Thanks to happenstance, otherwise known as my iTunes shuffle function, I am given to give something a ponder: As generally great as I thought The Dark Knight was, there were still two things I missed. One was a sense of humor, the other was a soundtrack. Of course, clumsily tossing pop songs into a movie as intentionally somber as The Dark Knight would have been entirely inappropriate for Chris Nolan’s deliberate vision, and it’s still astounding that he got away with a comic book movie with such dark themes. I’m happy that he did, as is apparently almost everybody.
Still, I kind of miss the days of the entirely-unrelated soundtrack album. I really feel like a good part of the reason for my expansive musical taste, outside of what some grade school teachers called “an intellectually curious nature with a mild anti-authoritarian streak”, was that for a while there in the 1980s and 1990s, Hollywood used to turn out these albums full of songs by artists that had very little to do with the movie they were meant to promote. A cynic could fairly dismiss these soundtracks as merchandising tools, but sometimes they were more interesting than they had any right to be. This was long before the iTunes shuffle function was invented.
Take a look at the soundtrack to a movie diametrically opposed to The Dark Knight in content and intent: Batman Forever. At best, this 1995 Joel Shumacher franchise entry was like sprinkling Bac-Os on a salad and serving it up to a vegetarian. Personally, I happen to like Bac-Os, but I’m insane like that. I surely respect the feelings of all those who aren’t (and I agree with all who feel that 1997’s Batman and Robin was like sprinkling Bac-Os on dogshit.).
Whatever you think of the movie, though, it sure did end up with an unusual soundtrack tie-in album. Let’s go cut by cut:
1. U2 – Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
In my opinion, the U2 song is great. Was then, and still is. This was smack in the middle of their ironic phase, right before they started riding into arenas inside a giant lemon. Who really knows what the song is about, but it’s got a great, swaggering, epic Bowie rock n’ roll feel, which cools up the movie by association.
2. PJ Harvey – One Time Too Many
I’m no particular fan of PJ Harvey, but this song works very well after the U2 lead-off, and it’s pretty interesting to have this song on a soundtrack like this, for those who are already (or about to be) into her.
3. Brandy – Where Are You Now?
Hey, the Brandy song is good too. It was written by Lenny Kravitz and sounds like it was. Just as with almost every single song on this album, it has fuck-all to do with Batman, but that’s part of the senseless fun of this enterprise.
4. Seal – Kiss From A Rose
The most famous song from this soundtrack, easily, is this Seal song. And I like this one too – not even gonna front. But 13 years later I have no better idea what a “Kiss From A Rose” entails, or what any of the other lyrics mean or [again!] what they have to say about Batman.
5. Massive Attack with Tracey Thorn – The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game
Here’s where things start getting interesting. No way does a teenaged Jonny A grow up in New Rochelle, New York, in the era of gangsta and grunge, and well before college learn about Massive Attack… unless some hip producer puts one of their songs on a summer movie promotional product. Massive Attack are an important, influential, badass group. And this is such a suave drop for a soundtrack album. Really just classy and urbane and unique-sounding. An especially praise-worthy thing, in light of the trends toward atrocious shit metal and whiny emo wankery that so many soundtracks have trafficked in since.
6. Eddi Reader – Nobody Lives Without Love
I’m pretty deep into music, and I have tried to develop a very broad knowledge, if not appreciation, of a lot of different genres. Yet still, to this day, I do not know who Eddi Reader is. This does happen to be one of the better, night-time-sounding, more atmospheric tracks on the album though. A soundtrack “inspired by” Batman should at the very least sound like night time, and this one fits the bill.
7. Mazzy Star – Tell Me Now
Again, how in 1995 do I, me, hear Mazzy Star without buying this album? I like that. Mazzy Star is somewhere between trip-hop and country, and they make music that definitely plays better during nocturnal hours. I’ve never been a superfan, but it’s good to be aware of a group like this one. The musical world always needs variety.
8. The Offspring – Smash It Up
“Smash It Up” is a song by The Damned that is covered here by The Offspring. You can knock The Offspring all you want, but for me they were the pop-radio gateway for me, to The Damned and other more critic-friendly punk groups.
I love this
10. Method Man – The Riddler
Leave it to Method Man to present the only directly-Batman-influenced track on the album. He raps about The Riddler, and about himself, over a slowed-down rondolet version of the 1960s Batman TV show theme. By this point on my personal timeline, I was already well into hip-hop, so I wasn’t being introduced to anything new here, but even then, I appreciated that Staten Island made it onto such an eclectic mix.
11. Michael Hutchence – The Passenger
Michael Hutchence was the lead singer of INXS and this is a cover of an Iggy Pop song. Again, the song choice has nothing to do with anything, but the vibe kind of fits the sequencing.
12. The Devlins – Crossing The River
The Devlins, I hadn’t heard of before this album, and I haven’t since. It’s a filler song, but a good enough filler song. Sounds kind of like Unforgettable Fire era U2 but with less weight or urgency or electric guitar. I liked it enough to listen to it along with the rest of the album, but didn’t inspire me to seek out more of their stuff like some of the other artists on this album did.
13. Sunny Day Real Estate – 8
Though it was always hard to understand their lyrics (maybe they’re meant to be played in reverse like certain Led Zeppelin songs?), Sunny Day Real Estate went on to become one of my very favorite bands in college. I think I saw them three times live, which is a lot for me. And, not to keep repeating myself, but where did I first hear them…? Aqui!
14. The Flaming Lips – Bad Days
On the flip, I had already heard The Flaming Lips many times by 1995, because they had that song “She Don’t Use Jelly” on Z-100 [!] around that time and they were on 90210. This song just kept them fresh enough in my mind until The Soft Bulletin rolled around. And what an excellently eccentric choice to end the album.
So what’s the moral of this story? Hell if I know. Capitalism is good? Merchandising doesn’t always have to suck? That it’s not too late to get Ghostface to do a Joker rap? Maybe it’s just that a story doesn’t always have to be serious art, as long as you can dance to it.