Soundtrack Studies: ‘The Crow’

Tuesday, April 22 by
Yeah, you could say they went a little heavy on the melodrama here.  

Whereas the Singles soundtrack, while countercultural at the time, would go on to serve as a seminal album to those who grew up to graduate to become upstanding adults, The Crow soundtrack served as a rallying point for those kids who felt it would be their mission in life to blow up Starbucks and get their lips pierced.

Of course, none of that really happened, and everyone from all walks of life would wind up enjoying Starbucks following its proliferation, but it does speak to The Crow’s place in recent history. Whereas grunge had gone from becoming a subculture to THE culture, The Crow’s soundtrack matched it’s dark subject matter with more overtly gothic bands that could have been confused for grunge, but weren’t exactly.

Being two paragraphs in to any discussion of film, I feel bound by pop-culture law to disclose that during the shooting of this film, the film’s star, Brandon Lee, was killed during an oversight with one of the prop weapons that essentially resulted in him being shot and killed with a real bullet.

This is important not only because a man died in a seemingly safe line of work, which is tragic, but also because the film revels in concepts of death, gloom, dark angels, and the like. And the dynamic between the two seems to inflate the importance of both aspects. The death of the film’s young star seems to legitimize the themes of the movie (at least in the perverse minds of the films teenage audience at the time) and the themes of the film make it seem Brandon’s death was preordained, that he was fulfilling this silly role by dying himself. Again, a wrong and stupid analysis, but its veracity in the simple, faux-alienated minds of teenagers shouldn’t be dismissed when discussing the legacy of the film and its soundtrack.

The Crow burning image.

"Oh! I see! It's a crow!"

A few words about the film before we get on to the music:

The Crow takes place in dystopian Detroit, or as we like to call it these days, “Detroit.” It follows a guitarist who comes home to find his fiancée being raped and murdered, and then is murdered himself. He comes back to life after a crow taps his headstone, and sets out on avenging his death by killing the criminals that led to his.

The film takes place almost exclusively at night, and often in the rain, in a style that seems to go beyond noir and is reminiscent of Blade Runner. Needless to say, any impressionable youth that felt the least bit of alienation from the world felt this to be a very important film. The film received good critical marks, and was buoyed by a soundtrack that buoyed the film’s relevance even further.

Here you’ve got everything from the spot-on (Nine Inch Nails doing a cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” and a track by The Cure) to the creative (Violent Femmes) to the de rigueur soundtrack inclusions that seems as though it was done as a favor to the bands’ managers (Machines of Love and Grace, For Love Not Lisa).

Despite Nine Inch Nails rising to the occasion by taking a goth-y classic and giving it a goth-y update, the big star of the soundtrack was Stone Temple Pilots “Big Empty.” It wasn’t the best song on the soundtrack, but it was a good song by what was by far the most popular band on the soundtrack. It was also by far the most accessible, which probably stems from the fact that it comes from the least “dark” band on album.

It’s often (read: almost always) difficult to take this overt taste in darkness seriously, especially in The Crow‘s case where the film is marketed to American youth during a time in which pain, self-hatred, and stupid existential dabblings were fashionable. And while the soundtrack matches very well a bleak film and tainted production, outside of that context the soundtrack gave fans of STP and the like an excuse to veer off course from their tastes and try something new. Not unlike the way No Country for Old Men’s soundtrack did for bluegrass/Americana music and yuppies.

And so The Crow soundtrack provided, outside the film, a vehicle for rebellion from grunge, which at this point in 1994 had become the purview of Calvin Klein and NBC jokes. However, at the end of the day, all most of the audience really wanted to do was kick back and listen to a catchy Stone Temple Pilots song.

At the end of the day, I think that’s all any of us really wanted to do in 1994. We probably just didn’t realize it at the time.

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