Big Box Store, Freedy Johnston, Jay Gonzalez, Lannie Flowers, Look Park, Mike Viola, Ryan Hamilton, Songs Bond Songs, Wyatt Funderburk
I don’t often get to use a word like ‘redux’ but when I do it’s definitely for collections like this. In Songs, Bond Songs: The Music of 007 twenty-five artists ‘restore, bring back’ and ‘present in a new way’ the entire canon of theme songs from the James Bond movies, with an accent on indie, poprock treatments. Why bother, you might ask? Well the Bond canon is unique in so many ways. The quality of the songs stretching over a half century is surprisingly strong and consistent. And, as is apparent from the performances on this record, they are open to broad and varied re-interpretations. Some performances here are fairly safe and unremarkable but most try to do something original with the basic raw material of their specific Bond song. I won’t comment on everything but rather just highlight what I think are the more unique, sometimes daring, and ultimately single-worthy remakes from the collection.
It makes sense to start with the ever-present James Bond Theme itself. Peppered throughout the various Bond films, often featuring wildly different arrangements and orchestrations, the theme never failed to raise audience excitement, at least for my crew of 1970s ten year olds. What different kind of treatment could possibly be offered up now? Well Lannie Flowers rises to the challenge, offering up a self-referential postmodern pastiche of the theme, including bits from songs that were themselves influenced by it. First, Flowers cuts up the traditional parts and puts them back together in a new and interesting way. The basic electric guitar hook is there and played just a bit faster with a nice trebly bite. Then at 1:13 he throws in a riff from McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” which ultimately segues into the orchestral Bond-ish intro that appeared on the Beatles’ American album recording of “Help” – brilliant and inspired!
Next up, the amazingly talented and criminally underappreciated Wyatt Funderburk’s cover of Bacharach and David’s “The Look of Love.” Is he Dusty Springfield? No, nobody can touch that goddess. But what we have here is a classy treatment that offers up some nice vocal and instrumental twists, vibing ever so slightly on the Pet Shop Boys at times. In the ‘didn’t see that coming’ department, Ryan Hamilton put out a very boppy poprock record recently (2015’s Hell of a Day) so handing him Louis Armstrong’s rather laconic “We Have All the Time in the World” might seem a curious choice. But it works. Sometimes spare, sometimes intricate acoustic guitar work undergirds Ryan’s spacious take on the vocal. Very car-top-down wind-blowing sunshine music. Shifting gears, can you be an undiscovered superstar? Because Mike Viola has it all going on: record producer, movie music provider, songwriter, recording artist, etc. But his synthesizer-laden remake of Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” highlights his impressive vocal talent. Ultimately, understated and ear-wormy.
What we see on this record is a tendency to downplay glamour and bombast, staples of the Bond music genre, in favour of subtlety and nuance. Take the Freedy Johnston contribution, for instance. Now personally I’d gladly listen to Johnston sing his grocery list – there is just something about the combination of his voice and acoustic guitar. But his re-imagining of Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only” adds up to more than his usual genius. He has such a light touch on the vocal and guitar, it lets the tenderness and vulnerability of song really come through. Another surprising cover featured here is Jay Gonzalez’s samba-inflected take on Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill.” He really rescues this tune from its overwrought mid-1980s over-production, demonstrating there really is a song here and it’s a good one. Look Park’s cover of “The World is Not Enough” represents another rescue mission, this time recovering the hooks buried in the original Garbage version. Hard to believe this is the same song. But if ever there was a song doctor, it would Chris Collingwood from Fountains of Wayne, working here with his new vehicle Look Park. Last up on this Bond remake playlist is Big Box Store’s playful remake of Madonna’s “Die Another Day.” I had a soft soft for the original, even if it was a bit busy and overwrought at times. BBS strip away everything that is not essential, anchoring the song in what sound like the low buttons on the accordion. Eerie, haunting, and catchy.
Songs, Bond Songs is a creative project put together by Curry Cuts, some guys who seem to have nothing better to do than dream up kooky compilation ideas and then get a whole load of cool bands to go along with their crazy schemes. I say we encourage them.