Review Summary: While the record is lacking in thematic and stylistic unity, this is made up for by its historical interest and the great strength of some of the individual contributions.On that ass fast was the Batmobile (Batmobile)
I can tell by the demon on the grill, this was real
The songs to 1995’s Batman Forever
together constitute one of those uncommon (though not unknown) instances where a film’s soundtrack is probably better than the film itself. Beyond their common attachment to the film for which they were contributed, however, there is really not much binding these songs to one another. There is very little cohesiveness to the soundtrack. Still, the collection provides an extremely interesting snapshot of the musical moment in the mid-1990s out of which it came. Batman Forever
boasts an impressive and widely-varied musical lineup. The selection of songs from this lineup isn’t bad, either. So while the record is lacking in thematic and stylistic unity, this is made up for by its historical interest and the great strength of some of the individual contributions.
Some of the older acts from the 1980s – such as U2, Nick Cave, and Michael Hutchence, the soon-to-be-deceased singer from INXS – can here be heard alongside bands that were just making a name for themselves, as well as groups whose careers never really panned out. PJ Harvey, Massive Attack, the Offspring, the Flaming Lips, and Sunny Day Real Estate had either only recently begun to establish themselves or break into the mainstream. Method Man was just starting to branch off into his own solo material after his debut with the Wu-Tang Clan. Other artists, like Mazzy Star and Devins, faded into relative obscurity or disbanded shortly thereafter. For Seal, Batman Forever
would give him his biggest hit, “Kiss from a Rose.”
The Batman Forever
soundtrack is best analyzed on a track-by-track basis, or at least in clusters of tracks that bear some similarity to each other. One such cluster can be located in a group of the collection’s rawer, dirtier songs. The contributions by Method Man, PJ Harvey, and Nick Cave grant the soundtrack a certain toughness and grittiness. “There is a Light” glides through with hazy fuzz and a steady drumbeat, accompanied by Cave’s characteristic sneer and deep, Morrisonesque growl. A soulful chorus of backing vocals join in with a modified organ. In his cover of Iggy Pop’s song “The Passenger,” Michael Hutchence achieves much the same effect as Cave, though his track is notably weaker. PJ Harvey’s “One Time Too Many” offers a crunchy, filthy guitar line, over which she lays down one of her sexiest, toughest vocal tracks to date. Her singing of “You please me…you tease me…one time too many…
” in the refrain, ranks among her most sultry performances. “The Riddler” continues in much the same vein as this dirtier, rawer portion of the album, a fact of which Method Man is quite aware, as he urges his listeners early in the first verse to “Check the grimey, slimey
.” The track is on the whole twisted and diabolical enough, as with most of the Wu-derived projects of that era. It served as a solid single for the album.
Some tracks on Batman Forever
fit more into the alternative mainstream that found its brief heyday in the grunge years and the few years following its demise. “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” is actually one of U2’s more skillful flirtations with ’90s alternative rock. The song is well-composed, and Bono’s moaning in the background recalls the orgasm famously simulated by Robert Plant in Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” It is one of the few moments ever caught on record where Bono was even remotely sexual. Mazzy Star’s “Tell Me Now” represents a fairly run-of-the-mill soft alternative, with a clean electric drone and a country influence in the light slide guitar in the background. This is one of the album’s more forgettable tracks.
Brandy’s “Where are You Now,” Massive Attack’s “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,” and Seal’s iconic “Kissed by a Rose” make up the more jazzy/R&B contingent of the soundtrack. “Where are You Now” showcases the remarkable talent of a young Brandy, still in high school more than a year before my boy Kobe would take her to the senior prom. Massive Attack’s “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” is a good showing from the group featuring the Tracey Thorn. With a driving trip-hop beat and jazzy vocals, it is perhaps not Massive Attacks best, but even their more average tracks are, after all, better than most. “Kissed by a Rose” was destined to become the soundtrack’s most recognizable track. The song, which is by itself reasonably well-composed and appropriately epic, was greatly popularized by its flashy, high-budget video featuring Gotham, the Bat-signal, and the half-shirtless Seal’s fu
cked up face (which women nevertheless went crazy over).
Sunny Day Real Estate’s “8,” also featured on their landmark Diary
LP, along with the Flaming Lips’ excellent track “Bad Days,” together compose the more “indie” portion of the Batman Forever
soundtrack. “8” is a great cut, clearly betraying Sunny Day Real Estate’s more grunge-inspired sound, with vocals at times approximating Perry Farrell’s from Jane’s Addiction. The song scarcely shows any traces of the emo genre which they would be so credited for. The Flaming Lips’ “Bad Days” is perhaps the soundtrack’s greatest track. It stands as a testament to now-bygone age of indie, before the term was rendered effectively meaningless in the early 2000s. Despite its odd instrumentation, with bells and horns alongside the standard drums-bass-guitar combo, the song remains eminently hummable. If I were to recommend one track from the entire album, this would be it.
All in all, Batman Forever
is an extraordinary collection, providing a unique glimpse into a period of music buzzing with uncertainty and possibility. This more than makes up for the album’s lack of cohesion, and makes it well worth a listen.