Saturday, November 10, 2007

Spider-Man 3, musicians' muse

Inspiration’s a funny thing—an artist can find it just about anywhere, even a big budget summer movie that hasn’t even been released yet but which their record label would really like them to contribute a track to the soundtrack for.

At least, if the “inspired by” part of Spider-Man 3: Music From And Inspired By is to be taken seriously.

As a film-goer, comic book reader and film critic, I’ve been enormously impressed with the whole Spider-Man franchise, and was among the more effusive when it came to praising the third one, which general critical and fan assessment seems to agree was the worst of the three (I should note that a second viewing, a few weeks later, made the weaknesses in pacing a lot more glaring than a single viewing—If anything, the film could have used another half hour added onto it’s running time).

I saw a critics’ screening the week before release, and went back with some friends to see it again a few week’s later, and that was the sum total of my experience with the film. I didn’t read any comic book adaptations or novel adaptations (do they still do those?) or play any video games or listen to the soundtrack or anything like that.

At least, not until a couple of weeks ago. Cruising my local libraries website to see what else they might have from some bands I liked, I noticed the Spider-Man 3 soundtrack came up more than once, so I reserved it to see what exactly the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Flaming Lips had to sing about Spider-Man and symbiotes exactly.

I’m not too terribly well-versed in the modern blockbuster soundtrack, and this is the first one to a superhero movie I’ve listened to since, I don’t know, Prince’s Batman soundtrack, probably. (I suspect Ghost Rider probably had a pretty good one though). This one seems to have a lot of original tracks on it, rather than simply songs culled from the contributors’ albums—is that unusual?

What did strike me as unusual was how few of the songs that I remember actually seeing in the movie appear on the soundtrack. The Danny Elfman theme? M.I.A. The marching band version of the old cartoon theme song played during the “Spider-Man Day” scene? Not here. The “Staying Alive” sequence, or Evil Peter’s piano and dance scene? That song Mary Jane sings during her play, or at the jazz club? Not here.

Here’s what was included. (Oh, and you can hear samples of ‘em all at’s entry on it).

1.) Snow Patrol, “Signal Fire” An Irish band? On a Spider-Man soundtrack? What the hell…Spider-Man is as American as Superman, and Superman is as American as apple pie. Why are we looking to the Old World to provide sad love songs capable of bringing a tear to Zach Braff’s eye in his movie?

No mention of spiders, symbiotes, goblins or men made of sand in it, so I guess Snow Patrol was more inspired by the romantic elements of the film.

For example:

In the confusion and the aftermath
You are my signal fire
The only resolution and the only joy
Is the faint spark of forgiveness in your eye

That sounds like it could be about Peter and MJ’s relationship troubles, right?

2.) The Killers, “Move Away” This one sounded familiar too, so maybe it was in the film. Or playing over the credits. Or on the radio this summer. Or something. There’s a lot of talk about ski, and the removal of it in the lyrics, like “Take off your skin when you listen to me,” and “I want to jump out of my skin.” Presumably, this song is about the Venom symbiote’s possession of Peter and Eddie Brock.

3.) Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Sealings” I really love this band. “Date With the Night,” “Y Control,” “Maps,” “Modern Romance,” “Cheated Hearts,” “Turn Into You”…all of these songs spent quite a bit of time stuck in my skull, and the band definitely puts on one of the better live shows I’ve ever seen.

I was kinda surprised to see them on this soundtrack, but I thought it was pretty cool. They’re NYC-based, after all, and it would be kinda cool if Spider-Man, a very New York film franchise, featured a CD full of NYC bands. I mean, if Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn were real people living in NYC, chances are this is a band they may have seen, and would tell people, “Oh yeah, I was into the Yeah Yeah Yeahs before they were big.”

I have no idea what this song has to do with Spider-Man though. Here’s the chorus:

Drop drop
down a floor
Shoot shoot
out your mouth
These days are scraped from ceilings

I guess Spider-Man might, you know, drop down a floor here and there as he’s climbing down walls, and he does cling from the ceilings…?

4.) Wolfmother, “Pleased To Meet You” I bet Eddie Brock likes Wolfmother.

5.) Walkmen, “Red River” Another New York band, who belong here mostly because it’s possible that Peter, MJ, Gwen, Harry or Eddie could bump into them in a club somewhere. I don’t hear anything particularly Spider-Man-y in the song. Spidey wears red in his costume, maybe?

6.) Black Mountain, “Stay Free” Another un-American band, this one from Canada. I like this line: “Beautiful ponies/ So beautiful they’ll kill us all.” You know, I think a pony may be the only animal which Spider-Man doesn’t have a villain named after…

7.) The Flaming Lips, “The Supreme Being Teaches Spider-Man How to be in Love” This is my other favorite band on the soundtrack. This one’s definitely “inspired by” rather than “from,” as I’m sure I’d remember having heard it in the film itself.

