Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Batman & Robin" - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Various Artists, 1997)

Executive Produced by Danny Bramson and Gary LeMel
Music Supervised by Danny Bramson

Track Listing:

1: “The End is The Beginning is The End” – The Smashing Pumpkins (5:02)
2: “Look Into My Eyes” – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (4:28)
3: “Gotham City” – R. Kelly (4:56)
4: “House on Fire” – Arkana (3:24)
5: “Revolution” – R.E.M. (3:04)
6: “Foolish Games” – Jewel (4:00)
7: “Lazy Eye” – Goo Goo Dolls (3:46)
8: “Breed” – Lauren Christy (3:05)
9: “The Bug” – Soul Coughing (3:09)
10: “Fun For Me” – Moloko (5:08)
11: “Poison Ivy” – Me’Shell Ndegeocello (3:33)
12: “True to Myself” – Eric Benet (4:41)
13: “A Batman Overture” – Elliot Goldenthal (3:35)
14: “Moaner” – Underworld (10:17)
15: “The Beginning is The End is The Beginning” – The Smashing Pumpkins (4:58)
16: “Alarmala de tos” - Café Tacuba (Bonus Track available only in Mexico and South America)


With the smash arrival and quick fizzle of “Batman & Robin” (1997), it seemed as if the caped crusader’s cinematic escapades would never possibly recover.

However, in the thick of 1997, Joel Schumacher’s lavish portrayal of Gotham City lived it up as best it could, unleashing a giant marketing machine upon the world with everything from toys and pop-tarts to video/board games and Six Flags stunt shows.


For the task of the film’s soundtrack, the aesthetic was once again chosen to compile a compilation of hot artists, creating a snapshot of 1997 that, in several ways, is even more random then “Batman Forever” with selections like Arkana and Soul Coughing.

Mirroring the approach of the “Batman & Robin” movie, the album plays very much like a desperate attempt to re-capture the success of “Batman Forever.” While key scenes and motifs from “Forever” were rehashed for the film, a similar move was made for the soundtrack.

As a result the album is an outright hodge-podge combining genres that range from quirky techno-pop to gangster rap to smooth R&B to country.

In all honesty, the album has a few standouts but ultimately it’s not that great.

Let’s take a look at the tracks:


“The End is The Beginning is The End” – The Smashing Pumpkins


An answer to “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” the album’s flagship track is one of those aforementioned standouts. Catchy and kinetic, Billy Corgin’s vocals might not be as poignant as “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” but the song paints a pretty fair portrait of the sense of spectacle and fun that the film was trying to convey. It’s a larger than life rock ballad that has ’97 written all over it and ignites the album on a great, broad note.


“Look Into My Eyes” – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony



Shifting genres quite hastily, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony allows one of their hits onto the soundtrack with “Look Into My Eyes.” It’s a good head-nodder and I love the beats and melodies. The only problem I have is that, while it fits into Schumacher’s glossy production, it just doesn’t fit with the character of Batman. Well maybe more so with Robin and Batgirl. And of course, given that it’s a Batman soundtrack, the more explicit lyrics are exonerated from this cut. It’s a bit disheartening considering that Siouxsie Sioux got away with singing “Bitch” for her contributions to the soundtrack for “Batman Returns.” That’s really just nit-picking though.


“Gotham City” – R. Kelly



Probably the most talked about track on the album, “Gotham City” (i.e. this album’s “Kiss from a Rose”) is R. Kelly in his pre-‘Trapped in a Closet’ prime, a soulful R&B connoisseur with a voice of velvet unafraid to play it up by belting it out with a full-on gospel choir (and children for the last portion of the track!). Of course the track is notorious for its portrayal of the infamous fictional locale, namely with its claims that Gotham is “a city of justice, a city of love, a city of peace for every one of us.” Now we all know that Gotham is anything but peaceful and loving and the thought that it should be completely destroys the need for Batman in the first place. But upon further examination, perhaps this isn’t trying to paint a portrait of Gotham as it exists but rather the Gotham that Batman wants it to become. That said, the song on its own merits is enjoyable and Kelly’s vocals are beautiful here.


“House on Fire” – Arkana



From here on out, a lot of the soundtrack begins to fall apart. While still retaining Schumacher’s overall atmosphere, it just goes all over the place (hell, to go from Rock to Rap to R&B in just three tracks accomplished that already!). Arkana’s “House on Fire” could be construed, with its title specifically, as a potential comment on the breaking up of Batman, Robin, Batgirl and Alfred’s family dynamic for the majority of the picture. Charming for the first few listens and it has a pretty trippy guitar solo that I like but the vocals can get downright whiny from time to time.


“Revolution” – R.E.M.


For a flashy kid flick like “Batman & Robin,” R.E.M.’s presence certainly raises an eyebrow. The beats are kick ass but even more startling is the social commentary they make with the track. “Bomb the abortion clinic” or the even more outrageous “Black men can’t get acquitted of all the crimes that we’ve committed.” GUH!? Did I miss that in the film? I guess the debris of Mr. Freeze’s rocket must’ve taken out said abortion clinic. But seriously, while the song’s lyrics are powerful, it’s an oddity that they’d be connected to a film like this. Oh well.


“Foolish Games” – Jewel



After two straight tracks of bombastic percussion, things quiet down for a fleeting instance with Jewel’s poetic and actually quite refreshing “Foolish Games.” Maybe it’s meant to be Alfred’s point of view on his employers’ crime-fighting antics; maybe I’m reading too much into it. I love the undercurrent of piano and the acoustic guitar, which is in stark opposition to all of the previous tracks and makes it a standout (more than that, I’ve heard “Foolish Games” on the radio as recently as 2011). So clearly it’s had more longevity than all of the other tracks.


