SoundTreks: The Crow
Comic-Con has come to an end. The beer has been spilled, the hotel rooms trashed, the orgy had, and now all that can be done is for the maids to napkin up the blood and entrails. People have now wandered away from San Diego with a satisfied, wounded gait, their enthusiasm for superheroes reinforced. During this time of Decompression Parties, Ant-Man was released into theaters, allowing the orgy to continue, albeit at a gentle ebb. It was a busy time for us here at CraveOnline, and we’re on the road to recovery.
So while we still have comic books on the brain, SoundTreks has decided to review one of the most celebrated comic book movies of the 1990s, Alex Proyas’ ultra-Goth style explosion The Crow.
Check Out: SoundTreks: Hairspray
It’s hard to explain just how vital this film was to teen style in 1994. Heavy metal was experiencing a dark surge thanks to bands like Pantera, and the Goth subculture was growing into the mainstream. Disaffection and alienation were the words of the day, and films like The Crow – with its expressionistic design, tortured hero, and yes, supra-depressive soundtrack record – served to highlight the angst that marked the ’90s generation. Remember, this was a time when bands with a cynical and bleak worldview – like, say, The Smashing Pumpkins – could thrive in the mainstream. It was a time of Neil Gaiman, black coats, and heavy eyeliner.
I think no other collection of songs can encapsulate this particular stripe of teen angst better than the soundtrack record for The Crow. It’s a long and emotionally intense record that encourages angered, arhythmic thrashing on a Goth club dance floor. Let’s lake a listen and wallow in our own energetic self-pity.
Track 1. “Burn” – The Cure
The Cure is, in my experience, usually mentioned in the same breath as The Smiths, Joy Division, and Bauhaus. These groups, perhaps spearheaded by Morrissey himself, represent the core of Goth music. Not Gothic rock, mind you, but the kind of music that Goth kids listen to. They may not resemble one another musically, but in terms of their dark, poetic lyrics, bleak tone, and sadness, they can most certainly be gathered under the same umbrella.
“Burn” is a driving, echoey trance-like dance song about bad dreams. The track is over 6 1/2 minutes long, and steadily devolves into a noisy, abstract experimental soundscape. Say what you will about the self-indulgence of Goth music or the whiny introspection of ’90s grunge, there was a lot of interesting musical experimentation going on. That said, “Burn” is downright hummable compared to a lot of its Goth club peers.
“Burn” was the soundtrack’s big hit, and was intended to be, I think, the breakout theme of the movie. I don’t recall this one ever getting any serious airplay in 1994, but I may not have been paying attention; I wasn’t cool enough to listen to bands like The Cure in 1994, when I was a mere babe of 16. In terms of being the defining sound of the movie, I would actually go elsewhere.
Track 2. “Golgotha Tenement Blues” – Machines of Loving Grace
Pumping, industrial and sexy, with a rude erection of heavy metal buzz occasionally interjecting, “Golgotha Tenement Blues” is the kind of song you listen to while having particularly angry sex with someone you hate. I have heard a lot of songs like this one, with its processed radio-fuzzed vocals, rapidly rotating stylistic backups, and orchestral spine, but they typically come across as tedious and repetitive; Industrial can often commit the sin of droning rather than building. This one falls into drone, but not before trying some interesting musical things along the way.
Machines of Loving Grace (how’s that for a ’90s band name?) lived from 1989 until 1997, and, from the sound of it, were destined to remain locked in the mid-1990s forever. This is a band that mushroomed in the right environment, not a timeless one. They fell apart when they couldn’t find a label, and haven’t been heard from since.
Track 3. “Big Empty” – Stone Temple Pilots
San Diego’s Stone Temple Pilots were, of course, one of the biggest superstar bands of the grunge movement. Maybe it’s the circles I ran in, but “Big Empty” is the one song on this record that I heard commonly outside of the context of The Crow. It’s also an odd one to include next to the harder, more industrial music on either side of it. This one is downright bluesy, and had a singable chorus that was, no doubt, frequently performed at karaoke bars back in the day.
Stone Temple Pilots are most commonly associated with grunge, but, unlike Machines of Loving Grace, they were musically diverse, and have had numerous different sounds since their heyday in the mid 1990s. I will, however, always associate them with the sound on display here. “Big Empty” comes from their album Purple, which, along with Core, is perhaps one of the defining records of the decade.
Track 4. “Dead Souls” – Nine Inch Nails
A close friend of mine is perhaps the world’s biggest Nine Inch Nails fan, so I am perhaps a mite skittish about going on record as to what makes Trent Reznor great or significant. Needless to say, Nine Inch Nails assured that the world knew about industrial music at all.
“Dead Souls” is a cover of a Joy Division song, just with the intensity ratcheted up. Nine Inch Nails songs have always made me sweat. They are sweaty. They pump and writhe and scream. I have since listened to the original song, and prefer the dirtier, punkier sound to the cleaner and throbbing sex-dance beats of NIN. It’s perhaps not surprising that Joy Division’s plaintive wails of loneliness seem to fall perfectly in line with NIN’s ethos.
Track 5. “Darkness” – Rage Against the Machine
Rage Against the Machine is some of the only rap metal I can stand. This was long before the likes of Limp Bizkit and the horrors of nu metal started whining their angry white boy way across the landscape. Rage Against the Machine actually had a voice, a political drive, and their style matched the honest anger within their hearts. Although, like the mainstreaming of punk, it’s hard to say where the outsider sincerity ends and the mainstream fame begins with Rage. They were making their way onto a lot of soundtrack records at this time, including Higher Learning and the 1998 version of Godzilla.
“Darkness” is a re-recording of an old demo.
