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The Crow Ost Main

The Crow: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album Review

Written by Richie Corelli

Released by Atlantic Records

The Crow Ost Large

Composed by Various Artists
2019, 2 LPs
Released on April 13th, 2019

Review:

To some extent, The Crow is crushed by the weight of its backstory. To write about The Crow is to write about the death of actor Brandon Lee. It would be impossible not to. Lee’s portrayal of Eric Draven gives the movie its face. He plays the character with just the right amount of melodrama. It is in the way he holds his arms, the way he curls his lips; Lee is constantly posing for the camera. This helps make the film feel like the comic it was based on. The Crow is Branson Lee’s breakthrough movie. And it killed him.

There was an accident on set, a mix up with guns and props. Lee was shot while filming and died soon thereafter. The movie, which was originally a simple supernatural revenge horror, became something bigger, something heavier. It ascended beyond a sleeper hit and into cult status.

The Crow is light on story but heavy on atmosphere. This is a movie for the senses. The violence is exaggerated. The acting is over-the-top. The hard-lit cinematography manages to to be lurid while still being shadowy. At its best moments, The Crow looks and feels like a music video from the 1990s. It’s backed by a pair of soundtracks that support this. The first soundtrack for the film is the orchestral score by Graeme Revell. The second is a various artist compilation featuring artists who were popular at the time. This is a review of that collection, broken down by track, and then briefly critiqued as an overall package:

Song title: Burn
Performing artist: The Cure
Track score: 4.5 out of 5
The Crow comic creator James O’Barr and The Cure bandleader Robert Smith were fans of each other’s work. When O’Barr asked Smith for permission to use The Cure’s 1982 single The “Hanging Garden” in The Crow movie, Smith instead offered a track written exclusively for the film. With bird samples cawing in the background and lyrics like, “Dream the crow black dream,” the song is a little too on the nose. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t rock. Guitar and bass undulate with nervous energy. Smith’s voice howls. Boris Williams pounds his drums beneath the the track’s fabric, rippling and rolling. Burn went on to become one of The Cure’s mid-period classics. It’s a definitive fan favorite.

Song title: Golgotha Tenement Blues
Performed by: Machines of Loving Grace
Track score: 2.5 out of 5
After Nine Inch Nail’s 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine, there was a market for radio-friendly industrial influenced rock. For better or worse, bands like Filter, Stabbing Westward, Good Lives Underwater, and Gravity Kills, all made the airwaves. While some of these acts proved viable, others quickly fell off. The bands that suffered most were the bands that had no identity. Machines of Loving Grace landed into this grouping. The production on “Golgotha Tenement Blues” is color-by-numbers industrial rock. It’s not bad, per say. The bending and snapping bassline is catchy, there are nice guitar builds and releases, and some of the compositional shifts throughout the track are interesting. But there just isn’t enough to it to differentiate this track from similar artists who were doing similar things at the time.

Song title: Big Empty
Performed by: Stone Temple Pilots
Track score: 3 out of 5
“Big Empty” wasn’t Stone Temple Pilots first choice for The Crow soundtrack. The band’s original plan was to re-record an old demo they had called “Only Dying”. But after Lee’s death, the band reconsidered and instead submitted “Big Empty”. The song follows the quiet / loud / quiet / loud compositional structure that dominated popular rock music in the early 1990s. Each verse moves forward with sandy vocals, tranquil acoustic guitars, and hushed beats. Against this softness, each chorus is rushed-in by a wave of crashing, distorted guitar and melodic shouted voices. By contemporary standards, this formula is tired and overused. In 1994, it still held relevancy. After its inclusion on The Crow soundtrack, Stone Temple Pilots put “Big Empty” on their second full length album, Purple. From here, it was released as a single and topped the Billboard charts.

Song title: Dead Souls
Performed by: Nine Inch Nails
Track score: 3.5 out of 5
In the ‘00s, a person could go to mega-retailer Walmart to buy a Joy Division t-shirt. That wasn’t the case in the ‘90s. Joy Division was not in demand. Nine Inch Nails was. The Crow came out two months after Nine Inch Nails released The Downward Spiral. The band was quickly growing in popularity and bandleader Trent Reznor was becoming a reluctant icon for teenagers who wore black t-shirts and sour faces. “Dead Souls” is Reznor’s tribute to Joy Division. While it isn’t as strong as other NIN covers from this era (Queen’s “Get Down Make Love”, Adam Ant’s “Physical”, and Soft Cell’s “Memorabilia” are all superior), its strained, tortured vocals set against its weighty, sturdy production, carry enough Spiral-era trademarks to get Nine Inch Nails fans excited. There is a genuine sense of emotion to this song, an honesty in Reznor’s delivery. Beyond this, the track prompted listeners to go out and explore Joy Division, to discover an iconic post-punk act that was only beginning to earn their deserved recognition. For fans of both bands, “Dead Souls” is a double-win.

