I’m probably the only person in the world who hasn’t seen Spider-Man 3 (yet), but the studio’s carpet bombing marketing campaign has made sure the film hasn’t slipped under mine or anyone else’s radar. With countless tie-ins, spin-offs and synergized promotional opportunities, there isn’t a demographic that hasn’t gone unnoticed, thus it’s no surprise the film is on track to become one of the highest grossing films of all time. However, Spider-Man’s core demographic—solidified by the casting of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst—are males and females, aged 18 to 34. As such, the official soundtrack (featuring music from and “inspired by” by the film) is just another cash generating cog in a well-oiled promotional machine.
Looking back on the soundtracks to the previous films, they offer interesting snapshots of the musical landscape at that time. The single from the first Spider-Man film was the chart-topping and overwrought “Hero” by Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, and featuring Josey Scott (from the now forgotten Saliva). The rest of the disc was filled with similarly thickheaded groups like Alien Ant Farm, Default and Theory of a Deadman. Finally, to top it all off, Aerosmith was brought in to do a version of the Spider-Man theme. For the sequel two years later, the soundtrack producers continued to stick with bands from the alternarock FM dial with Hoobastank, Yellowcard and Jet, while snagging a couple more sensitive rockers in Maroon 5 and Dashboard Confessional to dilute the testosterone. Fast-forward another three years and the musical landscape has been completely razed. The massive success of indie acts like the Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, combined with the iPod/iTunes revolution and consumers exercising more choice than ever in what they listen to, the days of studios and labels shaking each others’ hands is long over. Boasting an eclectic lineup of mostly left of mainstream artists and made up entirely of exclusive tracks, Music From and Inspired by Spider-Man 3 makes an honest attempt at being something more than another hastily thrown together cash grab.
While the soundtrack producers have approached this latest disc trying to embrace a more diverse roster of artists, they do ultimately have to offer the general purchasing public a couple of recognizable names. To that end, the disc kicks off with Snow Patrol, whose acoustic version of the song “Chasing Cars” on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack created a minor sensation for the group. Here the band offers another track of approachable, sensitive rock with “Signal Fire”. Hardly offensive, yet hardly memorable either, its the eye-rolling lyrics of, “There you are standing right in front of me / All this fear falls away to leave me naked / Hold me close cause I need you to guide me to safety”, that will probably create another minor sensation with suburban Moms. Next up are the Killers who offer “Move Away”, and while it’s not as satisfying as their more ambitious songs such as “Mr. Brightside”, “All These Things That I’ve Done” and “Read My Mind”, it’s still another solid entry into their catalog… slightly glam, slightly no-wave rock ‘n’ roll.
From here, the rest of the disc takes a sharp detour into the less traveled areas of the record bin. Hipsters will be happy to hear the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in familiar form on “Sealings” with Karen O strutting and squealing all over Nick Zinner’s explosive guitar work. But from here, the disc struggles with mediocrity. Wolfmother offers yet another theft from Led Zeppelin’s catalog. The Flaming Lips sleepwalk through the awesomely titled, but lifeless “The Supreme Being Teaches Spider-Man How to Be In Love”. It features all the band’s current trademarks, from Coyne’s rough yet frail voice, and lots of faux-operatic sweeps and keyboard blurps, but none of the emotional resonance that has made them so effective on albums like The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
Meanwhile virtual unknowns such as Simon Dawes, the Wasted Youth Orchestra, the Oohlas and the unsigned Sounds Under Radio offer tepid contributions with hardly any distinguishing features worth mentioning. However, the most pleasant surprise is a track by Coconut Records (aka Jason Schwartzman). “Summer Day” is a gentle, lilting, shimmery west coast FM pop number. Built around a simple acoustic guitar chord progression, very light percussion, and a clever vocal arrangement (and yes, that is Kirsten Dunst on the backing track), the song is immensely charming. Tracks by Coconut Records have been circulating the blogosphere recently, and from what I’ve heard, Schwartzman isn’t another Bruce Willis, Kevin Costner or Keanu Reeves. He has a Jon Brion-like ability for crafting and accenting excellent melodies and is blessed with an endearing singing voice. If he ever falls out of favor with the screen world, he has very little to worry about.
At the end of the day, Spider-Man 3 film fans fall into two camps: the diehards, who will buy any piece of ephemera they can and, well, everyone else. As a standalone mix of songs, Music From and Inspired By Spider-Man 3 isn’t particularly heroic and is largely disposable. In fact, given the random nature of the songs, the tracks would be fitting for anything from an indie drama to a mainstream rom-com. Single songs might be downloaded by fans of the artists, but the rest of us can count this disc as just another piece of media clutter.