SoundTreks | Twilight
Stephenie Meyer first published Twilight, her beloved/reviled vampire romance novel, ten years ago, in October of 2005. Since its publication, it has warranted three sequels, five major motion pictures, best-selling soundtrack records, manga retoolings, toys, and reams upon reams of enthused, unauthorized fan fiction (the most famous of which being E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey). Every single 14-year-old girl (and no small number of their moms) had read the books and fell in love with Edward Cullen, the impossibly attractive and impossibly chaste vampire teen at the film’s center, and Bella Swan became the face of death-obsessed, irresponsible teen romance for a generation. Those who weren’t teenage girls (or their moms) rejected the book wholesale, and the Twilight phenomenon became one of the most wisely derided pop culture events since the Star Wars prequel films.
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The much-demanded film version of Twilight was released in 2008 to critical dismissal and fan mania. Some critics felt the film was a moody and interesting style exercise (it was incredibly well-photographed), but most were turned off by the film’s immature view of teen romance, the super-bland central characters, and the undertones of oddly self-enforced chastity (a vampire bite was very much a metaphor for the loss of virginity).
But what the film did have was a great soundtrack record. Award-winning music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, a celebrity in the field, was selected to compile the pop sound meant to define the romance of a generation, and what she came up with was a 12-track record of achingly romantic, ultra-hip, and 100% appropriate mid ’00s rock jams. We here at SoundTreks, on the 10th anniversary of Twilight after the phenomenon has waned a bit, decided to give the record a listen and see if it still has the appropriate ache and swell.
Track 1. “Supermassive Back Hole” – Muse
I’m not typically a fan of Muse; frontman Matthew Bellamy’s vocals make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. That said, “Supermassive Black Hole” is probably the best Muse song I’ve heard. This is, oddly enough, because Bellamy sings in falsetto. Add to that a rocking baseline, a clever counterpoint melody, and a pretty awesome robot vocal effect, and you have a legit, high-energy party tune.
This is not the mood, however, most people would associate with Twilight, an otherwise broody romance. The one thing Twilight lacks in spades is energy. There’s no crackle or levity to this movie, and it doesn’t get outright wacky until the fourth sequel. In Twilight, this song plays over a notorious scene wherein the vampire characters play their own supernatural, high-octane, fast-paced version of baseball. The scene is dumb (because vampire baseball is a goofy idea), but this song makes it a watchable scene in spite of itself.
Track 2. “Decode” – Paramore
I once mentioned that a pet peeve of mine is the tendency for soundtrack records to list their songs out of the order in which they appeared in the movie. It’s not much of a pet peeve (the record, after all, has to be its own entity), but it still bugs me a tiny bit. This Paramore song plays third over the credits.
Songs that play over the credits, however, tend to be what the music supervisors genuinely feel represents the tone of the movie. I think “Decode,” then, fits the bill perfectly. It’s a loud, rocking song, but with strong, heartfelt vocals. It’s meant to represent, I think, the intensity of the film’s central romance. And it is mercifully low on adolescent angst. It’s just angsty enough.
Track 3. “Full Moon” – The Black Ghosts
“Full Moon” is the first song heard in the film. While the echo effect on the lead singer’s vocals are obnoxious, the driving beat and acoustic guitar riffs are good about establishing the ambivalent “movin’ right along” feelings of moving into a new town (which is what our heroine does at the film’s opening).
The Black Ghosts were a then-obscure British electro-pop duo who started up in 2006, and weren’t popular in America in 2008. They appeared in this record, and suddely became multiple-platinum artists. Bully on Alexandra Patsavas for digging them up. I appreciate a music supervisor who is well-informed in all of pop music, rather than necessarily being an expert on a single genre or topic.
Track 4. “Leave Out All the Rest” – Linkin Park
Another credits song. This is perhaps the most gentle Linkin Park song I have encountered. “Leave Out All the Rest” is a whiny college white boy song of the highest order with obvious lyrics like “I’ve never been perfect, but then, neither have you.” This is the kind of song you fear the soundtrack record for Twilight would be full of. Luckily for us, this is the only one.
Track 5. “Spotlight (Twilight Mix)” – Mutemath
Like the Muse song, we’re treated to a track that is more driving and high-energy than you would expect. While Twilight‘s director Catherine Hardwicke was keen on exploring the deep romantic longing of the teen experience, Patsavas seemed eager to also show off how cool dating can sometimes be. “Spotlight” is the song that plays when Bella first arrives at school with Edward after they first started “dating.” Although Bella is a quiet wallflower, this song would have us believe that she feels like a rockstar. At least on the inside.
Track 6. “Go All the Way (Into the Twilight)” – Perry Farrell
It’s kind of funny that a song called “Go All the Way” should appear in a film all about two teenagers doing all they can to not engage in any sort of sexual contact (seriously, kids? Not even a little heavy petting?). Although, since the song is the dance hit playing at prom, it could be seen as a shallow, sexual dance tune that all the other kids are dancing to. Meanwhile, our romantic leads flee to slow dance in a gazebo.