Track 6. “Color Me Once” – Violent Femmes
This one feels a little out-of-place next to its angrier peers. Violent Femmes weren’t exactly gentle all the time, but their coffee-house mellowness is far from the rage, sex, and angst of the rest of this record. “Color Me One” is, like The Cure song, a bit of a drone, but never annoying. Indeed, it has a jazzy quality to it. It evokes, in a weird way, the Angelo Badalamenti music from David Lynch’s movies.
Track 7. “Ghostrider” – Rollins Band
Here we go. Noise. Pure anger, free-form audio splaying, and rage. “Ghostrider” is now the third track on this record to feature that now well-worn ’90s drone rock sound, but it has the benefit of having Henry Rollins as its vocalist. Not that Rollins is a virtuoso singer, but if you’re a Californian who likes punk, then you have a deep respect for Rollins and for Black Flag.
Of course, if you’re not into punk or drone rock, “Ghostrider” is going to get on your fucking nerves. Banging, screaming, and droning is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re not feeling it, you’d be forgiven for skipping over this one and going straight to the Helmet song.
Track 8. “Milktoast” – Helmet
Helmet is okay, I guess. I like my hard rock harder.
Track 9. “The Badge” – Pantera
Like this. This is how I like my metal. Gutteral, noisy, fast, growly, and mad.
I have raved in the past about how the 1990s were a good time for pop music, largely because of the sheer diversity of sounds that hit the mainstream. Sure, the notion of “alternative rock” becoming the mainstream is a little obnoxious to the true seeker of true alternatives, but the landscape had a little of everything during this decade. I mean, heck, we had a swing revival during this time. And while heavy metal was shriveling from its 1980s hair metal heyday, the truly hard rock was still being allowed to breathe, and bands like Pantera were carrying the torch for the genre.
Also, Metallica was still around.
Track 10. “Slip Slide Melting” – For Love Not Lisa
I think “For Love Not Lisa” is one of the worst band names I have ever heard.
“Slip Slide Melting” is an odd contradiction. It falls squarely in the middle of that hard rock sounds that I kinda of like (or am, at the very least, nostalgic for), but listening to this track is evoking no real reaction. This is a dated and nondescript metal track. I like the production, but I can’t imagine I’ll remember this one in the least. I think were in not for The Crow, For Love Not Lisa would have remained completely obscure. This is dollar bin fodder. Not bad enough to be hated, but not good enough to be notable. It’s a middle C. Toast with no butter. And, at 5 minutes and 45 seconds, there’s too much of it.
Incidentally, the band eventually evolved into a Christian rock band called Puller.
Track 11. “After the Flesh” – My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult
I cannot describe My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, because they are chimerical. Each of their records seems like it was made by a different band, and I think the group likes keeping its fans on their toes. “After the Flesh” is all parts of this soundtrack record piled haphazardly into one track. It’s part hard rock, very much industrial, super angry, and has an undertone of electronica punctuating. It’s perfect for thrashy dancing.
I own one Kult record, and I have trouble listening to the entire thing from beginning to end. “After the Flesh” is intense, but imagine listening to it for 60 minutes. That’s the sort of experience I think they’re going for. Incidentally, these guys appeared in the movie as themselves. They and Medicine (see below) were playing in the in-film nightclub.
Track 12. “Snakedriver” – The Jesus and Mary Chain
Remember these guys?
Track 13. “Time Baby III” – Medicine
What? What’s going on here? Something kind of upbeat? Something relatively gentle that’s not an angsty love song? And is that… a female vocalist? And an acoustic guitar? “Time Baby III” is a welcome intermission on this heady and intense record of hate and angst. It still drones, but it’s downright romantic compared to the rest of the record. I know nothing about the band, and only learned from some cursory internet research that the vocalist is actually Elizabeth Fraser from The Cocteau Twins. Also, the band appeared in The Crow.
Medicine’s sound reminds me of other obscure ’90s bands I once looked into. I will compare them to Whale and to Helium. I will not tell you about Whale or Helium here. You must do your own research.
Track 14. “It Can’t Rain All the Time” – Jane Siberry
In the movie, Eric Draven (the late Brandon Lee, famously killed on the set of the film) has a “song.” This is a studio version of that song. The song that appears in the film is not included on the soundtrack.
I want to like this one, but I find I’m put off by Siberry’s voice. Her sound is like a folkish alterna-rock version of Joni Mitchell, but with an undercutting sappiness that makes “It Can’t Rain All the Time” a bit of an eye-roll. Some people objected to the moody introspection of a lot of ’90s music for how self-important it was. Those people will have plenty of critical ammo with this one, which is weepy like crazy. I understand that it’s meant to offer a glimmer of hope after the previous rage that preceded it, but it’s not good enough to be cathartic.
But she’s right. It can’t rain all the time.
Which is Better: The Soundtrack or the Film?
Hard to say. I like that the soundtrack encapsulates 1994’s alternative and industrial and metal scenes so well. This isn’t just a solid collection of songs, but a good look into the history of mid ’90s pop. This is what white kids were listening to, even if it wasn’t necessarily these bands. Sure, the ethos is scattered, and the drone may be too forceful in the ears of many, but there is definitely a unifying sound in the soundtrack to The Crow.
But, at the end of the day, I have to side with the film on this one. Alex Proyas is too strong a visual stylist to merely brush aside, and when you see the soundtrack in the context of the film, you get a fuller, deeper, more meaningful notion of what emotions are being reached with these songs. The angst in the songs is universal, I suppose, but it won’t be touching until you see it connected to this wild magical superhero-like fable of a resurrected man seeking revenge.