Review Summary: With great power comes great overindulgence.
It is best that U2 watchers worldwide be advised to forget about Songs of Ascent
- the album initially planned as a sister record to 2009's No Line on the Horizon
in the same way that Zooropa
was to Achtung Baby
; the album (Ascent
) is fast becoming the Chinese Democracy
of Bongolese. Two years on from No Line
, we instead find ourselves in the company of Music From Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark
, a compilation composed entirely of songs co-authored by Bono and The Edge for the Broadway musical of the same name. Notably, in the case of "Boy Falls From The Sky", there are even contributions from Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton, effectively making the number a U2 song. Heck, the LP was even produced by frequent U2 collaborator Steve Lillywhite. Now, the last time U2 tried to expand their horizons and create something other than the traditional mainstream rock album, one record immediately comes to mind: 1995's Original Soundtracks 1
- a collection of songs written for mostly imaginary movies which saw the four conceited billionaires (and Brian Eno) further up themselves than ever. Fans worldwide felt alienated by the band's apparent new musical direction and were at a loss to comprehend the "film" descriptions in the album booklet, many of which were filled with hidden references and in-jokes. Music From Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark
is by no means a portrait of Bono and The Edge making the same mistake twice, but it does bring back memories of drummer Larry Mullen Jr.'s post-mortem evaluation of Original Soundtracks 1
. In an interview, he famously said, "There's a thin line between interesting music and self-indulgence. We crossed it on the Passengers record." Music From Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark
only serves to remind us all of that one great truth once again: Bono and The Edge should really just stick to composing traditional rock and post-punk albums.
Despite the presence of a rather thrilling main riff in opening instrumental "NY Debut", it doesn't take long for The Edge to completely lose himself in the hubris of wanting to develop a new sonic template. Take, for instance, "Bouncing off the Walls", which is utterly spoilt by the musician electing to use guitar parts that make it sound like he is punching a baboon in the face somewhere off-screen. And although one knows that Music From Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark
should not be judged like a U2 album in the slightest, one can't quite shake the feeling that many songs on the album - especially those with Bono in a central role - are nothing more than a pastiche of several earlier - and much better - U2 works. "Picture This" may start off like Coldplay's "Clocks", but it quickly switches into a chord progression which is all too-similar to U2's own "Yahweh", creating a final product which is all too dull and contrived. And it only gets worse. Elsewhere, The Edge and Bono swap their pointless noodling entirely in favour of coming up with a plethora of sappy ballads that are supposed to both create some onstage poignancy and develop the relationship between the characters of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson; they end up doing neither. "I Just Can't Walk Away (Say It Now)" is particularly disappointing, with Bono reduced to busting out tired and worn-out cliches for Carney and Jennifer Damiano (who plays Mary Jane Watson) to sing: "Explain to me why this happens every time/Give me a clue or tell me why/I just can't walk away". "If The World Should End", while slightly more tuneful, is really not that much better, which is a shame as Damiano does truly take it upon herself to deliver a spectacular vocal performance.
The ever-ambitious Irish pair do serve up a couple of gems though; the "Rise Above" numbers are perhaps the most straightforward pieces on the entire record, and in that regard easily end up being the most effective. The tight harmonized vocal melody between the two main leads in "Rise Above 2" is one of the compilation's best moments, and marks one of the rare occasions in which Bono and The Edge finally manage to suffuse some of their parent band's yearning grandeur into the main melody. Yet, the most interesting component of the entire ensemble is perhaps the presence of Patrick Page, incarnated here and in the Foxwoods Theatre on Broadway as the Green Goblin. The two pieces which feature him as the centerpiece contain just the right amount of chutzpah and self-effacement to be effective, and one does feel that it is a shame he is given so little air-time. In one particularly memorable instant on "A Freak Like Me Needs Company", Page refers to himself as a "65 million dollar circus tragedy" (alluding to the play's costs which ballooned by the tune of $23 million in less than a year), as a riveting gang chant booms in the background. Elsewhere, his completely over-the-top performance on "Pull The Trigger" is perhaps the most fun one can ever hope to have on Music From Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark
, with a heavy bassline and an infectious militaristic beat underpinning the actor's angsty exhortations against the blackmail of his scientific project.
All in all, Music From Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark
is a frustrating listen, to say the least. Equal parts solid and equal parts outrageously mediocre, only too often does one get the impression that the play's producers should really have left the concoction of the play's score to a pair of more able and experienced hands. It is, perhaps, telling that at one point, The Edge stated in an interview that he was unsure of what description to use for the production, because "[i]t is elements of rock and roll, it's elements of circus, it's elements of opera, [and] of musical theater". Based on that evidence, I'd gladly wager that he simply doesn't have a clue what it is really supposed to be.