Why’s that? Because it’s really fucking weird. Even for the Flaming Lips. Here are the lyrics, in their entirety, so you can explain the song to me:

The first round goes
We go to blows
I’m the Spider-Man
But nobody knows
But the spider conceals the truth

The spectrums raise
Your ringside gaze
I’ve been in love with you for a million days
But the fighter conceals his wounds

I’m in love with you
But I fight the urge
Muhammad Ali makes a third round surge
And the audience can see the truth

His punches land
I can hardly stand
I’ve got the power of a spider
But the heart of a man
But the power is in the truth

Honesty can kill the spider
Muhammad Ali feels the same
The audience can give you the power
And I hear them call my name (Here comes the Spider-Man),
Hear them call my name (Does whatever a spider can).
I hear them call my name (Here comes the Spider-Man),
Hear them call my name (Does whatever a spider can).

At the seventh round
You make a sound
Muhammad Ali only knocks me down
You whisper, “Tell the truth”

I say I’m in love with you
At the knock out count
The audience cheers as the champ wins out
But now you know the truth

Honesty can kill the fighter
Muhammad Ali knows the same
Honestly the truth is power
And I hear you call my name…

Apparently, an earlier draft of the film had Muhammad Ali as one of the villains in it, and he and Spider-Man had to box one another, while MJ was her boyfriend’s corner man.

This is actually the only song on the album that mentions Spider-Man. Or spiders. I like how the boxing theme reflects his origins as a pro-wrestler too…

8.) Simon Dawes, “Scared of Myself” Some of the lyrics mention “crooked dreams” and “finding a way to watch over you,” so maybe this is like, a song from The Sandman’s perspective, addressed at his sick daughter.

But with lyrics like “I’m scared, scared of myself….without you” and “I have found a way to face the burden of my dreams” it’s so damn emotional, you could totally see Peter Parker listening to it and crying his eyes out. At least, the normal Marvel Comics version of Spider-Man. That guy’s always crying.

9.) Chubby Checker, “The Twist” The first time I saw S-M3, I thought it was kinda odd that this young, twentysomething millionaire Harry Osborn was into Chubby Checker, and, when I saw it the second time, the party I went with all laughed derisively during the scene.

On the other hand, selecting a song that old and dated is probably a safer bet than picking something an actual twentysomething would like, as that would seem dated and lame within a year or three. At least “The Twist” is already kind of dated and lame, so the scene won’t age any more when you return to the film a few years later.

10.) Rogue Wave, “Sightlines” This song’s okay.

11.) Coconut Records, “Summer Day” I really liked this one. Check out the link to hear a couple more songs by them. Some of the lyrics capture the Spider-Man-as-hero-who-can’t-catch-a-break feeling, well-illustrated in the opening sequence from the second film.

Check it out:

If it’s a summer day
With not a cloud in sight
Than tell me why
It feels like it might
Rainnn …onnn… me-e-e-e-e-e-e-e

Apparently, this is actor Jason Schwartzman’s current band. Listen close to the back-up singer—that’s Kirsten Dunst, singing with her Marie Antoinette co-star.

12.) Jet, “Falling Star” And now we’ve got an Australian band on this thing? These guys further irritate me by spelling their name in all capital letters. Which I have not honored.

13.) Sounds Under Radio, “Portrait of a Summer Thief” I stopped listening after one minute and fifteen seconds. That’s all I could stand. Maybe it gets more Spider-Man specific near the end. Otherwise, what’s it have to do with the film? Well, um, The Sandman was a thief. And the movie came out in the summer?

14.) The Wyos, “A Letter From St. Jude” Another Irish band, meaning the country of Ireland is as well represented on this soundtrack as the city of New York. I kinda like this song, too. There are some lyrics that really sound like they capture the whole great power, great responsibility hero’s dilemma Spider-Man faces.

For example:

I suppose I should feel something for everyone out there
And I do
And I want to be of help I do
I do want to be of use
I don’t know what to do
with all the prayers coming to

Wait, prayers? Oh, and it’s called “A Letter From St. Jude” too, huh? Well, never mind.

15.) The Oohlas, “Small Parts” Another song that has nothing at all to do with Spider-Man. But it does contain this nice little couplet: “Don’t go out the back door/ That’s what the front’s for.” I like that.


Mike Lorah said...

Although I've not heard of most of the bands on this soundtrack, much less ever listened to them, I'd guess that Chubby Checker is my favorite performer listed (because the ones I do know don't really do much for me). And I'm just barely not in my 20s!

Of course, I have Janis Joplin, Neil Young and the Rustlanders in heavy rotation right now. And Sleater-Kinney.

Matthew said...

Snow Patrol:
a. Not really Irish
b. I suspect you were hoping for 'score', rather than the 'soundtrack'. I know, I know, it makes no sense to me either.