It’s 2015. Radiohead have their plates spinning and their heads full.
Positioned squarely in the deep end of recording what will be 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool, a piece of attention-grabbing news comes down the barrel and stops them in their creative tracks.
Sam Mendes, director of the new James Bond movie and, coincidentally, a Radiohead fan, is searching for a theme song and would like Radiohead to consider. They’ve done it before, providing “Exit Music (For a Film)” for Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, but this was decades ago.
Perhaps it’s the novelty of this British cinematic institution, or Yorke’s affinity for the Bond franchise, but surprisingly they agree. Radiohead will cease writing/recording of A Moon Shaped Pool and focus their creative scope on one song: “Spectre.”
“Spectre,” a sweeping, orchestral flight of atonal, Penderecki-esque strings and classic Amnesiac-era vocals, is simply masterful. Listeners will be forgiven for mistaking it as the twin of 2001’s “Pyramid Song,” except this isn’t about the ancients’ view on the afterlife. In a straightforward telling of love and danger (arguably the two pieces of duct tape that hold the Bond franchise in place,) Yorke croons
My hunger burns a bullet hole
A spectre of my mortal soul
Being Radiohead and writing a piece of work for what will undoubtedly be a juggernaut of consumerism is likely a tough line to toe. They do what they want and clearly they want to donate a song to the movie.
And that’s when things get weird.
As an outsider, one could argue that their alarm bells should be ringing when their initial offering, “Man of War,” written in the 1990s (an homage to the canon of Bond themes on their collective mind) was turned down for the most non-Radiohead reason: It wasn’t written for the film, therefore would not be eligible for an Academy Award.
Unphased, the band carries on, utilizing the instruments and musicians already incorporated into the current recording sessions. The result? A troublingly-beautiful, mournful track that producers of the movie felt was ‘too melancholy’ to appear over the opening credits.
The director, being a fan, expressed interest in using the once-in-a-career gift elsewhere in the film, but it was decided that the lyrics will be ‘too distracting.’ Oh. And the song apparently arrived ‘too late’ to be used. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, ‘He who is good at making excuses is seldom good at anything else.’ But the folks in the Bond camp still have some salt to disperse.
In an epic feat of disregard for the art of filmmaking AND the art of music, the production team offered Radiohead the back seat, and handed the keys to something named Sam Smith, a fellow Brit who claimed to not know who Radiohead is. Ouch and ouch.
All shall not be lost, however. On Christmas morning 2015, Radiohead fans will awaken to a gift via the band and, curiously, Soundcloud. After learning of the rejection, the band unlocks the cage and allows “Spectre,” swooping, soaring strings and all, to take flight, free for once and free for all.