Sam Smith wrote the actual theme to Spectre, the 24th James Bond film (and possibly the last to feature actor Daniel Craig in the lead role). Radioheadonly wrote a prospective one—long the stuff of myths, or literal bets. Both are sinister, irresolute ballads for piano and orchestra, but Smith's tune is more overtly triumphant, with typical mini-climaxes that place it firmly in the tradition of healthily overwrought Bond anthems, like "Skyfall". Smith used ominous spy-thriller horns, weaved through instrumental vamps, and pithy, anti-heroic lyrics: "I'm prepared for this," he sings, "I never shoot to miss/But I feel like a storm is coming."
Radiohead's discarded anthem has some of this soupiness. But the marks it hits are unexpected—it pulls back hastily from anthemic orchestral breaks—so in some sense, it's exactly what one would expect from a slow-burning Radiohead theme for a modern, self-serious Bond flick. There's a jerky, Yorke-ian piano chord pattern. The vamp is an open forum for the decaying orchestral swoops that are the stamp of a Jonny Greenwood soundtrack. Phil Selway's jazzy drum figures allow "Spectre" to come into its own—a welcome "Pyramid Song" sequel. It possesses all the melodrama of a good Bond song but only a hint of the kitsch. If it wasn't for Yorke's delicate, forlorn vocal—just a few angelic falsetto notes, gradually bent out of shape, embellishing a typically vague, pointillistic lyric—the song might risk sounding like a rote retread of previous work. Instead, "Spectre" turns out to be one of the finest Radiohead songs in some years, much more than a one-off curiosity. At this point, both Yorke and Greenwood have become interested in writing program music; if narrative limitations can yield something like "Spectre," a concept album might be Radiohead's best possible next act.