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Well, my "little vacation" ended up lasting two and a half years... funny how life steers your life in directions you weren't planning on. I'll start off with occasional posts, but I fully plan to resume this blog to full speed by the new year.

I hope you'll come back for frequent visits, to see new reviews, to share opinions, to take a survey (or two), and to celebrate the shows and show people that have made the TheatreScene!

Jeff

Monday, September 19, 2011

CD REVIEW: Music from: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Like the show, which I have long championed, the recording released in conjunction with the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is an enigma to me.  Like the show, the album is alternately dumbfounding and excellent, alternately rock music and Broadway showtune.  Just like the show, it is alternately over-produced and superbly realized. And just like the final product onstage at the Foxwoods Theatre, the album is alternately ego unchecked and artistic boundary-breaking triumph.

As the world knows, the entire world scrutinized, criticized and watched an epic fail turn into a popular commercial success, if not a critical one.  In the process, director Julie Taymor was let go, her vision too long in being realized fully, the best parts retained for the final version.  Score writers Bono and The Edge, however, went largely unchecked, adding just one full number and tweaking a few others.  Unfortunately, it is the score that remains the weakest link of the show.  And I have to call it as I see it: their egos are just as much (probably more) to blame for the show's shortcomings as anything or anyone else.  They clearly don't know how to score a show - they have admitted as much.  Of course, it is too late to fix things again.


Title: Music from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
Artist: Bono, The Edge and members of the Original Broadway Cast
Label: Interscope Records/Marvel
Number: BOO15782-02
Format: Single CD
Case: Single Jewel Case
Booklet: Full color production photos; complete lyrics

Which brings me to the CD released in conjunction with the show, a microcosm of all that ills and elevates the project.  Apparently, in an effort to get something recorded (I am thankful for that), they rushed into the studio to record Music From Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.  The entire Broadway cast is on the recording, but I wouldn't call this an Original Cast Recording.  And even though other such recordings will occasionally have the writers crooning a song or two as bonus tracks, the egos of the show have again prevailed, and Bono and The Edge (I giggle every time I type these ridiculous noms de plume) have insinuated their way onto several tracks.  Their liner note message mentions how they have included "some of their own demos for the fun of it."  So, is this a show album or a U2 album?

Since a large chunk of the score is not included, which, again according to that liner note, were selected purposely from some 18 songs and 20 pieces of orchestration.  And it does include an attempt at a radio single, "Rise Above I."  I certainly applaud any attempt to bring Broadway to the masses.  But the Broadway show fan in me is ticked.  Couldn't they have at least put the songs they DID include in order?  Couldn't those numbers be all done as performed in the show?
Cover Art for the single, "Rise Above I"

The biggest difference is that here, you can, without fail, hear every single word.  And I thought that maybe hearing the lyrics and really paying attention to them in repeated listening would make it clearer and somehow deeper.  I was wrong.  I know the words now, but crap is crap and poetry is poetry.  And I will go out on a limb here and say that had the entire song list been preserved here, the balance between crap and poetry would be more in favor of poetry.  (Someone involved loves - I mean LOVES - "Pull the Trigger" and no matter how it has been retooled for the stage, it remains the very pinnacle of what is wrong with the show.  Ego unchecked; crap over poetry.)Well, enough carping. As this is a theatre blog, I will highlight all those numbers on the CD that are good AND include the Broadway cast. Again, these songs align pretty closely to the same songs that work the best in the show. And again, the cast shines through in spite of the material they are working with.

  • Track 1: "NY Debut": This instrumental is a welcome inclusion, considering how many times your hear part of it.  But it is also nice because it incorporates bits of the other background music.  It is not a traditional "overture" as it is not made up of melodies from songs in the score, but it certainly makes you feel the pulse and excitement of the shows biggest asset: the flying and action sequences.
  • Track 2: "Boy Falls from the Sky": I loved it the minute I heard Reeve Carney croon this tune on Good Morning America over a year ago.  It is moody, dark and poetic.  If only all of the songs were this character driven and interesting.  This should be the song vying for radio time, this and track 10.
  • Track 4: "Picture This": This is one number that tells me what could have been.  This is the perfect blend of U2 and Broadway.  It works well as a song and particularly well on stage as the worlds of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson and Dr. Osborne are about to collide.
  • Track 5: "I Just Can't Walk Away (Say It Now)": A nice ballad that really showcases the talents and chemistry of Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano, with a subtle, well-sung contribution from T.V. Carpio.
  • Track 8: "No More": Another duet for Carney and Damiano, and is another example of what could have been in terms of show music.  It reveals character and advances the plot (this is the song that has Peter and Mary Jane arriving home to two different and troubled homes).
  • Track 9: "DIY World": Catchy and a showcase for the company, the song is eerie, interesting and completely part of the theme and conflict of the show, science vs humanity.  Patrick Page and Laura Beth Wells shine here.
"If the World Should End" as performed by
Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano at the
2011 Tony Awards
  • Track 10: "If the World Should End": Easily my favorite song, and nicely preserved here by a superb Jennifer Damiano.  Even if, in the show, it is now a duet, the song remains the highlight of the score and this recording.
  • Track 12: "A Freak Like Me (Needs Company)": The song most ready for the radio works surprisingly well as a production number and represents the one major improvement to the score, plot and version 2.0 of the show.  It is pop song catchy and well sung by the cast, with some very Green Goblin-esque song stylings by Patrick Page.  Add this song to my "guilty pleasures" list.
  • Track 13: "Rise Above 2": It is, for me, simply "Rise Above," as it is the version that plays in the theatre, and really did not need to be changed for any potential radio play.  Reeve Carney and T.V. Carpio are superb here; haunting, well-sung and one reason to see the show live.

Hmmm... I have highlighted 9 of the 14 tracks on this album.  More than half, so how bad can it be, right?  Well, except for maybe the final, title number, which I didn't include, the rest of the tracks are THAT awful.  "Bouncing Off the Walls," which I loved in the show, doesn't make much sense out of context and really needs the visual to make the aural really work.  "Turn Off the Dark," well-sung by Carpio, works better having seen the show and having just experienced everything up to that point, but in isolation, it is just weird.  It tries too hard.

The booklet contains full lyrics, some good pictures, and that very telling note from Bono and The Edge.  And the quality of the recording is first rate.  The vocal arrangements and orchestrations on the regular tracks are also first rate.


Maybe fans of U2 will embrace this attempt to get them to buy some of the albums.  Fans of the show will probably want it, too.  But if you are a serious Broadway Cast Recording fan, you'll probably do as I did - wait for a good sale and buy it to have it.  Then program your iPod for the three or four songs you really like, or better yet, just buy the songs you like from iTunes and be done with it.

Grade: C+


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Jeff
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