What if Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark had never made it to opening night? That’s not an unrealistic proposition. After all, between injured actors, scathing/mocking reviews and lawsuits galore (including one from director Julie Taymor alleging that Bono, among other things, showed up to production meetings drunk and with supermodels in tow), the famously troubled production was lucky to even make it to the stage in the first place. Even though it ran until January 2014, the play cost so much to produce ($65 million!) and stage ($1.3 million weekly budget!) that it ranks among the biggest flops in Broadway history with losses rumored to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million.
So, what if the show had been cancelled before it saw the light of day? It’s hard to say what Bono and the Edge would have done, but one thing is for sure: They would have had to do something with all of the songs they had recorded for the “Spiderman Turn Off the Dark” Soundtrack.
What they could have done was assemble an album that would have been much better than the one they gave to Apple a couple of weeks ago.
It’s no secret that U2’s current album was originally going to be called “Songs of Ascent.” After a quick listen to the Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark soundtrack (full disclosure: I’ve never listened to the whole thing all the way through until today), it’s clear that, thematically, many of these songs could have easily worked on an album entitled “Songs of Ascent.” After all, the entire point of Spiderman is that with great power comes great responsibility. The play, which was based on the Sam Raimi movie trilogy, shows Peter Parker continuing to struggle with the weight of expectations that come with being a superhero, and many of the songs on the soundtrack reflect this conflict. Assuming that U2 was planning on “Songs of Ascent” being about the power of hope and inspiration to improve both yourself and the world around you, then the songs from Spiderman would have more than fit the bill. After all, that’s pretty much what any superhero does.
Most of the songs on Spiderman are fairly on the nose (the lyrics on “Rise Above 1” and “No More” somehow manage to be less subtle than the songs’ titles), but that’s to be expected with a Broadway musical. Musically, it’s very strong. Unlike Songs of Innocence, The Edge’s guitar consistently hits the soaring heights we’re used to hearing from him and you wonder if he gave all of his good riffs and guitar parts to Spiderman rather than saving them for the band. With some tinkering, several of the songs on the album, namely quasi-U2 songs “Rise Above 1” and “Picture This,” as well as “Boy Falls From the Sky,” “DIY World,” “I Just Can’t Walk Away,” and “If The World Should End” could have worked as proper U2 songs.
Heck, the band performed “Boy Falls from the Sky” during the 360 Tour, and it sounded pretty good live:
Another reason why this soundtrack almost works better as a U2 album is that the cast just doesn’t seem up to singing the songs the way Bono intended. Reeve Carney, who played Peter Parker, has an good voice and manages to sound a lot like Bono on his numbers. However, the rest of the cast seems to have difficulty emoting like the U2 frontman. The lyrics are fairly corny and trite (e.g. “In a world stranger than fiction, ours is no fictional love” from “If The World Should End”) so you need powerful singers that can sell the emotional weight of those silly little lines. You know, someone like Bono.
Obviously, not all of the songs on Spiderman would work outside of the Broadway context. The Green Goblin’s hammy numbers (“Pull the Trigger” and “A Freak Like Me Needs Company”) would have to be excised (although “A Freak Like Me Needs Company” does give us the funny and self-aware line “I’m a 65 million dollar circus tragedy”). “Bouncing Off the Walls” is a weak song that sounds like an early version of “Vertigo.” “Pull the Trigger,” meanwhile, is one of those expository songs that are necessary for the theater but can be omitted from a music album.
If the band had taken the best songs off Spiderman, added “Invisible” and “Ordinary Love,” and then rounded things out with the best songs off Songs of Innocence, then they would have had a much better album. To wit:
“Every Breaking Wave”
“Boy Falls From The Sky”
“Rise Above 1”
“The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)”
“Song for Someone”
“If The World Should End”
“Raised By Wolves”
“California (There Is No End to Love)”
I think that’s a much superior album to Songs of Innocence. Then again, judging by the reception to the band’s latest album, plenty of things would have been superior to Songs of Innocence. At least, this proposed collection would have given people a reason to buy tickets for U2’s next tour besides being able to hear the band perform “One” for the one-millionth time.
Grade for original Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark soundtrack: B-