“Lazy Eye” – Goo Goo Dolls



The Goo Goo Dolls provide the 2nd wind following Jewel with this kinetic rock ballad. Eagle-eared fans will spot the use of “Lazy Eye” in Poison Ivy’s Turkish Bath hideout while its still occupied by a faction of the infamous neon gang. As a song it sure is full of flight and whimsy, which most certainly works for “Batman & Robin.”


“Breed” – Lauren Christy

What makes “Breed,” for me, is clear. Lauren Christy’s vocals. But what’s odd about the track is that, while the verses have a tinge of darkness to them, you’ll notice that the melody immediately gets uplifted. Sexually charged (“I need to breed, breed, breed, breed, BREED!”) the track is definitely playful but again, why exactly it’s in a Batman soundtrack, I’m not sure.


“The Bug” – Soul Coughing


A bizarre repetitive quasi-rap meets alternative, Soul Coughing’s “The Bug” is an odd one but sort of like the latter tracks of “Batman Forever,” I think it captures the atmosphere of “Batman & Robin” pretty well.


“Fun For Me” – Moloko


A fun and playful track, “Fun For Me” is flat-out infectious with its beats commenting on the Gotham nightlife (the film used it to introduce the biker circles that, unknown to Bruce and Alfred, Barbara was travelling through). The lyrics are hilariously random and cool in their own twisted way (“I dreamt that the bogeyman went down on Mr. Spock. Sugar was a flowing sock it to 'em sock. I dreamt I saw a moo cow jump across the moon. Just a flight of fantasy zoom zoom zoom.”) And I love the main melody as the track’s title is repeated again and again, which has everything to do with the exponentially pitched vocals. Great track.


“Poison Ivy” – Me’Shell Ndegeocello


A psychedelic, acid-wash cover of the Coaster’s 1959 original, “Poison Ivy” mirrors “Batman Forever” tracks like Nick Cave’s “There is a Light” and, obviously, Method Man’s “The Riddler” by providing the soundtrack with a title track for one of the film’s delectable rogues (surprising that Mr. Freeze, the main villain that Ivy plays second fiddle to, didn’t get the same treatment). However, it’s an obviously perfect fit for the character and Ndegeocello’s vocals are quite seductive, which work in the song’s favor.


“True to Myself” – Eric Benet

NOTE: This is a Remix; not the original album version
A random gospel-soaked track, “True to Myself” is sung with enough competent harmony by Eric Benet (Halle Berry’s former dread-lock sporting husband) and I like his voice to be sure but singing of being true to god and family (while the latter plays like a response to “House on Fire” by assuring that the sense of family between our heroes would be strengthened and maintains) is just too preachy for a Batman film.


“A Batman Overture” – Elliot Goldenthal

Thanks to the ridiculous idea of not issuing an official release of Elliot Goldenthal’s “Batman & Robin” score (trust me, while the material DOES sound strikingly like an exact replication of the “Batman Forever” score, there were enough subtle differences and new cues, specifically Goldenthal’s themes for Robin and Mr. Freeze, to warrant a release), this collection of cues from “Batman Forever” (4 in all) is just sad. Not really Goldenthal’s fault, the music is fine, but it just bums me out to think that they felt THIS would suffice instead of releasing the score properly. “The Fanfare,” “Perpetuum Mobile,” “Victoria” and “Batterdammerung” all respectively make an appearance but frankly they’re quite crudely edited together, unfortunately. Thankfully, given the releases of Expanded editions for the three prior films, it looks like LaLa Land Records might be primed to give Goldenthal’s full score the treatment it deserves. Time will tell.


“Moaner” – Underworld

A long-winded techno babble, Underworld’s “Moaner” is easy to recognize as the track for Dick Grayson and Barbara Wilson’s impromptu motorcycle race through Gotham City in the middle of the film. The beat is pretty catchy and easy to get into but the lyrics are quite overblown and repetitious (“City loves you. City loves your boyfriend, long walks with the boyfriend; city loves a boyfriend, friends walking with the boyfriend and the nights with the boyfriend.” UGH!) The vocals also decide to escalate throughout their verse on the track, which can grate on the nerves quite a bit.


“The Beginning is The End is The Beginning” – the Smashing Pumpkins



Probably the most surprising track on the album, the Smashing Pumpkins make for an awesome book-end to their flashy opening track by closing out with a dark, mirror rendition. It’s gothic, slower; more methodical and atmospheric which, while still laced with techno and rock elements, actually fits more in line with the aesthetics of Tim Burton than Joel Schumacher. The track, given its connection to “Batman & Robin,” was all but forgotten but interestingly, it was given a new lease on life through its use for the teaser trailer to Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” film adaptation in 2009.


Ultimately, you can tell that several of the tracks clearly were just chosen by the producers and Schumacher to be put together on the album and weren’t crafted and recorded specifically for “Batman & Robin.”

So while a lot of the songs (well hell, all of them) are phenomenal in their own right, putting them all on a soundtrack just for the sake of relevancy just doesn’t work for me personally. I know that back in ‘97 the soundtrack went platinum and was a success. I just personally feel that had the time been taken to better execute it, the “Batman & Robin” soundtrack could’ve been just as great as its 1995 predecessor, but in retrospect, and especially by today, it’s little more than a musical memory.



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