The Dark Knight Rocks?
Released in tandem with the omnipresent pan-platform game Batman: Arkham City—which you’re probably breaking from right now—comes what essentially serves as the mega-hit’s quirky sidekick, the trendy and colorful soundtrack. It’s a “various artists” romp with all-original material performed by a cross section of acts, including Serj Tankian, Coheed & Cambria and Bruce Wayne’s personal favorite, Daughtry. And against all odds, it’s not that bad.
Probably because there’s a certain wow factor to Panic! At The Disco lavishing their trademark frilliness on Arkham’s butchest. The track’s demented salsa opening and rose-in-teeth affectation seem fit for Dancing with the Stars: Joker Edition. And yet it works, proving to be the album’s strongest effort almost in spite of itself. Coheed & Cambria’s “Deranged” comes in a close second with its lurching breaks and lead singer Claudio Sanchez’s high tenor, making a fun tables-turned go of taking the supervillain’s perspective. The song’s triumphant, chipmunk-pitched chorus answers that age-old question of what it would sound like if Dio starred in The Incredible Shrinking Man.
Sadly, they’re not all winners, as some songs just wander too far afield of the Batman universe. No small feat considering the already adventurous content. “Afterdark” by the AFI guys—sorry, Blaqk Audio—is a woeful dud. Despite its Timbaland drums and sinusoidal atmospherics, the song’s cornball chant of “the words aren’t coming” suggests a moody, shirtless Batman.
“The Years,” by Deftones spinoff project Crosses, proves an incongruous affair. Forgiving its spooky Phil Collins keyboards—because I’m feeling charitable—Chino Marino’s wilting refrain, “as the years go by,” might work for grandma’s favorite soap opera softie, but fails to square with someone who punches criminals for a living.
Which leads to an amazing concession: Daughtry did not produce the weakest track here. With “Drown In You,”America’s bald bellower invokes his haziest, sphynxlike Ed Kowalczyk voice, hits his marks—and God bless him!—turns in an oddly likable Batman romance song.
In the end, this album’s curious strength lies in its unpredictability. The Raveonettes’ brilliant “Oh Stranger” has Batman in a Stockholm disco, and just two tracks later he’s kicking ass in The Damned Things’ grungy Foo Fighters sendup, “Trophy Widow.” All of it’s such a hard break from your dad’s Caped Crusader—from Danny Elfmann’s stoic Wagnerian horns or Hans Zimmer’s moody, gothic rumblings—you can’t help but just go with it, warts and all.