SoundTreks | Suicide Squad
It was announced this week that the soundtrack record for Suicide Squad is the first – and to date only – 2016 soundtrack record to crack Gold Record status, giving the film yet another added daub of controversy. When Suicide Squad was released only a few short months ago, it immediately became hotly contested; critics pretty roundly slammed the film, leading to a 26% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite this, people attended the film in droves, and it is, as of this writing, the proud earner of over $318 million (which is less than the take of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but more than that of Star Trek Beyond).
One of the many reasons critics balked at the film was its hyper-obvious soundtrack record. Warner Bros., it may be well-known by now, hired the same firm who edited Suicide Squad‘s trailer – once the trailer proved to be so popular – to also deliver a final cut of the film itself. The result was a film that, well, felt like a trailer. There were a lot of really unimaginative pop music cues, all piled atop one another, included to forcibly and commercially punctuate each scene; the bulk of the film felt like fodder for advertising, and not a real movie. Such tactics can thrill an audience watching a 5-minute preview, but a 130-minute feature warrants more subtlety.
The actual soundtrack record for Suicide Squad, however, surprisingly doesn’t include most of the more obvious music cues. Indeed, there were 16 familiar rock standards included in the film that didn’t make their way onto the soundtrack, including AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” The Animals’ “House of the Rising Son,” and the most overused soundtrack song of all time, Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.” Can we please, please call a wholesale moratorium on “Spirit in the Sky” for at least the next 20 years?
The soundtrack we got was actually a carefully constructed collection of new songs mixed with only a few classics (and remixes/covers of classics) to smooth it over. Indeed, SoundTreks has discovered that the Suicide Squad OST record may have a lot of creativity and a good deal of actual musical value, which is more than can be said of the film itself. Let’s take a listen and see.
Track 1. “Purple Lamborghini” – Skrillex and Rick Ross
“Purple Lamborghini” was a song specially written for Suicide Squad, and may serve as its theme song. It’s about the criminal lifestyle, and the title may allude to the kind of car someone like The Joker might drive. Although The Joker was only a supporting character in the film, his presence looms large over this soundtrack, as the famed character was depicted as a new-money street gangster rather than an outlandish clown prince of crime. As such, there are a lot of songs about living high on dirty money. This is a different tone from the film, which is far less focused, and feels like a greatest hits reel rather than a film that’s about anything in particular.
Track 2. “Sucker for Pain” – Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, and Imagine Dragons, with Logic, Ty Dolla $ign, and X Ambassadors
Suicide Squad seems to have been originally poised as a nasty, naughty, R-rated celebration of bad behavior. The ultimate product was a PG-13-rated action snore-fest with all the usual CGI bells and whistles that have been slowly numbing eyeballs since the early 2000s. The soundtrack evokes the previous version. The one that seems like it may have been honestly subversive at some point. The songs are darker, meaner, and, in the case of “Sucker for Pain,” sexier. This is a song that is about S&M, and could easily have been written for Fifty Shades Darker. None of the characters in the film are openly into S&M, but there is certainly some sort of weird sexual power dynamic between The Joker and his lead character girlfriend Harley Quinn.
Yes, it’s another song that seems to be about The Joker.
Track 3. “Heathens” – twenty one pilots
Here’s a mood that wasn’t in Suicide Squad: quiet, melancholy regret. Indeed, the film seemed eager to sell its characters as naughty bad kids who enjoyed getting into trouble. Sure, there were the perfunctory and recognizable scenes of regrettable personal history, but nothing that felt raw or real. Not like “Heathens” which feels raw and real. At least from an emotional standpoint. This is not a song about naughtiness or joy.
Track 4. “Standing in the Rain” – Action Bronson, Mark Ronson, and Dan Auerbach
Yeah, from the sound of it, Suicide Squad must have originally intended to be a much moodier film than the one we got. Director David Ayer tends to work with hard-hearted badasses and hard-working cops, and his original pitch for Suicide Squad was likely closer to The Dirty Dozen than Oh God, Is There Some Way We Can Make This Funny?. Even if this is off-base, there is a definite mood schism between the film and the soundtrack record, as “Standing in the Rain” feels like a breakup song. About being bad and loving for love. So, yes, it’s another song about Harley Quinn and The Joker.
Track 5. “Gangsta” – Kehlani
I did see Suicide Squad, and I don’t quite recall the relationship between Harley Quinn and The Joker playing a huge part in the film’s plot. Yes, The Joker was Harley’s primary motivation, but we only saw The Joker as fulfilling a sub-plot, while our group of protagonists had to face off against a bellydancing witch. Kehlani’s song is yet another teack expressly devoted to the relationship between Harley and The Joker, this time explicitly. Perhaps in that theorized proto version of the film, The Joker played a larger role. It’s hard to tell, since Suicide Squad smacks so heavily of studio interference.