Song title: Darkness
Performed by: Rage Against The Machine
Track score: 3 out of 5
Through their career, Rage Against The Machine have exposed the many atrocities that are committed against marginalized people. Their contribution to The Crow OST continues this tradition. The lyrics, penned by vocalist Zach de la Rocha, hit with truths about white colonialism. "They came to seize and take whatever they please / Then all they gave back was death and disease / My people were left with no choice by to decide / To conform to a system, responsible for genocide." Musically, the song shifts between loose jams and punctuated bursts of energy. Tim Commerford’s bass and Brad Wilk’s beats keep the thing grounded as Tom Morello’s guitar gets lost in in a mix of free-jazz sonic noodling and crunchy, grove-based alt-rock. Rage Against The Machine made a lot of noise in the early to mid '90s. While "Darkness" isn’t their best track, it shows off enough to the band’s skills to demonstrate why they were hailed as they were.

Song title: Color Me Once
Performed by: Violent Femmes
Track score: 3 out of 5
Violent Femmes hit big with their 1983 self-titled debut and then struggled to maintain that momentum. The remainder of their career went under-appreciated. It’s a shame. While they certainly shot a few duds through the years, they’ve also put out quite a few pieces of interesting music. “Color Me Once” moseys forward on a slow, dreary melody. Vocalist Gordon Gano’s juvenile voice was always able to capture teen angst in a way other vocalists could not. Here, that feeling of dread carries over to despair. Supported by stark, bottom-heavy instrumentation, and never giving into the temptations of a hook or chorus, “Color Me Once” shows the Femmes bowing down to their darker side.

Song title: Ghost Rider
Performed by: Rollins Band
Track score: 2.5 out of 5
The second cover song on this album is about a different comic book anti-hero, the supernatural motorcyclist “Ghost Rider”. The original track was released by the band Suicide in 1977. Rollins Band took the skeleton from that original and built an entirely different body around it. They trade Suicide’s cool-draft groove for a hot, muscular grind. The track is ripe with post-hardcore strength as multiple guitars spray wailing noise over vocalist Henry Rollins’ machismo growl. Credit should be given to the band for taking someone else’s work and making it their own, but Ghost Rider is too sloppy to entirely succeed with too much meandering and not enough commitment.

Song title: Milktoast
Performed by: Helmet
Track score: 3 out of 5
The first two Helmet records were critical favorites. They had a third album in the pipeline when The Crow came out. As a teaser to that forthcoming release, Helmet dropped “Milktoast” on The Crow. The track hammers forward with hard rhythmic stop gaps. The rests between each riff give the song power. Those brief moments of silence make the music hit that much harder. Even vocalist Page Hamilton makes use of rests, pausing after each sung line, letting every word sink in before slamming his listeners with another thought. A different mix of this track would eventually find a place on the band’s next album, but it was this version, mixed by Butch Vig (Nirvana, Garbage), that would find itself on rotation on MTV. This was the track that gave Helmet their biggest commercial success.

The Crow Ost 01

Song title: The Badge
Performed by: Pantera
Track score: 3 out of 5
Pantera rounds out The Crow’s trifecta of cover songs with “The Badge”. The original was recorded just a few years earlier, in 1990, by Portland hardcore outfit Poison Idea. Pantera’s cover is straightforward, staying faithful to the original, but adding just enough of their own style. Vocalist Phil Anselmo’s harsh vocals bite hard. Meanwhile, lead guitarist Dimebag Darell shreds all the way through. The sound is loud and direct. In doing this, the band pulled off a nice blend of punk and metal, finding a sweet spot that should appease fans of either genre.

Song title: Slip Slide Melting
Performed by: For Love Not Lisa
Track score: 3 out of 5
For Love Not Lisa is one of the lesser known bands on The Crow soundtrack. But their lack of exposure doesn’t come from lack of skill. “Slip Slide Melting” feels like two songs blended into one. In the beginning, frantic guitar and bass groves are layered to create a noisy bed of distortion. Vocals are buried in the mix, shouting to be heard. Respite hits at the midway point. The second movement of the track shifts the sound from lo-fi mayhem to something more melodic. The guitars take on a softer tone and the vocals clean up. ‘80s glam rock influence starts to creep in as power chords chop through and Mike Lewis’s voice begins to soar. Of course, this turns out to be a misdirection. The last moments of the track call back to the beginning and the noise once again takes over.

Song title: After the Flesh
Performed by: My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult
Track score: 4.5 out of 5
Industrial dance group, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, already had an underground following by the time The Crow came out. The group’s kitschy, sleazy music was refreshingly fun and irrelevant for a genre that was otherwise dominated by harsher and more transgressive themes. Their addition to The Crow is a reworking of their 1988 12” track, “Nervous Xians”. Like other Thrill Kill songs, “After the Flesh” is built on dancefloor-friendly synth-bass and 4/4 drum programing. Singer Groovie Mann wines and moans with a snotty, bratty inflection. The track is adorned with snips of electric guitar and littered with sound and vocal clips. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult has always been good at grabbing samples from movies and radio and then using those samples in innovative ways. Samples are additional instruments for the band, as important as any bass, synth, or guitar. “After the Flesh” is another example of this, another example of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult doing what they do best.

