There were plenty of rumors swirling around Spectre, the latest, not-half-bad James Bond adventure and the last installment of the franchise to be directed by Sam Mendes. The bigger ones had more to do with the series’ continued interest in backstory and narrative interconnectedness between the Daniel Craig films, and whether or not Craig would return for the next film. The latter is now looking very unlikely, but there were other rumors that didn’t get quite as much attention, such as the gossip that Radiohead, still the most inventive rock band on the planet, had been approached about penning and recording the theme song for Spectre. Of course, the job that finally went to Sam Smith, who recorded “Writings on the Wall,” a song that’s more interesting than actually good.
Well, none of this was gossip, as it turns out, as Radiohead released their unused Bond theme on Christmas Day, a gorgeous, haunting song called “Spectre.” I’m definitely biased but the idea that you would pick the lightweight strings of Smith’s track with this far more thematically substantial and musically captivating song is straight-up bizarre. One has to wonder what exactly caused the companies behind Bond to brush away the Radiohead song. Was Thom Yorke being his famously prickly self? Did they somehow think that Smith’s more recent popularity somehow eclipsed Radiohead? We’ll almost certainly never know, but one can envision “Spectre” soundtracking a big sweeping opening credits sequence just in its use of percussion and strings, whereas Smith’s track sounds more like an intriguing B-side.
For fans of Radiohead, it’s also a bit of a treat to hear the band back to a musical tone that seems far closer to their classic In Rainbows LP than their more recent, experimental outing, The King of Limbs. Not only does the song sound like classic Radiohead, it sounds like what would have been one of the great, distinct Bond theme songs, right up there with “A View to a Kill,” “Goldeneye,” and, naturally, “Goldfinger.” You can listen to Radiohead’s “Spectre” below.