
Does “Skyfall,” then, live up to its potential as a Bond theme sung by the world’s biggest pop star? Astoundingly, yes. Adele’s sultry vocals, combined with a 77-piece orchestra recorded at London’s famed Abbey Road Studios, fit perfectly into the slinky, dangerous mold of the 007 ethos. You’re not getting groundbreaking lyrics – neither Adele’s autobiographical heartbreak nor overt hints toward the film’s plot are at play here – but stylistically, the song is worthy of late, longtime Bond composer John Barry’s best works. The unmistakable four chords of the classic James Bond theme are woven through the song’s ascending melody, a killer reminder of the series’ musical legacy.
It remains to be seen where “Skyfall” will rest in the canon of James Bond songs. (It also remains to be seen if we’ll get sick of the song by the end of the day, as nearly every radio station in the country will be playing it on the hour.) But Adele’s given Bond a sturdy, surefire hit that’s likely to hit No. 1 with a bullet.