Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features

Album reviews: ‘Spider’ music better suited to theater

From left, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” soundtrack and SZA’s “Z.”
From left, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” soundtrack and SZA’s “Z.”


Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

(Deluxe Edition) (Columbia Records)

Outside of the darkened theater, what use are stand-alone action movie soundtracks such as “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”? As a tool to relive Hollywood action via headphones while pretending to leap tall buildings? To add big-screen drama to, say, the act of filing your taxes?

Through two-plus hours of music from and “inspired” by the latest installment of Marvel’s superhero franchise, the release offers 31 pieces – screeching chase-scene strings, dubstep-inspired menace, synthesized melodies – to accompany Andrew Garfield’s arachnoid acrobatics.

A favorite for these kinds of films, Hans Zimmer composed music to be performed by a band dubbed the Magnificent Six: Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr (the Smiths, Electronic), Michael Einziger (Incubus), Junkie XL, Andrew Kawczynski and Steve Mazzaro.

But the all-star band conceit for such an endeavor, while impressive, seems pointless, given that the goal of a great score is to vanish within the story, serving its needs without pulling viewers away to contemplate a Smiths reunion, or whatever it is Pharrell actually did here.

Still, tracks like “Sum Total” and “That Spider Guy” might be good for weight-lifting, and the hypnotic “Electro Suite,” at over 12 minutes of bass wobble and creepy chanting, will freak out the easily spooked. It’s certainly not recommended for kids.

But why consider buying a “deluxe edition” of this soundtrack? The label is banking on the bonus tracks, which feature new music from Alicia Keys, Pharrell, the Neighborhood, LIZ, Phosphorescent and, for a brief moment, Kendrick Lamar. But don’t let that tempt you. This is a release best consumed through streaming services – if only to punish Keys for her entry, “It’s on Again.”

Riddled with cliches, lazy phrasing and a concept seemingly rushed on deadline, the track is justifiably buried at the bottom of Disc 2. Within three minutes, she crams lyrics like “eye of the tiger,” “there’s no day off for heroes,” “fate has spoken” and “a lonely hero trying to fight my battles” into a mishmash of catchphrases as tired as they are uninspired. That the song “features” Lamar is only true for the first – and best – moments of the track.

L.A. band the Neighborhood works a stuck-in-cement rhythm within a stab at U2-esque EDM glory. Pharrell attempts his best “bored John Legend” impersonation on the ballad “Here,” and succeeds.

By the end of the second disc, the collection has confirmed its utility: As a loss-leader marketing tool for a billion-dollar film franchise – and a recording to add to your Spotify queue for that one time you might listen to it from start to finish.

Randall Roberts


(Top Dawg Entertainment)

Yes, SZA is the first female artist signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, the vanguard L.A. hip-hop label behind Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q. But her album “Z” represents high ambitions for the label. It’s a lean, dreamy and genre-destroying debut that steers the TDE ship into new waters.

The 23-year-old New Jersey-raised singer isn’t an obvious signing for a label devoted to hard-won tales of redemption and introspection in South L.A. But she’s a perfect complement to that catalog. Her voice hovers at the edges of R&B, with a dazed, ethereal quality that blends perfectly with TDE’s drifting, tidal productions. “Z” imagines what the world must have sounded like when Schoolboy Q was in a Percocet haze or Lamar was in his swimming pools of liquor.

“Babylon” is a yearning digital bass dirge that features Lamar. It’s the album’s showpiece and feels like that 5 a.m. moment when everyone at the party falls off an ecstasy binge. But the album’s reach is as powerful as its depth. The foggy electropop of “Julia” hits like Madonna in a hotboxed DeLorean with a fritzy cassette deck. “Sweet November” inverts the current soul-revival playbook: It’s got all the filament glow of the ’60s, but SZA gets there with a come-hither rasp, balancing digital haze and analog swing.

“Z” probably won’t define a year in L.A. like “good kid, m.A.A.d. City” did, but it does something just as important. It redefines TDE as not just the best rap label in L.A. but as one of America’s most ambitious musical projects, full stop. “Here in your backyard, building a fantasy, (forget) reality,” she sings on “Child’s Play.” SZA and TDE have built their own.

August Brown