What to make of this, then? It’s a little late to expect everything Jack White records to sound like “The Big Three Killed My Baby”, of course. But still, even after the richness of the last Raconteurs album, “Another Way To Die” comes as something of a big, glossy shock.
For a start, somewhere in the blasting voluntaries of guitar, trumpets and piano at the start, there appears to be a drum machine. We’re not in Toerag anymore, Toto. Structurally, it’s all fairly familiar, with White’s familiar staccato way with a tune to the fore. The guitar solo is also comforting enough, being one of those staticky, buzzing screeches that sounds like a cross between Jimmy Page and a dial-up connection which he’s been fixated upon since “Icky Thump”.
It’s only about five seconds long, though, and it’s twinned with Alicia Keys doing some fairly rudimentary histrionics. I’m not averse to Keys as a rule – I liked her debut album a lot at the time. But while there’s much that’s familiar to White fans about “Another Way To Die” – a distinct hint of “The Switch And The Spur”, perhaps – the presence of Keys and the extra instrumental heft here at times tip White’s usual grand theatricality over into something uncomfortably bombastic. When the two duet on the chorus, the strain is a little awkward, discomforting.
It also sounds a bit like White has got hung up on the idea of writing A Bond Theme, since the lyrics are pretty corny (“the slick triiger finger for her majesty”?), and the song seems frequently knocked off its axis by a looming riff that feels like a vigorous attempt to fulfil contractual obligations, and come up with something in the vein of Monty Norman and John Barry (especially “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, sensibly enough).
At times, “Another Way To Die” sounds like a song stitched together out of some ominous incidental music; there’s even a point where Norman’s original Bond theme twangs in. In its favour, mind, that ominous incidental music is damned catchy.
Ultimately, though, it feels like another White project in artistic restriction, though one which hasn’t worked out quite as successfully as usual. If The White Stripes are predicated on various arcane limitations, then “Another Way To Die” is a song written entirely within the parameters of What A Bond Theme Should Be. Usually, White’s genius thrives on and transcends those self-enforced boundaries. This time, though, he sounds uncharacteristically hamstrung.
But hey, it’s better than Chris Cornell. And you can hear it right here. Let me know what you think. . .