Track 6. “Know Better” – Kevin Gates
A movie about a group of supervillains need more edge than this. Kevin Gates’ song is fine enough for certain audiences, I suppose (I personally kind of hate it), but only in an atonal way (why is so much of recent pop music so roundly dissonant?), but I long for a track about actual wickedness, not some sort of dissatisfaction, romantic longing, or depression over ones amoral state.
Track 7. “You Don’t Own Me” – Grace, feat. G-Eazy
Yes, a cover of the famous Lesley Gore song from 1963. This was the energy and wickedness I was hoping for. The wicked deep bass groove, the aggressive rap from G-Eazy, and the driving energy make this the best track on the record so far. This version also washes away the dumb inclusion of the original in the film, which strikes one as mawkish (it’s Harley Quinn’s theme song, which may be ironic, since she is so clearly “owned” by The Joker). This is one instance where I think the cover had more power than the original might have.
Track 8. “Without Me” – Eminem
I’ve long held that a great soundtrack record requires three things: Aural variety, cinematic evocation, and the ability to stand alone as a mix unto itself. The last two tracks are allowing the record to grow in all three of those directions. The previous singles have been fair-to-good, but ran the risk of blending and mixing up inside your brain. Then Eminem barges in with swagger and wit, wearing his asshole on his sleeve. Welcome, Eminem.
Track 9. “Wreak Havoc” – Skylar Grey
Hard and heavy is becoming the dominant mood on this record. I’m not fond of the song’s dull electro-chorus, but the rap verses, pounding beats, and bass riff are some good fists of rock and roll. Skylar Grey is hardly Teri Gender Bender, but she’ll do for now. By the way have you heard any of Le Butcherettes? Get a Le Butcherettes record ASAP.
Track 10. “Medieval Warfare” – Grimes
Anyone here remember the band Helium? Obscure ’90s art pop is back, only it’s mainstream dance music now.
Track 11. “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Panic! at the Disco
I recently reviewed the soundtrack to Wayne’s World, which, in 1992, brought Queen into the present in a significant way, all with a brilliant application of Bohemian Rhapsody. Even those too young to have seen Wayne’s World know that the song and the movie are pretty closely associated. Which mean that including in another movie – in any capacity – is a tacky thing to do. Just as Steeler’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” is not forever associated with Reservoir Dogs, “Bohemian Rhapsody” kind of belongs to Wayne’s World.
I would give more leeway if the Panic! version was somehow unique or a fresh take on Queen’s original, but this as straight a cover as one can get, which, of course, only highlights that the lead singer of Panic! doesn’t have the pipes of Freddie Mercury. “Bohemian” is such a unique song, that one wonders why they didn’t merely get the Queen version.
Track 12. “Slippin’ Into Darkness” – War
I talked about this song in the most recent installment of SoundTreks, as a cover of it appeared in the TV show Vinyl. Odd that the original would be featured in the soundtrack trying to go for a hip pop sound, and the cover would be included in the TV show that was actually set in the 1970s. Having heard it in two sources so rapidly, I can only fault Suicide Squad for being unoriginal.
Track 13. “Fortunate Son” – Creedence Clearwater Revivial
Irony. Love it.
Track 14. “I Started a Joke” – ConfidentialMX, feat. Becky Hanson
This is a nightmare reflection of the 1968 original by The Bee Gees. As already commented, much of monder pop is processed and atonal, which, in this case, works in the songs favor. It’s moody again, but also rather dark. It’s a good note to go out on.
Which is Better: The Soundtrack or the Movie?
The soundtrack is better, as the film is a tonal mess, and the OST at least seems to have a few actual notions on its mind. It has a unifying sound, a few pleasant digressions, a few bad tracks, but overall seems to cohere. The film, by contrast, is a mishmash of false starts, bad plotting, and awkward character moments. The OST has to win kind of by default.
The soundtrack to Suicide Squad is almost, almost very good. I appreciate the dour mood, believe it or not, and I like the energetic ’70s tunes thrown in for leavening. Sure, they made for bad cues in the flick, but on a record they are allowed to breathe a little more. The record is not a great mix but you can sense a good deal of thought going into its construction. Plus, there is an undercurrent of anger and disappointment lurking underneath almost every song (“Rhapsody” notwithstanding), which is welcome. A record with a mood? Great.
One may have to acknowledge that Suicide Squad was trying to capture the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack with its inclusion of retro ’70s hits. They are both awkward soundtrack records with more drive than skill, but this one deals with its own unification better. Which is a welcome trait in a good OST.
Top Image: Warner Bros.
Witney Seibold is a longtime contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.