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Music

Exploring the relationship between Alicia Keys and Jack White

Unlike the more pedestrian Roger Moore era, Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond was one of creative risk. He was the first Bond to get a prequel, he was the first Bond to become a father, and he was the first actor who was granted permission to film a death scene. And what a way for Bond to go, blown away by the missiles he spent a lifetime protecting.

Then there’s the small matter of ‘Another Way To Die’, which is the only duet in the series 59-year history. Written by White Stripers and Raconteur frontman Jack White, the song also features soul singer Alicia Keys on vocals.

“After a couple of years of wanting to collaborate with Alicia Keys, it took James Bond himself to finally make it happen,” White commented, with no shortage of understatement. “Alicia put some electric energy into her breath that cemented itself into the magnetic tape. Very inspiring to watch”.

Having worked with Meg White for the best part of a decade, the songwriter felt Keys “gave me a new voice, and I wasn’t myself anymore. I drummed for her voice and she mimicked the guitar tones, then we joined our voices and screamed and moaned about these characters in the film and their isolation, having no one to trust, not even themselves. Maybe we became them for a few minutes.”

“It was in July,” Keys concurred, “That I heard I’d been chosen to sing the theme tune with Jack. The producers of the film approached Jack to write the theme song, with me in mind to sing it. I felt like us working together would create a real rock ‘n’ soul sound. Jack’s sound is very raw, very cut and dried, drums and guitar. I thought that by combining that style with mine, which already has a raw feel to it, and with my voice, we could do something really interesting that mixes rock and soul together. Jack and I have been wanting to collaborate for a long while, and this was a great opportunity to do so. This won’t be the last time we work together. This is just the beginning.”

The result featured on the 2008 entry Quantum of Solace, a frenzied entry that is rarely enjoyed outside of the die-hard fanbase. But it does boast two outstanding features: Craig’s steely performance, and Keys’ exhilarating lead vocal. Mimicking the sound of White’s guitar, Keys offers a scat vocal more commonly heard in the field of heavy metal than James Bond. It’s impossible to imagine Shirley Bassey singing the tune, although she proffered her own Bondesque theme with ‘No Good About Goodbye’, which proved a respite for fans aching for more traditional fodder to listen to.

White clearly enjoyed the process, which is evident in the video, as the two sing across from one another, their eyes pressed against like two boxers stretching out across their sparring ring. For Keys, the project wasn’t just an opportunity to work with White, but to put her stamp on the Bond series. “Rockin’ with Jack White is something that has been an unforgettable experience,” she explained. “Mixing rock and soul for the new Bond movie theme gives it a mysterious, unexpected, strong and sexy vibe that I love. I’m glad to be a part of such a legacy.”

Both artists are known for their hybrid numbers, neither fitting easily into boxes laid out for them by the presses, nor their management. As unlikely as their work is, their pairing was even more unusual, considering her penchant for bombast, and White’s penchant for guitar exhibitions. But it worked, earning the pair a Grammy nomination.

Although they have yet to work together again, the duo remain as prolific as ever. It’s interesting playing a game of “can you spot..”, but Keys ‘Girl On Fire’ holds some of the lo-fi blues that was commonly heard in his early work, while White’s 2014 single ‘Lazaretto’ holds some of the more sophisticated pop trappings that made much of Keys earlier material.

Perhaps they should work together again, but they don’t have to. Not only did they make their mark on Bond as a duo, but they’ve also made their imprints felt on one another’s work as two consummate professionals.

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