Well, call me an other kid. Because this is the funnest, most enjoyable song on the record. It’s cheesy, yes (it has the film’s title in it, for cryin’ out loud), but you would be forgiven for bobbing along in your car.
Track 7. “Tremble for My Beloved” – Collective Soul
Collective Soul is one of those bands that, while having remained active since their inception, is still often considered a “’90s band.” It doesn’t help that this song is not one of their newer songs, but a 1999 jam from their album Dosage. It has a lot of heart and more musical spirit than some of the other songs on this record, and if you’re listening closely, you’ll hear the shift in vintage. You’ll also understand that the pseudo-romantic title is actually part ironic (as were many things in the ’90s).
Track 8. “I Caught Myself” – Paramore
“I Caught Myself,” the second Paramore song on this record, is borderline insufferable. It’s a little too on-the-nose. I appreciate Paramore’s songs more than I enjoy listening to them. They straddle the line between the moody Twilight romance, and something a little harder-edged. I wish they would push much harder to the latter.
Oddly, within the film, this is the song that plays over a montage of trying on prom-dresses. Shouldn’t something more fun be in this space?
Track 9. “Eyes on Fire” – Blue Foundation
What could be better than moody, mellow, Danish shoegazing electropop? When I hear songs of teen angst, I feel like I have an ear for authenticity. Most songs of teen angst, as I hear them, are constructed of whiny affect; you can tell that the songwriters are exaggerating their pain, if not inventing it entirely. Only in rare, notable cases (Nirvana, f’rinstance) can you sense real pain. I feel some actual pain in the sound of Blue Foundation.
Twilight is all about the mixture of love and longing. Eternal romance and the air of death. “Eyes on Fire” comes closest to capturing the movie. I wish this one has played over the credits.
Track 10. “Never Think” – Robert Pattinson
Robert Pattinson, as you likely know, played the vampire in the movie. Oddly, this song plays during a scene wherein Pattinson and Bella (Kristen Stewart) are having a conversation in a restaurant. So Pattinson is accompanying himself. He’s actually got some pretty soulful vocals, and I’m a bit of a sucker for a good acoustic-only guitar piece. A lot of the song’s power is actually undone by the mere nepotism. I think, though, that Patsavas would not have included this one if it weren’t right (enough) for the scene. It’s a pretty emotional song. I’ll give it a pass.
Track 11. “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” – Iron & Wine
Remember how I said that “Go All the Way” sounded like an “other kids” song, and that our hero and heroine would not be dancing to something like it? As if they would sneak off and slowdance to something different? This is what they danced to instead. Iron & Wine (the stage name of folk singer Sam Beam) is a gentle-voiced lad who can perhaps be honored with the moniker “troubadour.”
“Flightless Bird” is the kind of song I would have liked to have my first kiss to, and it plays well as a (chaste) romantic lullaby for teens. Although it may have been stronger with fewer frills. Too much production on this one. It’s the final pop song on the soundtrack, and it’s a great way to close out the record, actually. Leave people hanging with a pleasant, romantic feeling. But be sure to include some of the movie’s score before you go.
Track 12. “Bella’s Lullaby” – Carter Burwell
Pieces of a movie’s score, when taken out of context, rarely play well; it takes a certain kind of cinematic obsessive, or perhaps just enthusiasts of modern classical music, to enjoy listening to a film’s score outside of a film. Carter Burwell wrote the score for Twilight, and “Bella’s Lullaby” might be representative of his mood. Gentle, innocent, a few undertones of menace, but ultimately lilting. It’s a short leitmotif that repeats throughout the film, and serves as Bella’s theme.
On the record, it might serve as a gentle outro. It’s the exit music.
Which is Better? The Soundtrack or the Movie?
The soundtrack record for sure.
I haven’t read any of the books, so I can’t speak to their tone, but I have seen all five of the Twilight feature films, and can openly declare that they are awkward, feature bland leads, and pander to an unhealthy, death-tinted teen view of sexlessness and relationships that vanishes the instant you actually begin to have a romantic relationship. I’m not a fan of the films (although I really liked it when Bella started eating pumas).
This record, however, can serve as a more emotionally varied, more energetic, more textured meditation on modern teen romance than anything in the film. Patsavas took the source material, and expanded upon it. She wasn’t beholden to a single emotional note, and wanted to explore everything a modern teen in 2008 would be experiencing, using almost strictly modern music. Unlike Bella and Edward, the Twilight soundtrack is living through several emotional states simultaneously. It’s a complete personality. Sure, it has its pitfalls – not every track knocks it out of the park – but I appreciate the overall sound of the record, and the mood it constructs.
You don’t necessarily need to see Twilight. But you would do well to listen to this album.