Track by Track: Music From Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (Review)

I did not want to make this a post about the show Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. I've written about it so much as a play and I just don't want to revisit it until I get tickets for the 2.0 version that got very mixed reviews last night. Instead, I've decided to reformat my notes on each track as the content of this post. It's less polished than my normal writing, but I think it's a very clear indication of what I think about each track in this...uh...cast recording? Concept album? Rock reproduction? 1. NY Debut--that instrumental track used in all the promos. It's appropriately sweeping, grand, and exciting. Too bad the rest of the music doesn't sound like it. Overture. Solid rock instrumental.

2. Boy Falls From the Sky--I've been a fan of this song for a while. The problem is Reeve is starting to sound really rehearsed on it. Like there's no surprise at all in his performance. There is none of the raw energy from the early run of public appearances. It's sad. This is one of the good songs and now it's boring sounding. It's flat.

3. Rise Above 1--Why is Bono singing with Reeve and what purpose does that serve for this show? American Idiot got away with it because it was a highly theatrical rock album. Billy Joe Armstrong didn't distract from the music because he actually worked within the rock theater idiom to create his stage spectacular. This is bland pop rock, not a theater score for the most part, and Bono singing only emphasizes that. The digital drum set is irritating, especially when they use an analog drum kit in the reprise. And for a song about losing hope and grasping for an unattainable ideal, this is way to groove-based. There is no tension in this version. It's just there.

4. Picture This--Bono and the Edge perform it. Why? It's an inoffensive pop song. Album filler. Almost has a Beatles feel to it. But they do let Jennifer Damiano sing on the track, and now you hear what I mean about emoting while singing. Reeve doesn't do it and he's Spider-Man. You know, the title character? Not good.

5. I Just Can't Walk Away (Say It Now)--This song really embodies Mary Jane's conflict over Peter Parker. It's the most character-developing song that survived the great exodus of Julie Taymor. And by exodus, I mean the elimination of Arachne as a crucial character to the show. If the score was filled with songs like this, it would be perfect. Reeve even emotes on it. It's a perfect mid-tempo pop theater song of internal conflict.

6. Bouncing Off the Walls--High energy rock song. Reeve is really impersonating Bono here. It's a bit simple in the arrangement during the verses. It's 1-2-3-4 on the guitar pattern and the drum beat is nothing to write home about. It works better in the chorus. The lyrics are a bit too esoteric to represent Peter Parker discovering his abilities in the verses and a bit too literal in the chorus. It's an odd balance that almost works.

7. Pull the Trigger--This is the most referential to the old Spider-Man theme. A lot of it is spoken word. It's really cool. There's good use of those digital drums in this and it definitely helps to define a character and the conflict over the development of Spider-Man himself. Patrick Page has really developed a unique character since he became the main villain of the show. The chorus is a little weaker than the verses, but I could listen to it. The military stuff sounds strong on the recording, though the song seems to go on quite a while. Is it a cast recording or a pop reconfiguration of a musical? This track especially feels like a passing track on an OCR but that's not what this is.

8. No More--Whiny emo track. Jennifer Damiano rises above it, but Reeve falls right in. That girl can sing. Reeve does much better with the less literal lyrics. However, once he gets into more pressing lyrics, he pushes that faux-Bono sound that makes my head hurt.

9. DIY World--This is one of the more interesting songs on the album. It's the closest the show comes to rock opera, which would be great if it was an intentional device throughout the album. It's not. And Reeve once again pops in to pull away from the great effect of another performer. The ensemble isn't used better anywhere else in the show. The counterpoint of the various melodies is beautiful and sweeping. Legitimate rock theater. Who would have thought that Bono and the Edge had it in them?

10. If the World Should End--This is my favorite song on the album. Why? Because they recorded the original version that is a solo for Jennifer Damiano. Do you see what happens when a talented singing actor works with material? They can make mediocre songs sound great and garbage sound decent. Jennifer is killing this music because she understands how music and performance works. Note her selective use of vibrato for emotional effect. It's gorgeous. This recording gives me chills. It's just so haunting and beautiful. There are some really strong metaphors and imagery in the song that actual serve to develop the concept in a unique way. It's actually rock theater. Love it.

11. Sinistereo--There's an interesting sonic quality to the arrangement that I like. The vocal is really filtered to me and I don't like The Edge on it. It's just a bit too flat in the vocal arrangement for me to like it. I feel like this concept needed more development and it didn't get it. Also, what does "you set yourself on fire" mean and why is that the chorus? This is the generic rock over theater scoring issue rearing its ugly head.

12. A Freak Like Me Needs Company--Tell me what to feel/I'll show you what to do/We don't do sincere/Everything's taboo. Whoops. Wrong show. I wish it was a $65 million dollar adaptation of Taboo. That would be awesome. This isn't a strong enough song to justify keeping just because you need to introduce a slew of villains in awesome costumes. Also, the "$65 million circus tragedy" line, to me, is in bad taste. It's sour grapes against Julie Taymor (whose remaining elements were the only things consistently praised in last night's reviews of the finished show) and disrespectful to the actors who became injured during the development of the show. I don't care if Christopher Tierney wanted to come back to work (he probably needed the paycheck after all the medical bills piled up) and T.V. Carpio thinks the new safety apparatuses take away from the joy of performing. People were hurt to let this score go on Broadway and it's not something you joke about. Hate.

13. Rise Above 2--OMG T.V. Carpio gets to sing on the recording finally. I know I mentioned Jennifer Damiano a lot, but that's because she really sold some awkward songs with style. T.V. Carpio has been singing this music for years for Bono and The Edge and she slays it. Her voice is perfect for the score. It's a shame Arachne was cut back solely for how amazing T.V. sounds on her songs. Reeve does better with the reprise as he has some impetus for singing the song. Notice the use of analog drums and strong ensemble arrangements to make this an anthem worthy of a superhero. It's gorgeous. Shame that they decided Arachne can't just sing this song by herself as in the original version. It still would have worked the guardian angel angle without drawing too much away from Reeve. Give the kid a chance to catch his breath and emote for once. If he came in on the "And every heart that breathes" near the end, it would be a stronger song than him popping in repeatedly.

14. Turn Off the Dark--Flawless. This is theater. It's gorgeous. T.V. Carpio sinks her teeth into this and hits all the tonal changes. The arrangement is gorgeous. I especially love when it takes on almost a mythical style halfway through. It feels ancient and modern and timeless all at once. There are some great riffs in the vocal arrangement and the use of dissonance is perfect. It provides great dramatic tension and a nice counterpoint to T.V.'s lovely soprano. Chills up and down my spine the whole way through. I really wish there could be a show just about Arachne at this point. The music and story would be more compelling.