Thursday, May 3, 2007

Music From and Inspired by Spider Man 3

Author's Note: This review was originally published on It can be found here:

The action movie soundtrack has become the last bastion of shallow cock rock in mainstream American pop music. Nothing accents the American male’s appetite for explosions like Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” or Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness.” Songs like these help us relive the explosion of testosterone we felt in the theatre as we watched our spandex clad heroes dispatch the bad guys.

The previous Spider Man soundtracks fulfilled this stereotype, taking ponderous ballads by Chad Kroeger and Dashboard Confessional to the top of the charts. These songs fit the bill for an action movie soundtrack: Completely shallow and utterly disposable. The Spider Man 3 soundtrack attempts to resolve these sins by giving Spidey an indie rock makeover.

This decision is admirable, but fails in execution. When you think of Spider Man swinging through New York City on his way to battle The Green Goblin, do you hear the dulcet tones of Snow Patrol? There is nothing wrong with Snow Patrol, but how do they fit with Spider Man? This is a question that repeats itself throughout the record. How does this band fit within the confines of Spider Man 3?

The album begins with “Signal Fire,” from the aforementioned Snow Patrol. “Signal Fire” is a great song, but fails as an opener. The first rule of making a great compilation is to get the listener’s attention, which “Signal Fire” fails to do. The Killers’ U2 style rave-up “Move Away” would have been a better choice, because it helps to set the mood. “Move Away” is the perfect setup for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Sealings,” as the song expands on the darker tone of the film.

The problem with the Spider Man 3 soundtrack is not the music; it’s the sequencing. Songs seem to have been placed haphazardly on the disc, with little care for flow. There is nothing on this disc that is particularly bad, but many of the songs don’t belong next to each other. Some tracks should have been moved up, and some should have been moved down. An example is Wolfmother’s “Pleased to Meet You,” an acceptable slice of neo-stoner rock. However, it follows the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Killers, so you go from two detached art rock bands to a band that wants to be AC/DC.

The weirdest addition of all is “The Twist,” by Chubby Checker. “The Twist” is one of the most important songs in history, but considering the somber mood of the disc, the presence of Mr. Checker is confounding. The odd choice is amplified by its place on the album. Chubby Checker’s 45 year old hit is sandwiched between introspective ballads from Simon Dawes and Rogue Wave. Although “Sightlines” and “Scared of Myself” are pleasant, they don’t exactly make you want to twist again like you did last summer.

Perhaps the reason the Spider Man 3 soundtrack doesn’t work is because the film hasn’t been released. Therefore, the listener is essentially blind, hearing these songs without knowing what their context is. However, even if the songs work within the confines of celluloid, this is still a poorly planned soundtrack album. Saturday Night Fever, Empire Records and Dazed and Confused are considered classic soundtracks because the songs work within the film and as a cohesive album. Spider Man 3 feels like a random collection of songs. It’s a shame, because there is nothing particularly bad about any of the music here. At least Spider Man 3 is Chad Kroeger free.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Avril Lavigne- Best Damn Thing

Pop fans rejoice: Avril Lavigne’s period of introspective artistic expression is over. The world is no longer under her skin and she no longer wishes to be Alanis Morrissette. She has fully embraced the snotty brat persona that made her debut album so appealing. Avril’s third album is not the Best Damn Thing that she proclaims it to be, but there are a few enjoyable moments.

The Best Damn Thing should have been Lavigne’s second album, because it expands on the template set on her 2002 debut Let Go. On her 2004 sophomore effort Under My Skin, Lavigne tried to prove she was a legitimate songwriter, and although the record contained some decent singles, the “maturity” of the album felt forced. Lavigne makes no attempts to broaden her sound here, staying firmly within the bouncy pop/rock that made her famous.

The album explodes out of the gate with “Girlfriend,” one of the catchiest pop songs in recent memory. “Girlfriend” has all the elements of great pop music: A simple guitar riff, inane lyrics and a cheerleader chant that refuses to go away. To Lavigne’s credit, she manages to keep up the pace for a remarkably long time. The kiss-off anthem “I Can Do Better” is pop-punk in the blink-182 tradition, and “Runaway” manages to channel the Replacements’ “Within Your Reach.”

The album’s high point is “When You’re Gone,” a gorgeous piano driven ballad. Lavigne’s lyrics are very cliché, but the song’s lush orchestration and simple melody make up for it. Unlike the ballads on Under My Skin, “When You’re Gone never feels forced. Lavigne brings true feelings and emotion to the song, and that’s what makes it work so well.

The problem with The Best Damn Thing is that it gets old. Hearing Avril Lavigne tell a boy to go away the first time is great, the second time it’s fine, but by the third time you say to yourself “Wait, isn’t she married?” Lavigne’s voice is very thin, and it becomes grating. She is unable to hit high notes, and when she tries it’s pretty painful. Lavigne covers up her lack of vocal ability by adopting a faux-punk snarl. She compliments the vocal affectation with copious amounts of cursing. There is nothing wrong with cursing on a record, but Lavigne curses like a 12 year old who has just learned how.

The lack of maturity in The Best Damn Thing is what ultimately destroys its potential. The snotty brat persona is fine when you are 17 years old, but as a 22 year old married woman? It’s not only immature, it comes off as artificial. A lot of the appeal of pop music is that it is artificial, but Lavigne tries to convince the world that she is more than a shallow pop star.

Despite these problems, The Best Damn Thing is a decent pop record. It contains a great single, and a few solid pop songs. If you want a piece of musical candy, you could do a lot worse: Fergie for instance.