So, it’s finally here. Dating back to 2002, Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark has been subject to a near countless string of mishaps, mistakes, and missed opening nights. There have been injuries, budget woes, lawsuits, rewrites, director drops, and cast swaps. At the center of all of this have been Bono and The Edge. Originally just on board to write the score, they’ve moved up to the title of producers and are now considered the public face of the show. Now that it has opened – they finally stuck to a date (June 14th) – the timing is right for a cast recording soundtrack.
Despite the years spent on it, the Original Cast Recording of Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark is a mixed bag. It would seem that Bono and Edge went into this score thinking it would be quick, easy, and painless. The truth is that Broadway musicals are none of those things, and their lack of knowledge washes over these 14 songs. On the other hand, though, Bono and The Edge can still write a great rock song and they prove it several times on the album – with the help of some powerful vocals, too.
The most impacting songs on this album lean one of two ways. They’re either very close to the duo’s usual work (“Boy Falls From the Sky”) or they fit into more traditional musical arrangements, where the singers save the day (“If the World Should End”). Take Jennifer Damiano, for example. As Mary Jane Watson, Damiano works with a voice made for the stage, and, as a result, she hits that sweet spot between passion and pitch that dizzyingly excites the bones. The same can’t be said for the show’s main star, Reeve Carney, however. While commendable and undeniably raw, Carney’s also rather limited. When coupled with Bono’s vocals and harmonies, as they are on “Rise Above 1″, it’s hard not to pine for the Irish songwriter.
But if we’re to weigh the production as a whole, most of the work alternates between forgettable and atrocious. The forgettable includes songs like the “Vertigo”-knock off “Bouncing Off the Walls” and The Edge-fronting “Sinistereo”, which oddly enough buries the illustrious axeman’s vocals in a sea of overproduced distortion. On the other end, misses like “Pull the Trigger” see Bono and Edge attempting to write a rap song. (Take your time to let that sink in. It’s pretty much as bad as you’d expect.) Rest assured, their attempts end an aural disaster, leaving us with a PSA-like number that could possibly be the worst thing the two musicians have ever released, whether with U2 or as part of any collaboration.
So, why did this fall so flat? You could blame the subject matter. Lyrically, Bono and The Edge are miles and miles outside their comfort zone. Bono’s strength lies in his gift for imagery and big topics such as love, war, religion, etc. These talents have always served him well in U2 and help make him an excellent lyricist. He’s never really been story-driven, though. This mentality puts a massive constraint on the songs, resulting in an assortment of cliché messages about love and humanity with occasional references to Spider-man squeezed in. Out of all the tracks, the only time he comes close to succeeding is on “No More”, in which Peter Parker’s struggles with school bullying and Mary Jane’s conflicts with an abusive stepfather are entwined in an emotionally impacting number. The rest? Nah.
Well, not so fast. The would-be finale of the recording (the actual closing title track is pretty boring) is “Rise Above 2”. Musically similar, “2” is actually a little superior. The lyrics are less cliché, instead featuring a chorus of all the characters supporting Spider-man as he goes to save the day. Edge’s high-pitched guitar work towards the end of the song gives a little push that will remind you of how uplifting U2 can be. It feels like the triumphant end of a long, hard journey. They may be talking about the character, but after all that Turn Off the Dark has gone through, it fits as the story of the musical. Time will tell if the production succeeds, but the verdict is in for the soundtrack. It’s nowhere near the quality of anything Bono and Edge have done with the band, but it’s far better than it could have been. Next time, guys, just keep your ideas for a new U2 record.