“Spectre”, analysis of the unused song

Spectre is a 2015 song by English rock band Radiohead, released as a free download on the audio distribution platform SoundCloud on 25 December 2015. On 13 May 2016, it was released as a B-side on the 7″ vinyl single Burn the Witch.  It was included as a bonus track on the special edition of Radiohead’s ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool (2016).

Spectre was written for the James Bond film of the same name, but went unused; the film instead features the song Writing’s on the Wall by Sam Smith. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, who composes the band’s string arrangements, said in a BBC interview that the song was rejected for being “too dark”.

You released your track Spectre on Christmas Day – explaining it had been intended as the theme as a James Bond theme, until Sam Smith’s track was chosen instead. What happened?
It wasn’t right for the film, what we did. So we thought, “Great! Then it’s ours. We can finish it how it’s meant to be and we can release it.” So that side of it was really positive, you know?
But I guess there’s lots of people interested in who does it [the Bond theme]. There’s a lot riding on it and the song we did was just too dark or whatever, so that’s fine. [It] means we get to have it back and it’s ours and we got to put it out.
We’re really, really proud of it. Why be attached to an old fashioned idea of what a James Bond thing was and it being a big deal? It’s like it’s sort of stupid to get worked up about, really.

It wasn’t right for the film, what we did. So we thought, “Great! Then it’s ours. We can finish it how it’s meant to be and we can release it.” So that side of it was really positive, you know? But I guess there’s lots of people interested in who does it [the Bond theme]. There’s a lot riding on it and the song we did was just too dark or whatever, so that’s fine. [It] means we get to have it back and it’s ours and we got to put it out. We’re really, really proud of it.

So, let’s go with the meaning of the lyrics of the song!

I’m lost, I’m a ghost
Dispossessed, taken host

The opening piano chords and strings are tense and menacing, but as the first words are sung giving tension and gives the sad lyrics a bittersweet quality.

By separating “dis-” and “-possessed” we are left with more ghost-like imagery. Given that the following words are “taken host” we can infer that he also feels possessed by his sadness. “Ghost” is often synonymous with “spectre”. Can it be assumed that this is from the perspective of James Bond himself – after the loss M in Skyfall, Bond feels lost and disconnected from the real world?

My hunger burns a bullet hole

The first sounds of the words ‘hunger’ and ‘burns’ are mirrored by those in ‘bullet’ and ‘hole’, which creates a meaningful connection between images that are not adjacent: the bullet burns and the hunger is a hole. The lyric may also call back to Radiohead’s earlier song  Bulletproof… I wish I was:

Limb by limb and tooth by tooth
Tearing up inside of me
Every day, every hour, just wish that I
Was bulletproof.

And obviously, it also plays into the iconic opening credits of James Bond which have 007 staring down the barrel of a gun.

A spectre of my mortal soul

A “spectre” is interchangeable with a “shadow” or “ghost.” This continues the imagery of mortality through the song; Bond is a shade of his former self, having lost his family, and M at Skyfall.

These rumors and suspicion

Spectre begins (after the opening theme) with Bond being called to task for the events in Mexico. M and C are suspicious of his reasons for being there and don’t believe his reports on his activities, so place him on forced leave the MI6.

Anger is a poison

Anger is a horrible thing that can lead to suicide and depression. It kills people in the same way poison kills people. In the recent Bond movies (with Daniel Craig) we can clearly see how his anger and arrogance affects his performance on given missions. With the death of M, Vesper, and his need for revenge, Bond is poisoned by anger and although he tries to fight it, he cannot help letting himself be influenced by it.

The only truth that I could see
Is when you put your lips to me

Thom Yorke has been writing more romantically involved lyrics since Radiohead’s emotionally rife In Rainbows:

Who else do you kiss?
With those lips, with those lips.

Bond only ever lets his guard down in his romantic relationships. The only moments of total truth and honesty that he gets are when he’s willing to be vulnerable with a partner. It’s hinted that this is the only relief he is able to obtain away from the “anger,” “hunger” and “suspicion” of his work.

Spectre, how he laughs

The image of Death having the last laugh. Death is a recurring theme throughout the Bond films as 007 is constantly on the edge of death.

Death is personified both lyrically and musically by the string solos, sweeping in at the end of both verses. This characterizes Bond’s mental space, Death seems to just surround his life.

Fear puts a spell on us
Always second-guessing love

Bond is unable to commit to relationships with the myriad of women he has fallen for in previous films. Despite being constantly unfazed by the danger of his work, the ending of Spectre ultimately forces Bond to confront his true fear of commitment and choose between Madeleine Swann or the agency.

My hunger burns a bullet hole
A spectre of my mortal soul
The only truth that I can see

His search for a normal life burns his consciousness straight through, leaving him with a fragmented mentality that comes from his original self.

The “spectre” is the self that he wishes to become: perfection. However, perfection is something no one can attain, his search is futile.

Spectre has come for me.a8f45679f351caffcdbae0f2bf716a0e-520x385x1

A trademark of the Craig-era Bond films have been their focus on 007’s vulnerability. “Spectre has come for me” is the personification of death itself, finally coming to collect Bond’s soul after countless flirts with danger.

According to Pitchfork, Spectre features Thom Yorke’s «delicate, forlorn» falsetto with «jerky» piano chords, «decaying orchestral sweeps» and «jazzy» drums reminiscent of Radiohead’s 2001 single Pyramid Song.  It was described by Consequence of Sound as «a gorgeous, orchestral ballad» and by Rolling Stone as «darkly orchestral».

Variety wrote that Spectre  has «Radiohead’s signature moody sound, with a somber sweeping grandeur that might have fit well into the Bond song canon.» Pitchfork named it the week’s “Best New Music” and wrote that it has «all the melodrama of a good Bond song but only a hint of the kitsch… [it is] one of the finest Radiohead songs in some years, much more than a one-off curiosity».

You must listen this review from YouTube and you can buy the song on iTunes (available in Apple Music), Spotify and SoundCloud (depending of the country where you are from). You can’t miss the analysis of the final song for Spectre.

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