Song title: Snakedriver,
Performed by: The Jesus and Mary Chain
Track score: 3.5 out of 5
“Snakedriver” is exactly what someone could want from a Jesus and Mary Chain song. It’s a skilled balance of opposites, a push and pull between pleasantness and menace. This is first demonstrated by the lyrics. Jim and William Reid have a history of provocative prose and “Snakedriver” is no exception. Despite this, Jim Reid’s vocal delivery is untroubled. His cool, dispassionate voice lets out a catchy, easy melody. The top of the mix is something that could have worked in a ‘60s pop song. But guitars rumble beneath, an undercurrent of frothy distortion. As the track progresses, the noise below becomes more and more threatening. By the end, it’s flipped; the noise has overtaken the melodies, pushing them to the bottom, drowning them.

Song title: Time Baby III
Performed by: Medicine
Track score: 3 out of 5
Medicine makes a cameo appearance in the movie. In it, they’re on stage performing the song “Time Baby II”. The track is blissful noise pop with Beth Thompson’s vocals snaking through a thick cushion of hazy distortion. It’s a good song, but it’s not the song they put on the soundtrack. Instead, The Crow OST features an updated version that was mixed by Robin Guthrie and features additional vocals by Elizabeth Fraser. Guthrie and Fraser are best known for their work with the ethereal wave / dream pop act, Cocteau Twins. “Time Baby III” reflects this. The track floats high with elastic bass, layers of simmering guitar, and Fraser’s celestial voice.

Song title: It Can’t Rain All the Time 
Performed by: Jane Siberry
Track score: 2.5 out of 5
There was a scene in The Crow where Eric Draven, soaked by rainwater, looks back to his friend Sarah and says, “It can’t rain all the time.” The quote was meant to be significant, but it’s conspicuous placement and forced delivery made it feel banal and sensational. Still, it works within the context of the movie. Outside of the film, the line is less successful. The song “It Can’t Rain All the Time” is trite and cheesy. Jane Siberry is an accomplished singer-songwriter with a long discography and impressive resumé, but she sounds amateuristic here. With its direct tie-in to the film, the track works thematically as a way to conclude the soundtrack. It’s just not a song to keep people in the theaters while the end credits roll.

The music of The Crow isn’t just for the end credits. Music is featured prominently throughout the entire picture. The songs on this collection were often blaring through the theater speakers to highlight and intensify the onscreen action. It resulted in Atlantic Records earning a bonafide hit when the original release of this compilation went on to sell over three million units.

Those sales were all compact disc. There was no vinyl release. This past April, Atlantic Records rectified that. For the 25th anniversary of the film and soundtrack, The Crow OST has been pressed to vinyl for the first time.

The artwork is taken straight from the original CD. Centered on a white background is the symbol of The Crow. It’s a strong image. Black and grey, it looks like an ink blotch, a Rorscach test. Bannered above this is Brandon Lee’s name in black and the film’s title, stylized in red. The inner gatefold is a layout of stills from the movie. Again, this is a direct copy of the booklet that came with the original CD. The Crow is nothing if not nostalgic.

The soundtrack is divided into 2LPs. The sound is clean. The quality is good. The first LP is white, the second is black. The first three sides are the music, the 4th side is an etching of The Crow symbol. Fans of the film will really appreciate that etching. It’s detailed, with immaculate shading.

Overall, the soundtrack to The Crow encapsulates different trends that were happening during the mid-‘90s. The Cure brings pop-goth gloominess, Stone Temple Pilots wear the stamp of the now-dated grunge label, Rage Against the Machine ignite rap-rock, Pantera doles out some groove-metal, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult thump industrial dance, and The Jesus and Mary Chain deliver some noisy shoegaze. A lot of scenes are represented. Yet, despite the varying sub-genres, The Crow keeps to a somewhat singular aesthetic. Almost all of these songs ride on angst-ridden lyrics and either howling or crunchy guitar. This allows these different approaches to keep to a fairly consistent sound-palette.

Listening to this album in 2019, The Crow feels dated. If there is a complaint to be made about The Crow, this is it. But it can also be argued that there is no sin for music to sound of its time. And what once worked as a cult movie soundtrack now serves as a document of '90s alt-rock culture.

Grades:

Music: Threeandahalfstars The Crow Ost Small
Buy Amazon Us
Art: Threeandahalfstars
Packaging: Threeandahalfstars
Overall: Threeandahalfstars

About The Author
Wrylab Staff
Staff Writer
Richie isn’t ignoring you. He just can’t hear you over the music. He’s been plugged in to his headphones for decades, diving into the zine culture of the 90s, blogging relentlessly through the 00s and beyond. He knows more about certain bands than he knows about himself. His love of music is rivaled only by his love of horror. If it’s creepy and spooky, he’s into it.

Horror DNA sutures his two passions together, giving him a platform to analyze and express his feelings on horror scores, soundtracks and live performances. It’s a celebration of all that goes bump in the night.
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